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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  1. What an amazing place. Can't wait for part two of your story. I'm sure it will be at least as interesting at this one.

    1. Hi Marcia, thanks for following my blogs. My next blog will be at Hase-dera temple, one of the most beautiful temples I have visited in Japan :-)

  2. Beautiful temple.
    So many of these are hidden here and there... in Kyoto, Nara, Nikko...
    At first, these stand out, because they're a bit away from the major cities. Too bad so many were destroyed during WW II.

    1. Hi Escapist, thanks for the kind visit. Agree it's a pity many heritage sites were lost in war and we do not have a chance to witness their splendor.

  3. This place's so wonderful, charming and peaceful. I love exploring temples like this one! Added to my bucket list already :-).

    1. Hi Agness, hope you get to visit this beautiful temple soon!

  4. I need to know if you did get to see Mount Fuji!

    1. need to continue reading my blogs to find out :-P

  5. Kamakura was a city that definitely had more shrines than could be seen in one day trip...I think we saw one of the larger shrines and the giant Buddha statue. Whatever you decide to do there, it is a great way to escape the chaos of Tokyo for a day.

    1. Hi Shanna, welcome to my blogs. Kamakura is certainly a place I want to re-visit again for it's beautiful shrines and temples :-)