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Kyoto Indulgence at the Historical Town Near Tokyo

By Keiko H. Johnson
Staff Writter

Planning trips to temples and shrines has been one of the most popular activities in Japan. While Kyoto is widely recognized as a capital endowed with the legacy of ancient Buddhist temples, and majestic places and fancy gardens of every size and description, I respectfully introduce Kamakura as a place, which equally encloses the deep history of Japan, the beauty of nature with soothing atmosphere, and the intriguing gourmet to what Kyoto can offer. Kamakura has been regarded by many Japanese as a place which fulfills every aspect of expectations, which visitors embrace. Its beauty of nature and the soothing atmosphere is absolutely mesmerizing.

There are more than 30 historical temples and shrines remaining in Kamakura.

This small coastal town in Kanagawa Prefecture is located just about 30 miles southwest of central Tokyo. The city is surrounded by the ocean in the south and by wooded hills in all other directions. It is endowed with the rich history of Kamakura Bakufu, which kept its throng for 100 years during the 12th Century. The historical temples and shrines in the area exhibit the atmosphere of old Japan, which elaborately mingles with the beauty of nature.

One of the ways to make your Kamakura trip easy and fun is the Enoden Railway Line which runs from Kamakura Station to Hase Station. It is a city rail car which transports people to major temples and beaches in the area. The ticket for the train can be purchased at the ticket booth right outside of the gate of JR Kamakura Station. Purchasing the round ticket or a day pass, which I usually do, will save your time of purchasing the ticket at each stop you make.

Once you arrive at Kamakura Station, follow the crowd into the shopping street. The most popular figure of Kamakura: Tsurugaoka Hachimah-gu Shrine appears at the end of this street. The main establishment of the shrine standing gracefully behind the TORII gate is the most famous shrine in this city. The founder of this shrine: Minamoto no Yoritomo, was one of the influential Shoguns in Japan so the divinity of this shrine is considered as high in spiritual value.

Coming out of the front entrance to the shrine is a street called Wakamiya-Oji Street, which encloses many restaurants and souvenir stores. Many popular restaurants and cafes appearing in magazines can be found here. Sitting at one of these cafes and enjoying a slice of chiffon cake with a cup of coffee will bring you peace of mind. The modern appearance of cafe in the old Japanese atmosphere is one of the most exquisite moments I had. Visiting the souvenir stores is enjoyable as well. Products sold at those stores are Japanese retrospective handmade toys and crafts that will make a perfect piece to add to your curio cabinet.

Once you are done spending time at the modernized part of the town, it is time to get the blessings at the historical temples. As a main attraction of Kamakura, the great Buddha at Kotokun In Temple is recognized as the face of Kamakura. It is located within a 5-10 minute walk from Hase Station on the Enoden Railway Line. A bronze statue of Amida Buddha sits at KoToku In Temple, at a height of 13.35 meters, and is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue to the Great Buddha in Nara Prefecture in Japan.

As you go further down the road toward the Hase Station on the last stop of Enoden Railway Line, another immense statue awaits your arrival at Hase Dera Temple. The statue of Kannon: the Goddess of Mercy which alsoappears in one of the Japanese DO-YO children's songs because of its fame. The 9.8 meter tall gilded wooden statue is referred to as one of the largest wood Kannon statues in Japan. The figure gracefully stands with its one arm lifted, another arm down on its side, and its head slightly tilted down to look at the visitors on Earth. Its curved face looks so peaceful and soothing that you will unconsciously find your mind sited in self-sufficiency without a doubt. The statue is located in the temple's main building, the Kannon-do Hall. The temple's traditional Japanese style garden will be full of blooming flowers, which adds to the vibrant colors of the temple during the spring and summer. If time allows, visit the Chaya Teahouse where you can find properly blended Maccha green tea and Japanese Wagashi sweets.

From here you may hop back on the JR Yokosuka Line and head back to Kita-Kamakura Station. Tokkeiji Temple in Kita-Kamakura is one of the temples with a unique background of women's history. The Tokeiji is a branch of Enkakuji Temple of Zen Buddhism. It was founded by the wife of HOJO TOKIMUNE in 1285 and served as a women's shelter for the victims of domestic violence and for those who sought a divorce. As divorcing was considered sinful in Japan at the time, you had to stay at this temple for three years before the divorce became official. This small temple represents the history of hardships and the disruption Japanese women had in their background.

If you are dressed and prepared for a nature walk, here are the three popular trails which run through the city. The western hills take you to the Jochiji Temple in Kita Kamakura with the Kotokuin Temple with the Great Buddha in the west of the city. The Zeniarai Benten: A god of wealth, where people wash their money for wealth and the Gejiyama Public Park where the statue of the founder of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu: Minamototo no Yoritomo can be seen underway. This is the second to the longest trail in Kamakura and it will take about 60-90 minutes to complete. The Northern hill is the trail that leads from Kenchoji Temple in Kita Kamakura to Zuisenjii Temple. Zuisennji is famous for its Zen style garden. It will take about 60-90 minutes to complete this trail. The tomb caves called Yagura appears on the wall of the hills as you hike up the trail, which I found spooky but entertaining. The trail can be accessed through the Shishimai Valley, which is a popular observation spot for autumn leaves in December. I recommend obtaining a trail map at the station or at the bookstore before you go.

The last trail is the eastern hills. It is the connection between Myouhonji Temple and Yagimo Shrine. The trail will lead you to Harakiri Yagura, a cave tomb where the remains of the last Hojo Regent are buried. The trail takes about 30 minutes to complete and this is the shortest trail of all three.

Getting to Kamakura from Tokyo is fairly easy. I prefer to take the Shounan Line which runs directly into Kamakura from the Ikebukuro Station. Once you arrive at Kamakura, you may find a map to all the temples and shrines around the area. As the spring vacation approaches, the cherry blossoms will fill the town and adds luxury to the existing elegance of the city of Kamakura.

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