It is our good fortune to know Kunieda-San, my friend's ex-boss who lives in Kamakura, a small city south of Tokyo. He offered to show us around his hometown on a Saturday. After spending several days in the hot and crowded city, we were ready to jump on the next train to somewhere more serene and scenic.
We left Tokyo early in the morning and arrived in Kamakura in an hour by train. It is a completely different world here. The houses are set amidst lush greenery and there were visibly less people around.
|The main street of Kamakura.
Kunieda-San was already waiting at the train station. We were early but you can trust the Japanese to be punctual. The last time my friend met him was more than 10 years ago. He was one of the top guys in the Singapore office then. After that, he was posted to San Francisco and Shanghai before retiring in the historical city of Kamakura some years back. These days, he is a volunteer guide for his hometown, specialising in historical places like shrines, temples and monuments.
Looking at the sleepy town, it is hard to believe that this quiet little town with its many temples was the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate, from 1185 to 1333.
When he discovered that we both love hiking, he decided to bring us on a hike starting from the train station and ending near the Kōtokuin. The hike involved walking, with some climbing, through a forest.
First, we had to walk through a very pleasant residential estate with many lovely houses. Many rich city folk build their holiday homes here. Looking at these charming villas made me want to retire there too.
After a long uphill walk, we arrived at the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. To differentiate a shrine from a temple, look at the gate. A shrine has a simple gate (torii) usually made of stone or vermilion-painted wood indicating the entrance to the sacred grounds.
Legend has it that it was constructed by Minamoto Yoritomo after he received a divine message in his dreams asking him to use the water here to offer prayers to god and all the world will be at peace. Later Hojo Tokiyoro washed money with this water praying for prosperity for his family.
Since then, the water has become famous for washing money and getting financial success. Hearing that, we quickly dug out all our coins and washed our money!
|Paper crane offerings.
We continued the hike which took us through a park famous for the cherry blossoms.
Due to a recent typhoon, some of the leaves have turned red prematurely, months ahead of autumn.
Several luxurious hill-top villas made me feel as if we were in USA instead of Japan.
From the hill, we took in the panoramic view of Kamakura city.
These were the last few houses we passed before entering the forest.
It was a pleasant walk in the forest trail. Even in summer, the shade managed to keep the temperature bearable.
The entire hike took 3 hours. We stopped for water and to fan ourselves.
After a brief descent, we were out of the forest.
We walked to the famous Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that, at 13.35 meters, is the second largest in Japan (second only to that in Nara's Todaiji). Thought to be cast in 1252, the statue was originally housed in a giant temple hall, but the building was washed away in a tsunami.
Kunieda-San is a specialist in the history of the shrines and temples of Kamakura, hence he spared no effort in explaining all abou the makings of the Great Buddha. He was so systematic that he even brought a folder showing statistics and history of this area.
We had history lessons under the big tree by the Buddha statue!
Once he was done with the lecture, we were longing for a hearty lunch. On the way to the restaurant, we passed by shops selling traditional rice crackers.
|Toasting rice crackers.
To cater to the tourists visiting the Great Buddha, there are many souvenir shops and restaurants.
We had lunch at this nice restaurant. Japanese food of course!