Sunday, 28 September 2014

Day Trip at Kamakura (Part 3)-The Daibutsu, Great Buddha of Kamakura

The Great Buddha of Kamakura
One of the main reasons I came to Kamakura was to see the famous Daibutsu at Kotokuin Temple. In Japan, Daibutsu means "Great Buddha". The 13.35 meter bronze sitting Buddha is the second largest in Japan. For the Japanese, the Daibutsu is considered a legend as it has survived multiple disasters and wars for centuries since it was cast in 1252. The temples that housed the Daibutsu were destroyed thus leaving it in the open.

Front gate of Kotokuin Temple
Picture Map of Kotokuin Temple compound
From Hase-dera temple, it was just a 5 minutes stroll to Kotokuin temple. Visitors would always plan to visit these two temples together since they are in such close distance. It was around 4 pm when I reached the temple but we still could see that it was packed with people. We paid the entrance fee (200 Yen per adult) and proceeded straight into the temple compound.
Family Photo with Daibutsu
Daibutsu with Japanese Children
I could not really explain my feeling when I set eyes on the Great Buddha of Kamakura. I have read all about it's history and see it in the tour guides and internet but nothing beat seeing the real presence itself. It was strange that the temple was supposed to be a ground of tranquility but now overflowed with tourists due to the Daibutsu's influence. I came across an article that there are plans in a certain country to build more larger, higher and imposing Buddha statues. The main reason is to draw in the crowd and generate profits. To me, those are only empty shells and act against the Buddhists' belief. I will certainly not visit them.

Daibutsu & Paulo
Daibutsu & Alison
Daibutsu & Charlotte

The setup of the Kotokuin temple was very simple compared to the rest of the temples I visited. The Daibutsu statue was situated in the center of a large square compound. It was fronted by a small main gate. At the back of the temple lied a small shrine. The whole temple itself was situated in a forest. I could only imagine how serene and peaceful this environment would look after the temple closing hours.
I walked close to the Daibutsu and observed him from close proximity. The expression of the Buddha emitted a sense of kindness and peacefulness. He was seated in a meditation stance, oblivious to the noisy crowd around him. For centuries, he has watched over Kamakura and protected it's people. In return, the believers continued to visit and pay respect to him.
Small shrine at temple back
The crowd dwindled when the closing hours of the temple approached. We continued to hang around, admiring the Buddha and at the same time, rested our legs after a day of continuous walking. When it was time to go, I took one hard look at the Daibutsu again. Perhaps I would be back someday to visit him again.  
Daibutsu from afar

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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Day Trip at Kamakura (Part 2)-The Hase-dera Temple

Blissful Jizo Bodhisattva Statues at Hase-dera Temple
My second stop at Kamakura after the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine was the beautiful Hase-dera temple. The temple was built on a wooded hill and it's main draw is the 9.18 meter wooden statue of Kannon (Goddess of Mercy). It has eleven heads, each representing the different characteristic of the Goddness.

To reach the temple, we took Kamakura's trademark train via the Enoden (Enoshima Electric Railway Station) from the Kamakura station to the Hase station. The ride was rather unique as it cut through the residential district and the railway track was in touching proximity of the houses. I guessed the residents must have already got themselves immune to the rumbling sound every time a train passed by their houses.

The ride took about 10 minutes. We have to walk for another 10 minutess to reach the Hase-dera temple. There were shop houses selling souvenirs and foods along the way but we skipped them, having our fill already at Komachi-dori. One thing I learnt from this trip was how to already differentiate a Shinto shrine from a Buddhist temple at the entrance. A Shinto shrine always has a Torii to mark it's entrance whereas a Japanese Buddhist temple has beautifully decorated gate, often flanked by two Godly or Demonic guardians and trademarked by a red lantern in between the entrance.

