17.06.2007 - 17.06.2007 27 °C
Just SW of big bustling Tokyo is the beautiful and tranquil coastal town of Kamakura.. tranquil until sunny weekends when hordes of Japanese daytrippers descend on it to enjoy its temples, views and general zen-ness. Last Sunday, a perfect day of clear blue skies and bright sunshine, we joined the Japanese tourists and decided to explore it ourselves.
Kamakura is famous for its many Zen temples set in a stunning background of green forest and Japanese gardens. Highlights include beautiful wooden Zen Buddhist shrines such as those at Kencho-ji, Engaku-ji and Tokei-ji temples. The latter temple used to be a refuge for women who wanted to divorce their husbands - the husbands were not allowed on temple grounds and if the women stayed for 3 years then they were granted a divorce - this was the only way they could get one at the time. We spent the morning wandering around temples, taking in the beautiful structures and carvings, and above all enjoying how green and airy the temple grounds were. It made such a difference from the very urban experience of our everyday life here.
At some point near lunch we bumped into someone who teaches for the same company as we do and whom I'd met at our training days. We had a quick chat and then parted ways because Matt and I went to have lunch at a local Soba restaurant. Soba is a very healthy and very yummy kind of noodle which is made of buckwheat - a particular favourite of Matt's. We then headed to the next temple where we bumped into Marina again while gazing at a Zen garden.
The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon exploring more Zen temples, a museum and a Shinto temple. The Shinto temple was a bit brighter and brasher than the Zen ones, but still magnificent in its own way. One thing I particular love about Shinto temples are the written prayers on wooden tablets. For a small fee you can buy a wooden tablet called an Ema to write a short prayer or wish on, and then hang it up with everyone elses. Apparently the practice originates from the mediveal times when wealthy people would donate a horse to the temple when making a large request to the god of the shrine. If the request was of a smaller nature it was customary to give a picture of a horse, and these pictures evolved into the Ema we see today, many of which still have a horse drawn on them, although pictures of other animals, arrows etc are also popular these days. In any case I always find it touching to see hundreds and hundreds of written prayers hanging together, each and every one representing something very personal and very important to the person who wrote it.
After indulging in some ice-cream we caught a train to the other side of Kamakura to see another famous temple, called Daibatsu, which houses a giant Buddha - and his giant flipflops nearby! While the architectural style in Kamakura (and indeed in all Japan) is very different from Thailand, some of the Buddha statues we saw in Kamakura were very similar to those in Thailand. At one point both Matt and I audibly gasped as we saw a Japanese man rub his hand on the head of a Buddha statue, only to remember we were no longer in Thailand where it would be inconceivable to touch a Buddha statue's head!
By then the clear skies had covered over and it was threatening to rain, but Matt and I decided we wanted to check out a nearby sea-side town called Katase and nearby island called Enoshima before heading home. Katase wasn't all that exciting, but would make a nice trip to the beach in the daytime, and it is perhaps a little exagerrated to call Enoshima an island as it is connected to the mainland by a short big bridge. We did a quick tour of the usual sea-side shops and restaurants, grabbed a bite to eat at very funky hippy cafe and then headed home in time to get a good night's sleep!