When I visit a new city, I like to experience it in context. I like to get to know it by seeing what lies outside it. Especially when it’s my first encounter with the country, the people, and culture of the place. This was my first trip to Japan and since I had no time to go to Kyoto, I decided to visit Kamakura, often referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan. But the main attraction that drew me there was the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
The Train Ride
Kamakura is a seaside town about an hour-long train ride from Tokyo. I made sure to sit next to the window and look out as we left the city and rode through the suburbs and the small towns outside Tokyo. But I was more fascinated by my fellow riders. Many of the commuters—young and old—dozed off, catching up on their sleep. There were scores of students, some as young as 7-8 years old, riding on their own or in groups. You never see such young kids on the subway or commuter trains in New York. Everyone was quiet and polite. Even the packs of teenagers waiting at the train platform with me on the way back, talked and laughed in hushed voices. A stark contrast to a train ride I took outside of Barcelona this summer where a group of teenagers riding with me were doing pull-ups on the handles, sitting on the floor, or on top of each other.
I visited Kōtoku-in Temple to see the great Buddha of Kamakura. In photos, the bronze statue seemed colossal and it didn’t disappoint in person. While temples can be beautiful and mystical, there was something very powerful about experiencing the Buddha statue in the open, among the trees and hills that were just beginning to turn colorful in the early fall. Built in 1252, the statue is a little over 13 meters high and weighs about 93 tons. Fun fact: Rudyard Kipling visited in 1892 and wrote a poem, Buddha At Kamakura.
I loved the grounds of Hasedera Temple. It’s perched on a hill and you can see the rooftops of the seaside town of Kamakura below you. I had not realized how close we were to the sea. The gardens were tastefully arranged and the ponds had the typical Koi fish swimming in them. The large cave was a nice surprise and I enjoyed walking through the corridors lit by candles and lined with statues. There is a small restaurant at the top of the hill where I savored the view while sipping green tea. A perfect Zen moment!