Front Gate of Hase-dera Temple
Photo at Hase-dera Temple's front gate
Picture Map of Hase-dera Temple
The front gate of Hase-dera temple was beautifully decorated with fauna and flora. A big lantern hanging in between the gate indicated that it was a temple devoted to Buddhism. We paid the entrance fee via an electronic ticket counter (Adult: 300 Yen, Child: 100 Yen) and went into the temple through the side gate. A beautiful garden greeted us but we did not spend too much time in it. Instead, we went straight for the stairs to climb uphill to the main temple.( Side note: I did not often support the charges for temples' visits. A temple is a religious ground where people from all aspects of background can offer their prayers and respect to the gods. I have experienced temples at Thailand, China, Japan etc charging for temple visits. I hope the money collected are put to good use like helping the poor and maintaining the temple ground but not for business profits)
Jizo Bodhisattva Statues#1
Jizo Bodhisattva Statues#2
Jizo Bodhisattva Statues#3
Jizo Bodhisattva Statues#4
Jizo Bodhisattva Statues#5
At the middle of the hill, I was drawn to the many small Buddha status that lined the slope and ground of the hill. They were Jizo Bodhisattva statues contributed by devotee to help the souls of dead children to reach paradise. We would see many of these in various versions in the temple ground. My wife took sometime to bath a Buddha statue with a ladle from the crystal clear pool. We spent quite a while here admiring the scene before continued our climb up the stairs.

Kannan-do Hall
Photo at Kannan-do Hall

The uphill climb was not arduous and we soon reached the main temples. There were two main halls-the Kannan-do hall (which housed the famous Goddess of Mercy statue) and the Amida-do hall. No photography was allowed in the Kannan-do hall. The imposing and finely crafted statue towered over the visitors and was very well-preserved.  The Japanese have spent great effort to preserve their treasures and heritage and set a good example for many others to follow. There is another similar statue carved out from the same camphor tree housed in another temple at Nara.

View over Kamakura City

There was an observation deck which overlooked the city and the sweeping view of the nearby ocean. We took the opportunity to take a breather at one of the many benches stationed there. We could see many people buying snacks from a nearby small restaurant while enjoying the wonderful scenery. We resisted the temptation as we had plans for a sushi feast for dinner! We saw many Kites hovering around in the sky and there were Warning Signs to warn people of the aggressive birds. These applied specially for those who did not want the Kites to disturb them with their razor sharp claws while enjoying their snacks.
Photo with beautiful Hydrangeas


View from Top Platform
I was preparing to leave but was told by Alison and Charlotte that they had discovered another path further uphill. We explored further and were glad we did not leave earlier. The pathway was adjourned with colourful and pretty hydrangeas at both sides which led to a top platform. The girls could not resist the lure of the flowers and dashed to pose with the ones they liked. Poor me (with my heavy camera equipments and bags) have to  keep up with them while they complained "how slow I move and why I was not not taking photos of them" :-S The narrow stairs and steeper slope did not deter us from reaching the top. But I was sure I must have lost a couple of fats as I was sweating profusely. From here, we could capture the bird eye view of Kamakura with the sea and their famous flowers. I found out later that one would need to take a Q-number to admire the flowers during the peak period. We were lucky to avoid that situation. Note that hydrangeas are at full bloom during the June period only. Plan your time nicely if you want to witness their beauty and glamour.

Buddha statues near hill bottom

We wished to stay here longer but running a bit out of time for our next destination-The Kotokuin Temple and the Big Daibutsu. I strongly recommend you to put this beautiful temple in your list when you visit Kamakura next time.   

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Saturday, 6 September 2014

Day Trip at Kamakura (Part 1)-The Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine

The Maiden and Gingko Tree at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine
I had a hard time planning the day trip for Kamakura. There were just too many attractions there and it was difficult to make the decisions on the ones to visit. After doing some detailed research, I finally developed the itineraries for Kamakura. You will experience my "pain" when you visit Kamakura next time, having to make decisions from a hundred of temples and shrines. 

We would visit Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine-the most important Shinto shrine at Kamakura, Hase-dera Temple-one of the most beautiful temples in the premise and Kotokuin Temple, where the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) is situated. We would also pay a visit to the Inamuragasaki Beach with the hope of capturing the sunset view of Mount Fuji in the distant. 

