Kamakura, the former capital of Japan (1192-1333) is often said to be like a little Kyoto. Even so, going there for the first time last weekend, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But it turned out to be a beautiful, quiet, quaint town.
The first place I visited was Engaku-ji. To get to Engaku-ji, you have to climb up a long, steep staircase and then go down a smaller hilltop path. While the staircase is no joke, it is totally worth it! From the top of that hill, there is a fantastic view of Fuji san!
I paused to look at Fuji san for a few minutes, and while watching, a Japanese lady stopped as well. She told me that they hadn’t been able to see Fuji-san the past few days because it had been hidden behind the clouds. Afterward, she asked “Do you speak Japanese?” and when I replied “Hai”, I am not quite sure why, but she looked a little alarmed, quickly turned and walked quickly away. 笑！！
Engaku-ji, completed in 1282, was built to honor the victims on both sides of the
Mongolian Invasion from 1274-1281. It is home to the Great Bell which has been designated as a National Treasure.
The next place I visited, Meigetsu-in, famous for its ajisai (hydrangea) was the place that I was looking forward to seeing the most. Founded in 1160, Meigetsu-in, also known as “Ajisai-dera” (Hydrangea Temple), was built by a son in memory of his father who died in a power struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late Heian Period (794-1185). While the hydrangea weren’t in full bloom yet, it was still a beautiful place to visit!
After Meigetsu-in was Tokei-ji. Tokei-ji, also known as “Divorce Temple” was built in 1285 by the wife of Hojo Tokimune after he died at a young age. Until the end of the Edo era (1603-1868), the temple served as a shelter for women who were abused by their husbands and were seeking a divorce. An official divorce could be attained by staying at the temple for three years. The local women were always ready to help women seeking refuge there. They would tell any woman running in the neighborhood “Just over there!” in case she was being chased by her husband.
A trip to Kamakura wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at Kotoku-in Temple. The second largest Buddha statue in Japan, the Kamakura Daibutsu is 11.4 meters tall. It was originally housed in a large temple hall, but that was destroyed in a typhoon somewhere between the 14 and 15 centuries, so it has been standing in the open air ever since. Even though it is quite big, I was a little surprised that it wasn’t quite as big as I expected it to be!
My last stop was Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu, the most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura. It was originally built in 1063 and dedicated to Emperor Ojin and other members of his family. Probably the most significant event that happened at Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu was the assassination of the Shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo by his nephew which effectively ended the Seiwa Genji line of the Minamoto clan and their rule in Kamakura.