Kamakura

I love being on leave! These past two weeks have definitely been an awesome breather from work and even more importantly, really allowed me the opportunity to see more of Japan. I remember how bummed I was in late Sept/early Oct when I was still living on the ship and facing another underway period. I never thought I’d get the chance to see what I wanted to see. And even though I knew that was a wee melodramatic even at that time, it’s definitely gratifying to have so many fun and interesting experiences outside of work.

On Friday, I went to Kamakura, the capital of Japan from 1180 to 1333 under shogun rule. It’s about halfway between Yokohama and Yokosuka on the JR Yokosuka line. I took the train to JR Kamakura station. Then, I switched to the Enoden line. The Enoden line was billed as a little put-put trolley in Frommer’s. I’d say it was a little faster than that, but it definitely seemed to pass through people’s back yards. I admired some of the landscaping- lots of moss, artfully placed rocks, even a pond or two. And then I realized I missed my stop.

After a little backtracking, which wasn’t much since I only had to go back one stop but the trick was to do it like I meant it all along because I’m smooth like that.

Eventually, I made it to the Hase-Dera temple. There, a gilded camphor carving of the 11-headed Kannon is enshrined. There’s an involved story on how the statue washed up upon the shores all the way from Nara. It had previously washed up somewhere else, but had given the place all sorts of trouble. When it washed up in Kamakura though, it was emitting light. That’s a sign!

The statue is amazing. It sits in a recessed alcove approximately 9 m high. The statue is slightly larger than the entrance, which gives the effect of something barely contained. It is really impressive. Monumentality doesn’t often affect me, but I was definitely a bit awestruck here.

The rest of the grounds were beautiful. There were two “subshrines” that were also really neat. The first was the shrine to Jizo-do, “Happy” Jizo. The shrine is surrounded by hundreds of miniature Jizo statues, neatly arranged in rows, some with little hats or knitted items. Statues are available for purchase and are bought in remembrance of aborted, miscarried, or stillborn children. It’s kind of sad, especially so because while I was there, there were three women who were definitely there for reasons other than being tourists and getting a great shot. It was kind of awkward because I felt like I was intruding just by being there. There’s really very little privacy at an outdoor shrine. I couldn’t tell if other people who wandered through felt the same way or if I was just being oversensitive.

The other neat shrine was actually in a cave and dedicated to Benzaiten, goddess of the sea. She’s the only female god among the seven lucky gods of Japan (it starts to become murky-to me- where certain gods fall and what certain lists are referring to in terms of Buddhism, Shinto, or both/other). The cave was a lot of fun to scramble through and the little alcoves inside were really neat.

Next, I went to Daibutsu, also known as the Big Buddha. While it used to be enclosed in a structure, it is now exposed to the elements after the wooden temple was washed away by a tidal wave a few hundred years ago. I also got to go inside the statue for Y20! That was very cool. I felt like I was getting a cheating shortcut to Boddishatva land- alas, no sudden enlightenment. It’s ok, I got a couple photos instead.

I took a bus back to Kamakura station and spent the next two hours popping into little shops along Komachi-dori street and trying to find Tsurugaoka temple. I kept missing it and ending up at the third (out of 5) most important Shinto temples (twice!). I’m not very good at figuring out where to turn right, unfortunately. The walk was nice, but by the time I got to the temple, I had some mixed feelings towards it. A service was going on so I got to hear some chants and drums. I think, though, I need to go back another time to explore the grounds because I just wasn’t feeling it by that point.

Overall, though, Kamakura was awesome. I will definitely be going back!

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