Rest of the weekend: Kamakura

I wanted to post about the other thing I did last weekend, with the intention of doing one of those picture-heavy copy-light posts I mentioned all that time ago (like they ever happen).

Kamakura was the seat of the government during the Kamakura period for just under 150 years, during a time when there was great change across the country. Read more here, if you’re interested.

Since the decision to go wasn’t made until the last possible moment (about 9am that morning) I had a tight schedule to see the five things I’d marked as being the best. Also, since it was a public holiday there were alot of crowds to contend with, which almost spoilt the amazingly serene atmosphere of the place.

OK, on with the photos! Firstly, a map so you can see where things are:

Arriving at Kita Kamakura station I went straight to Engaku Ji, which is the largest Zen monastry in Kamakura. It now consists of 18 buildings but once had 50. Read all about it here.

After spending ages wandering around Engaku Ji, I looked at my watch and realised it was time to press on to Tokei Ji. The main reason I wanted to visit is that it’s an important place in feminist history in Japan. At the time, under the shogunate, a man could divorce his wife simply by sending her back to her family, however a woman had no way out, even if her husband treated her badly. However, if she ran away and made it to Tokei Ji, after staying for three years she would officially be recognised as divorced. Men couldn’t even enter until 1902. Tokei means clock or watch in Japanese, which I assume is related.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (Minamoto Shrine) was largely a rather gaudy affair – having been rebuilt quite recently it’s colours have yet to beome muted with the passage of time. It was packed with people and there was also a wedding on, which made it all the more hectic. Still, it had a great garden and a large nicely laid out complex of buildings. It was dedicated to the Emperor Ōjin, his mother and his wife Hime-gami. Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate, moved it to its present location in 1191. Hachiman, the god worshiped popularly among warriors, to reside there and guard his government.

Missioning off down the road towards the coast, I grabbed some food from the 7/11 (no time to eat with all that sightseeing!) and made for the Great Buddah (Daibutsu) (Kotoku-in is the temple there). Sitting over 37 feet high and cast in bronze he is pretty impressive, especially the serene expression he wears. It was built in response to an even bigger one in Nara, but it is agreed that the Kamakura Daibutsu is more technically impressive.
Finally, it was off to Hase-dera, the only temple that faces the sea (and lets face it, seeing the sea was a massive bonus given that I’ve barely seen it in years!). This was my favourite temple of the day – it had a small but perfectly formed complex of buildings, small but again perfectly formed gardens, a funky underground set of cave shrines, plus a walk you could make up about 2000 stairs which allowed you to see not only the shrine but also the sea and most of Kamakura and Hase. It also has a multi-headed statue of Kannon, one of two carved from the same massive piece of wood, but unfortunately taking photos of it was banned.

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