Not this past weekend, but the weekend before, my friend and I went to Kamakura. I have to say the entire day was really a success, my friend had planned it all out down to the last detail, which was really a relief for me, since I didn't have the time to do much research on the area before I decided to go. I didn't write about it right away because I wasn't entirely sure of some of the names of the places I had visited nor was I 100% sure of their historical or cultural significance. Personally, I like to know a little about a particular place before I go, so I can appreciate& experience things for what they are while I'm there. I have a feeling that I will be going back to Kamakura at some point, so there will be plenty of time for me to do just that in the future. We visited quite a few places (I'm still amazed that we did all of it in one day and still made it back to Tochigi), and this entry should give you a basic idea about each one of them.
So our first stop upon arrival in Kamakura was 鶴岡八幡宮 (Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu), which is the main shrine in Kamakura. Hachiman, the diety to which the shrine was dedicated, was the guardian of the Minamoto clan, who ruled Japan from Kamakura during the (aptly named) Kamakura period. We were lucky in that we stumbled upon a wedding in progress at the shrine. I am quite sure that some weddings at some shrines (like Meiji shrine in Tokyo or at Heian shrine in Kyoto) are completely staged affairs for tourists. This wedding seemed pretty authentic to me, though. Complete with family members and wedding photographers.
Next, we walked to 建長寺 (Kencho-ji) which is the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples in Kamakura. According to the pamphlet it is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. One thing that I found particularly interesting about Kencho-ji is that quite a few of the structures had been relocated to Kamakura from Kyoto. The Somon as well as the Hojo had been moved from different temples in Kyoto. You can actually participate in a special 'zazen for foreigners' session that you have to apply for... you can do so on the official website. At the temple, there is also a garden of juniper trees in front of the Butsuden that are said to have grown from seeds brought from China & planted over 700 years ago. They are really wild looking. My photographs do not do them justice.
On a hill behind Kencho-ji is 半僧坊大権現 (Hansobo Daigongen) which is the shrine to the guardian diety of Kencho-ji. The scenery on the way to the Hansobo is absolutely gorgeous; bamboo, moss, rocks, just amazing stuff. On the hill up to the shrine are rock ledges with statues of Karasu-tengu that are pretty effing fierce. Really really cool looking. On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see Fuji-san from where the shrine sits, but the mountain remained elusive in the haze of the rainy season that particular saturday.
After leaving the fairly vast precincts of Kencho-ji, we went to the next temple, 浄智寺, Jochi-ji. The main objects of worship at Kencho-ji are three Nyorai statues of Amida, Shaka and Miroku who represent past, present and future. Notably, the statue of Shaka (present) is placed at a higher elevation than Amida and Miroku. The Experience of the present moment is a very important concept in Zen (I feel like I oversimplified that explanation), which would explain the placing of the statue as such.
From Jochi-ji, we went along the Daibutsu Hiking Course. It was an amazing hike through the woods of Kamakura. Absolutely beautiful. I kind of had a hard time getting my footing on some of the roots which bind the well-worn footpath, but I think I did all right overall. On the way, we stopped at another shrine called 銭洗弁財天, which is probably one of the more unusual shrines that I've ever been to. First, you go through a cave, which leads to the actual shrine itself. There is another, smaller cave where visitors take thier money to a spring and wash it in the hope that it will bring... well... good fortune!! We each washed an 一万 bill in a small basket given to you at the little pavillion. I had a dollar hiding in my wallet, so I washed that, too. You never know, maybe it will work :D
After the (quite literal) money laundering, we were back on the Daibutsu Hiking Course and on our way to the most famous temple in Kamakura, 高徳院 (Kotoku-in), which is the location of the 大仏 (Daibutsu), or Great Buddha. The Daibutsu is the most famous sight in Kamakura, and is, of course, designated as a national treasure. While not as big as the one in Nara, the Kamakura Daibutsu is 13.35 meters high and weighs about 93 tons! You can even go inside him and see how the bronze was originally cast in multiple layers. He was originally inside of a temple, but it washed away in a tsunami in 1498. They have done some restoration and earthquake-protection measures on the Daibutsu to protect him from wear and tear, and I think he looks pretty good for being 700 years old, don't you?
After visiting Daibutsu-sama, we took the electric railway to the beach! After hiking around Kamakura all day it was really peaceful to relax at the beach and listen to the waves roll around for a couple of hours. Definitely not swimming kind of weather, though. You can see the island of Enoshima & its lighthouse from the beach at Fujisawa. After that we headed back and stopped in Yokohama Chinatown for dinner. It was really amazing day and I'm so glad that I got to go to all of these interesting new places.
As per the usual, more photos are on the facebook.