Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | February 22, 2009

Kamakura, Japan- Day 1

This past week, we had two days off from school and decided to use them to get out of Tokyo and see another part of Japan. We looked at possibilities for day trips: Kyoto, better in cherry blossom season; Nikko, lots of history and good location; Hakone, great views of Mt. Fuji; and Kamakura, over 60 temples and a very large Buddha.

Needless to say, we went for the giant Buddha.

On Thursday morning we packed a couple outfits, grabbed the camera bag and left for the station. The commute, navigated by Rachael and her iPhone, was surprisingly easy, and only required one transfer between our home station and our final destination. We arrived in Kamakura around 11am, and went straight to the hotel. Since it was in plain view from the train platform, we found it easily, paid for the room (up front and in cash), and left our bags to go exploring.

The only problem was that we didn’t really have a solid plan for what we wanted to explore yet. So, we walked to the main square in town and ran into a very nice gentleman who handed us a tourist map. We’re still puzzled as to how he knew we were tourists. Could it have been the shiny new camera around Brad’s neck, the Obama ’08 hat, or the fact that we were wandering aimlessly with puzzled stares on our faces? He highlighted some common stops on the map and we recognized a few of the interesting sights we had read about before making the trip. Then, we stopped in a café for a couple of lattes and a tasty version of a pig in a blanket (the blanket being a delicious French pastry).

Since the weather was nice and we knew we wanted to see the giant Buddha, called the Daibutsu (die-boot-suh), we set off in the general direction of the temple that houses the huge statue. The next 30 minutes were a mixture of looking for signs, rechecking the map, asking a couple locals for directions, and taking random photos of the quaint little town in which we found ourselves.

As we walked around, the lively but quiet, small town feel was very familiar to both of us. We couldn’t pin it down at first, but both knew it didn’t remind us of a location in the States. Later, we decided it felt very similar to the beach town in Argentina where we got engaged, Mar del Plata. People were more laid back, and we continually laughed as schoolchildren and adults alike laughed loudly with their friends. In Tokyo, kids talk to one another, but there was just something much more relaxed and free about the way people interacted here. It’s hard to describe in words, but we both sensed a real difference between Kamakura public life and the Tokyo culture we’re now accustomed to.

Back to our journey.

After a half hour walk, we arrived at the Daibutsu. Being Thursday it was relatively empty, so we were able to truly take in the majestic yet austere beauty of this massive bronze sculpture. The entire temple area was meticulously clean, symmetrical and peaceful. We walked around, took several photos, and even were able to go inside the hollow sculpture through an underground staircase. We hope you can get a sense of the temple and structure through the photos in the slideshow below.

The Daibutsu has a long and interesting history, but here’s the Cliff’s-notes version:
The “Great Buddha” of Kamakura is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha, and is now located outside on the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple. It is the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, and is over 13 meters (43 ft) tall. It was cast in 1252 and was formerly housed inside a large temple hall before the building was washed away by a tsunami tidal wave in the end of the 15th century.

Once we had thoroughly explored the Daibutsu and surrounding grounds, we set off once again for the hotel. Navigating the walk home was much easier, and we took note of restaurants and shopping areas to revisit later on. Please read Rachael’s “food blog” about the rice balls and purple potato products that we enjoyed on the way home, but suffice it to say that purple sweet potato ice cream and purple sweet potato chips are deeeeelicious.

By the time we arrived at the hotel, we were both so exhausted that we pulled out a few layers of futon from the closet and laid down for a few minutes. We ended up sleeping for two hours and apparently needed the R & R after both having been sick and putting in a lot of extra hours at work and church lately.

Since it was late enough for dinner, we ventured over towards the town square again and found a great restaurant above the train station. The food was richly flavored and beautifully presented. Again, see Rachael’s blog about Kamakura food here: TokyoTerrace.

With full stomachs and tired legs, we retired to the hotel and spent our first night sleeping on tatami mats. In case you’re curious, it was wonderful, and we recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone who ever has the opportunity. And that was just our first day…

SLIDESHOW

Kamakura, Japan

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