Keio Exchange: Kamakura
On our first week in Japan, the four of us went on an excursion to Kamakura, a coastal town just south of Tokyo that used to be the old capital of Japan for more than a century. Known for its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, this city is not to be missed and all four of us would recommend a visit after the wonderful time we had there!
First, we visited the Kamakura Daibutsu (鎌倉大仏, Great Buddha of Kamakura) a 13.35 metre tall bronze statue of the Amida Buddha at Kotokuin Temple. Surrounded by sakura trees and with the smell of incense in the air, the massive buddha really was a sight to behold!
After strolling around the temple and admiring the sakura trees, we were able to go inside the large figure and look at how the buddha had been made. Next, the four of us visited Hōkoku-ji Temple (報国寺), another Buddhist temple known sometimes as “the bamboo temple” due to the bamboo thicket that lies behind the temple’s main hall. For a while, we wandered through the winding narrow paths of the bamboo forest, before coming upon a small teahouse where we bought matcha tea with Will teaching us the proper tea ceremony way of how to drink it as we enjoyed the views of the grove. When it was originally founded in the early years of the Muromachi Period, Hokokuji was the family temple of the ruling Ashikaga Clan and behind the temple, we were able to see small caves carved into the hillside believed to hold the ashes of some of the later Ashikaga lords.
Subsequently, we then visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, (鶴岡八幡宮) a traditional Shinto shrine devoted to the syncretic divinity of archery and war, Hachiman. Unarguably Kamakura’s most important shrine, it was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063 and enlarged and moved to its current site in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government.Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is the geographical and cultural centre of Kamakura and as you walk up the main street towards it, it is a hard sight to miss as the massive torii (gate) that marks the entrance is majestically tall and a bright rich red. It’s a very impressive and beautiful shrine and out of all the ones I visited on my exchange, (with the exception of Hakone Shrine) Tsurugaoka Hachimangū was by far my favourite.
As we walked up to the steps and the temple, we were surrounded by other visitors and worshippers. People in yukatas, worshippers, other foreign tourists and priestesses joined us as we walked up the steps to the main temple where some of us made offerings and looked at what others had wished and written on wooden plaques. After we had seen the main temple, we visited the gardens at the foot of the shrine with koi swimming in ponds and sakura blossoms falling in the wind onto the top of the water. The whole day the four of us had seen numerous sakura in bloom and we all thought we were really lucky to be able to do so - they really are beautiful when they flower!
Last but not least, the four of us toured the shopping street of Komachi-Dori where we bought souvenirs for our families, explored strange and interesting shops and ate candyfloss and matcha ice cream. According to legend, Komachi-Dori started off originally as a market opened in front of the Hachimangū shrine but has now grown to a street lined with other 250 shops! One of our particular favourites was the “My neighbour Totoro” character shop that sold Studio Ghibli merchandise, every one of us came out of the store with a new Totoro soft toy in hand! As we rode the train home we all agreed that we had had a brilliant day, and personally, so far Kamakura has definitely been one of the biggest highlights of our trip! Thankyou Kitashiro sensei for taking the four of us!
By Victoria Graham