Tuesday, January 05, 2010


On Sunday of the holiday weekend, we decided to head to Kamakura. We got a rather late start (shocking) so had to confine our trip to just a few sites. In Kita-kamakura, we went to the Engaku-ji shrine, which happens to be the most peaceful of the bunch and represents shrines from the samurai era. We didn't know that at the time. We just lucked out. Incidentally, it also happens to be the closest shrine to the exit of the train. The grounds have some interesting features that cut into and incorporate the surrounding cliffs and caves.

Sneak picture of Ryan examining strange stone marker near Engaku-ji.
Next we took the Enoden train to Hase-dera, which has a temple that dates back to AD 736 and thousands of tiny Jizo.
Here is a small Buddha with a tiny New Year's mochi tower in front of it. The mochi tower I guess used to be two balls of mochi (smashed rice paste) with an orange on the top. Modern towers consist of a plastic container with mochi inside (presumably to keep the mochi from drying out) and a fake plastic orange on top. The tradition is that sometime between the 7th and the 10th of January, you eat the mochi in a soup of sweet red beans.

At the Hase-dera you can place incense in a large vat as a sort of prayer. However, I think the incense are supposed to slowly burn over time in a cloud of smoke and not go up in the fiery rage shown below.

There is also a prayer-go-round:

Inside the wooden center are stacks and stacks of prayers. When you turn the wheels, it is thought to be the equivalent of saying all those prayers. Quite efficient!

After a 10-minute stroll down the street from Hase-dera, we arrived at the bronze Daibutsu, Japan's second largest Buddha. It was once housed in a huge hall but the building was swept away by a tsunami in 1495. You can climb steps and look out windows that are essentially at Buddha's shoulder blades, but the line was really long so we skipped that. In the summer you can do a lot of hiking around the hills of this area and even trek down to the beach below. As it was, it took all of our strength just to get out of the cozy train (with its built-in seat-warmers!) and walk around a bit. Have I mentioned how cold we are here? Friends, we are FREEZING!

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