March 28, 2017

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Small Waves and Big Buddhas in Kamakura

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20160501_120013-3-e1465142678739By Brent Olian

During the weekend leading up to Golden Week, I took a short trip to one of Japan’s most famed temple towns -Kamakura. This coastal town south of Yokohama is home to many Shinto shrines (the most important of which is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮)) and Buddhist temples, and features plenty of beachfront activities as well.

After I took an hour long train from Tokyo, I decided to not waste any time and went directly to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. This was made difficult by the swarms of Golden Week crowds who also sought to profit from the convenient location and sunny weather. As I eventually pushed through and arrived at the shrine, I was welcomed by numerous vendors offering both the edible and inedible.

While the shrine itself possessed great beauty, the most enjoyable and memorable part of my visit was happening to come across a traditional marriage procession occurring at the shrine. The traditional clothing and instruments matched the setting of the shrine perfectly.

Leaving the shrine around noon, I decided to fuel up nearby. As it was quite hot and humid, I opted for a refreshing bowl of maguro-don (まぐろ丼 – tuna bowl) topped with shirasu (しらす/boiled baby sardines). It was the perfect combination of light and hearty.

Seeking a more tranquil environment I headed for the bamboo forests of Hokoku-ji. This temple in eastern Kamakura is flush with bamboo trees of varying thickness and is full of other calming greenery as well. Contributing to the Zen atmosphere here are the Japanese rock gardens with circular patterns. Of course you are not allowed to traverse these gardens.

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Proceeding my peaceful bamboo break, I was back to joining the crowds at what is perhaps Kamakura’s most famous sight Kōtoku-in, the Daibutsu (giant Buddha statue). The statue is of Amida Buddha and is 13.35 meters (43.8 ft) tall. It is possible to go inside the statue as well if you are willing to wait quite a while. The statue is definitely a necessary visit in Kamakura but there isn’t too much else at this sight besides the statue.

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Finally, I had to have a look at the beach in Kamakura before the sunset. While it wasn’t necessarily the most beautiful beach in the world, it was clean and provided just what I needed after months of Tokyo living. Surfing is possible here, but at the time I visited there were few worthy waves.

Overall, if you’re looking for a historical, calm, and coastal voyage that is within an hour’s trip from Tokyo, Kamakura is just what you need.

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