The train ride from Ikebukuro (where we stayed) to Kamakura took about an hour. From the high rise constructions in Tokyo, we saw the buildings getting lower as we got nearer to our destination. There were also increased greenery. It is little wonder Tokyo citizens love to flock to Kamakura to take a breather during weekends and holidays. Make sure you plan your visit during a normal weekend liked what we did to avoid the Tokyo crowd!
Our first destination was Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine. It was dedicated to Hachiman (God of War),  Emperor Ojin, his mother-Empress Jingu and his wife-Minamoto no Yoritomo. From Kamakura station, we needed to walk through Komachi-dori to the famous Shinto shrine. Countless shop houses lined the street. Just like Nakamise-dori at Asakusa, souvenirs, snacks, clothing, restaurants etc were in abundance here. The star icon was obviously the Daibutsu. Many souvenirs and snacks were modeled after the popular statue at Kotokuin temple.

Daibutsu souvenirs
Kamakura delicacy
Not unexpectedly, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine was crowded with visitors. We saw many students and my immediate thought was that the Japanese government has done a decent job to instilled cultural and historical values into their younger generations. I was slightly disappointed when I saw the main shrine from afar that it was under renovation. A reminder to those visiting Japan during this period of time. There are extensive restoration works performed at multiple attractions. Make sure you do your homework to avoid disappointment during your visit. 

Akabashi leading to the Main Shrine
Photo with Charlotte in front of the Maiden

Ema for your wishes
The Maiden (Dancing Stage)
Fortunately, the rest of the buildings were left intact and the overall setting of the shrine still looked fabulous. As like most Shinto shrines in Japan, a large Torii gate marked the entrance of the shrine. It was followed by three bridges. An arched bridge (Akabashi) was flanked by two flat bridges. The Akabashi was supposedly to be reserved for use by the shogun himself only. Being "commoners", we could only use one of the flat bridges to cross the "Genpei ponds". Another 5 minutes walk from the bridges would bring us to the "Maiden", situated at the base of the stairs which led to the Main Shrine (Hongu).  It was an ornately designed dancing stage where beautiful dancers and musical performers would perform for the royal family. A Purification fountain laid not too far away to to the left of the Maiden for visitors to cleanse themselves before proceeding to the Main Shrine to offer their prayers.

Purification Fountain shade
After 61 steps.........
The 61 steps climb brought us to the Main Shrine. There was once a famous 1000 years old giant gingko tree at the left side of the stairs (from bottom) made famous by an assassin who hid behind the tree before killing his victim. It was now nowhere in sight as it fell victim to a big storm in Year 2010. We heard chants coming out from within the premise. There was a religious ceremonial held in the shrine but we could not see clearly what happened inside. We were only allowed access to the external square of the Main Shrine but it was enough to portray to us the luxurious lifestyle of the past Japanese royalties. The walls were beautifully decorated with lively pictures and the rooftops, doors and windows were delicately designed which could only be crafted by skilful craftsmen. For a small fee, you could take a tour in a small museum inside to witness the treasures of the shrine. I was much impressed by a full suit of Samurai armour displayed inside. It was made of gold and I could only imagine how strong one must be to don the hefty costume.
Guardian of the Main Shrine
Interior of Main Shrine
We left the Main Shrine through the left exit. A set of small red Torii gates led us uphill to the Inari shrine. It was dedicated to Inari-the deity of rice. Foxes (kitsune) which often acted as guardian and messenger of Inari, flanked both sides of the small shrine. There were other sub-shrines like this around the premise at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine but due to time constraint, we did not visit them.
Small Torii Gates
Inari Shrine
Before leaving the shrine for our next destination, we could not resist the temptation to take photos at the Sake Offering Hall. We had already taken photos with the Sake at Meiji Shrine at Tokyo but were not ready to leave till we captured some photos with the Sake at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine. Somehow, we were obsessed by this unique sight at Japan.
Sake Offering Hall
All set and done, we headed to our next stop-The beautiful Hase-dera temple
If you are visiting the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, this is the official website.

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