Kamakura is a great destination for a day-trip from Tokyo. It was less than one hour south of where I lived. The most attractive feature of Kamakura is that there are numerous temples and shrines which gives it an atmosphere of old Japan. Kamakura was Japan’s capital for more than 100 years beginning in 1192 when the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo established Bakufu Samurai government. Kamakura is surrounded by mountains and beaches, and there are many hiking trails.
My first shrine for the day was Tsurugaoka Shinto shrine. It is the most important Shinto shrine in the city of Kamakura. I approached the shrine from the train station along a 1km long tree lane that is covered in cherry blossoms come spring time.
This is the most famous shrine in Kamakura. Minamoto Yoritomo founded it by dedicating it to the war god Hachiman and transferring it to the present location. This shrine was also a Buddhist temple and played a central role in Japanese Buddhism during the Kamakura era. The walk to the shrine took me about 10 minutes. I passed three big red Torii gates on the road leading to the shrine.
After passing through the last Torii gate I crossed a small arched bridge to enter the shrine grounds. In the days of the shogun would leave his retinue there and proceed alone on foot to the shrine.The arched bridge was called Akabashi (Red Bridge), and was reserved to him: common people had to use the flat bridge to the side.
Before I reached the Shrine I passed these barrels of sake (nihonshu) which are donated to the Shrine by its patrons. They are each elaborately decorated and are quite a feature before you reach the steps leading up to the shrine.
I climbed the long row of steps to the top of the shrine and had a lovely view down over the park. The present Senior Shrine building was constructed in 1828 by Tokugawa Ienari, the 11th Tokugawa. I loved the intricate paintwork of the shrine and stood around gawking at it for a while. The shrine still receives a lot of visitors each day and I enjoyed watching them perform their rituals while praying. It was a very peaceful experience being among so many people but having total silence surround them.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū includes several sub-shrines of which the Senior Shrine was another 61 steps above the main structure.
To the left of the Senior Shrine lies Maruyama Inari Shrine with its many torii. I love walking through the lane of Torii, it was such a wonderful experience.
I walked along the path through the surrounding forests to reach the next temple, Kenchoji, down the road. On my map Kenchoji temple looked quite close to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine and I thought it would be a quick walk there. Unfortunately it was nearly 1 km away and mostly uphill. I was in need of a little rest by the time I reached the temple.
The temple ranks first among Kamakura’s so-called Five Great Zen Temples and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. The temple was constructed on the orders of Emperor Go-Fukakusa and completed in 1253, fifth year of the Kenchō era, from which it takes its name.
After walking through the shrine I reached the Zen Garden behind the Hōjō with its pond. It was a very peaceful place and I couldn’t resisit the urge to sit down for a while and appreciate the silence and beauty that surrounded me here.
Near the end of the temple’s garden, I walked through the forest along its statue covered paths, over a hill to the Hansōbō, the temple’s large tutelary Shinto shrine. The enshrined spirit is the Hansōbō Dai gongen which was originally the tutelary spirit of Hōkō-ji in Shizuoka. The statues on the stairs leading to the shrine represent Tengu, entities similar to goblins which accompany the gongen. It felt quite earie walking along this path with all these goblin looking statues next to me. It did not feel as if I was walking towards a shrine but more towards a cemetery.
Some of the creatures have wings and a beak: they are a type of tengu called Karasu-tengu (crow tengu) because of the way they look. There was a whole group of these statues covering the rocks against the hill. They look like evil warriors or protectors to me.
On a clear day, from the shrine one can see Mount Fuji to the west, and Sagami bay and Izu Ōshima to the south.I had to climb nearly a 1000 steep steps to get to the view spot up in the hills and then it ended up being too foggy to see anything!!!
They say that you should wash your money in the stream up here and according to myth it would then double!! I washed the money I had in my pockets and hoped for the best.
At the top of the hill there is a garden filled with stones full of names. These names are of the faithful who donated to the temple, and which belong to over 100 different religious organizations. This area used to be the temple’s Inner Sanctuary, which still stands among the trees at the very top of the hill.
At the very end of the garden, next to the Hansōbō, on a small hill overlooking a lake stands the Kaishun-in. This remote temple was built in 1334 and enshrines a statue of Monju Bosatsu.
After I left Kenchoji temple I actually missed the turn off to the shrine I wanted to see and ended up at Jochiji shrine.
It was quaint and had a Zen like feel to the gardens and the shrine. Kinpōzan Jōchi-ji is a Buddhist Zen temple and belongs to the Engaku-ji school of the Rinzai sect.
Behind the main hall are the graveyard, some bamboo groves, numerous cave graves (the so-called yagura), and the statue of Hotei, the god of good fortune or happiness.
I went into this cave of the god of happiness and also rubbed his belly and dropped a coin in: the basket hoping for the best. After having been touched by generations of Japanese wishing to improve their luck, his belly, his left earlobe and his index finger have been worn smooth.
Ending my day with good fortune and happiness!!