Yesterday we took a day trip to Kamakura, about 50 km south of Tokyo. We started the day by touring several Zen Buddhist temples. Even though there were many people doing the same thing, the overall feeling was one of quiet calm. Unlike the elaborate and ostentatious structures at Nikko, Kamakura’s temples are much simpler and largely constructed of dark, unpainted wood. Some structures even have thatched roofs. Though some of the buildings and the surrounding grounds are open to the public, several of these are still in active use. We could hear chanting coming from inside one of the them and everywhere we went, the smell of incense hung in the air.
Like Nikko, the temples of Kamakura are nestled in natural forest. The trees, plants and moss reminded me of the B.C. coast. We also enjoyed walking through stands of bamboo. Everything was so green!
At the end of our temple walk we came to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, the main Shinto shrine of Kamakura where the atmosphere was drastically different from the quiet repose of the Zen temples. Located at one end of Kamakura’s main street, the brightly coloured shrine had a carnival feel. Here we met up with the bulk of the Golden Week crowd visiting Kamakura. Food stalls lined the walkway up to the shrine and tacky souvenirs abounded. Crowds of people waited their turn to rush up the main steps of the shrine, toss their coins into the offering box, offer a quick prayer, clap and bow. To an outsider, at least, there seemed to be little reverence or real religious significance to what they were doing.
After leaving the shrine, we walked to the main train station where we caught a bus to Kamakura’s most famous sight, the Daibutsu or Great Buddha. We were packed into the bus like sardines as it crawled it’s way through the narrow and crowded streets but the wow factor was definitely worth the ride. Cast in bronze in 1252, the statue stands 11.4 metres high and is said to weigh close to 850 tonnes. Though it isn’t quite as big as the enormous Buddha that we saw in Nara three years ago, the weathered giant sitting out in the open was quite something to see. It was originally housed in a huge hall but that was washed away by a tsunami in 1495 and it has sat outside ever since.