Kamakura is less than an hour from Tokyo by train, but the atmosphere feels like a world away. With hills on three sides and the Sagami Bay on the other, it is protected from the urban sprawl of Yokohama. For over 150 years, from the 12th to 14th centuries, Kamakura was the military and administrative capital of Japan. After defeating the Taira clan in 1185, the Minamoto family picked Kamakura as a base and for the following seven hundred years the shoguns ruled militarily.
The new rulers encouraged contact with China, and Zen Buddhist temples of the various sects were built. There are still more that seventy active shrines in the area representing different Buddhists sects. Few other buildings have survived the earthquakes, fires, railway lines and urban housing but the shrines appear unspoiled and provide visitors a rare glimpse of old Japan.
We were able to use our PASMO passes to travel on Japan Rail all the way to Kamakura. The trip took less than an hour and passed through Yokohama. It was hard to tell where Tokyo left off and where Yokohama began until we passed through a long tunnel and came out into the leafy green of Kamakura and could smell the fresh sea air almost immediately.
We spent the day wandering around to some of the shrines and then boarded the small electric tram to ride along the coast past the small villages along the way. School was over for the day and we enjoyed watching the students make their way home, many of them in school uniforms. The tram passes so close to the buildings, we were sure we would scrape the paint off the walls. When we finally got a glimpse of the ocean, we laughed that we could look across the ocean all the way to Vancouver Island.
At the end of the tramline, we jumped off and rushed to the other platform in order to board the same tram and make the return journey. We got off three stations before the end of the ride to view the large Buddha statue at the Kotokuin temple. The temple dates from 741 AD and the statue from 1252 AD. The statue was originally housed in a hall, but fires, earthquakes and then a tsunami in 1495 demolished the hall for good. The Buddha remained unscathed.
The main street in Kamakura is lined with cherry trees and thousands of visitors come to walk under the flowers each year in the spring. Too bad, we were late by just a couple of weeks.
Tsurugaoka (Hill of Cranes) Hachiman-gu (one of the most important Shinto shrines in Eastern Japan) large red torii (gate) is a much-photographed monument and we made sure to capture its beauty with our cameras. There were other visitors at the site but we seemed to be the only foreigners. We especially enjoyed watching the school groups posing for photographs – if it weren’t for Japanese tourists would digital cameras ever have been invented? Yeah Sony, Go Nikon, Hurrah Canon!