Day tripping: Kamakura

By Mark Ellis

Tokyo is a modern city.  Everywhere you look there are neon lights and tall buildings.  When I first came here I was excited by it and also disappointed.  I was excited because, well, it’s exciting to be in the hustle and bustle of this mega metropolis.  I was disappointed because I wanted to see more of traditional Japan.  Sure there are shrines all over the city that have the feeling of ancient times but, to me those places were only a small glimpse of the grandeur I was missing.  Kyoto, of course, is famous for being a place that maintains the beauty of thetraditional Japanese esthetic but it is too much of a hassle to get on a bullet train and go all the way to Kansai just to feel the nostalgia of Japanese culture.  I needed something closer.  Later I discovered that the closest place to Tokyo to get that Japanese feeling is Kamakura. 

Kamakura is located in Kanagawa prefecture just 50 kilometers from Tokyo.   It is a wonderful place to go on an adventure.  Getting there is easy.  It is just a straight ride from Tokyo Station or Shingawa Station on the Yokosuka line.  If you are coming from Shibuya or Ebisu then the Shonan Shinjuku line will ferry you there as well.  From any of these stations it will take just under an hour to getto Kamakura.  Once you arrive you will find that there are tons of great places to eat Japanese and Western foods as well as many sightseeing locations to visit.  I won’t talk about food today.  I will point you in the right sightseeing direction by introducing two must-see locations; the bamboo grove of Hokokuji and the famous Great Buddha.

Hokokuji is a Zen temple that’s located 1,700 meters east of Kamakura station.  It was founded in 1334.  Although the beautiful wooden structure is something worth seeing, the thing that really makes it special is the bamboo grove.  It is a tranquil and almost magical place that has a deep sense of spiritual energy.  You don’t have to be a new age aficionado to appreciate the beauty and the power of the garden.  From the moment you step inside you will feel it’s quiet energy wash over you and re-energize you.  For 500 yen you can have a cup of rich green tea and some Japanese sweets while you sit and meditate on life.

Another must-see is the bronze statue of Amida Buddha.  To get there you must take the quaint Enoden train a few stops and get off at Hase.  Locally the statue is known as the great Buddha or the Daibutsu.  It sits on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple and, at 13.35 meters, it is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan. The Daibutsu dates back to 1252 and has had a rich and tumultuous history.  The statue was once housed indoors but several times the surrounding building was destroyed by heavy typhoons.  Since 1498 the statue has remained outdoors leaving it to battle the elements and vandals.  At the entrance to the grounds there is a sign that reads. "Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Buddha and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”
I think that message can apply to all of Kamakura.
Photos by Marcellus Nealy