Monday, May 24, 2010


OK--  I have not kept up with my coverage of our trip to Tokyo.  The postings are now a bit out of sequence.  But here is a brief on our visit to Kamakura, home of the giant bronze Budha, outside of Tokyo.

[Sat, 2-May 2010]--   For our last day in Japan, we wanted to get out of Tokyo.  Our initial thought was to travel to Nikko.  Nikko is about two hours by train from Shinjuku.  It is a mountain town that has several shrines, and is a national heritage area.  There is also a national park adjacent to the town, and is a popular destination for Onsen, hot springs bath, and Ryokans-- the  Japanese inns that include a room, meals, and the Onsen.  However, Saturday was the start of Golden Week, a national holiday for Japan, and it would have been difficult to enjoy a Ryokan stay, and return to Tokyo in time to make our respective flights back to Singapore.
So instead we chose to go to Kamakura, which is an hour train ride from Shinjuku, and a good destination for a day trip.  It too is a popular weekend destination for Tokyo residents, so we anticipated it might be crowded.  We weren't wrong.
An understatement. Our trip out to Kamakura was without difficulty, however once there, it became interesting.
Kamakura is a coastal town-- very nice, and an area for Tokyo and Yokohama residents to escape on weekends--  perhaps like Monterey or Santa Cruz in California.  The area actually has several small towns along the coast, with a small railroad that services them, starting in Kamakura and ending in Enoshima.  The train is single track, except at stations along the way, so coordination along the track with the returning train is necessary.  The total length of this line is only 6.2 Km.  There area near Kamakura is forested, and is popular for hiking.  Further along there are areas for sailboarding, fishing, and a swimming beach at Enoshima.
The greater Kamakura area is the site of several shrines and temples (20 in all), and another national heritage site.  Some of the shrines date from the 12th century.  We visited two of them, the Great Budha at Hase, and the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine just above Kamakura.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine--  A few of our fellow tourists visiting the shrine.  As with many of the shrines in Japan, this shrine was reconstructed after World War II.  The ancient shrines around Tokyo succumbed to the fire bombings of the war.

The garden area near the shrine had a peony garden, which was incredible-- we were there at the right time to catch the peonies in full bloom.

Red peonies at the Peony garden, Kamakura

The queue forming to get on the coastal train at Kamakura station.  The train station dates from the 1920's

From Kamakura, the small train stops at several small stations along the way.  From each, you can get off and walk up to one of the several shrines in the area.  However, we decided our best strategy was to first go all the way to the end of the line at Enoshima, and then exit at each of the stops on the return trip.  This turned out to be a wise decision--  we went to the end, and walked to the beach, then returned to the station to find a queue forming for the return journey.  We were able to get on the second train leaving, and the train was filled to capacity (we were standing).  However, as the train stopped at the next station, a handful more people pressed onto the train.  We were packed in tighter than sardines in a can.  As the taller occupants of the train car, we felt fortunate, as our heads were up where there was some air to breathe.  The short woman next to us was not as fortunate, and could easily have suffocated.  At the second station one man got off the train (which took some doing), and  a few others attempted to charge on.  However, there was literally no room, and the woman in the front of the charge was repelled.  It appeared to be an an act of aggression by those on the train, but it appeared as that no offense was taken by the woman or anyone else--  apparently this is part of life in Tokyo and Japan when riding the trains.
We exited the train at the stop for the giant Budha, and walked up to the site--  it looked like the haj, or perhaps a large rock concert, with the streams of people headed to the shrine--  no chance of getting lost.

Great Budha at the Kotokuin Temple, near the village of Hase.  The Budha is a bronze casting, cast in the 11th century, and stands 11.312 M in height.  The Budha is hollow inside, and it is possible to enter Budha (for an additional fee.  Given the quantities of people a the temple, we only viewed Budha's exterior.  The method of how the casting was done was a mystery for centuries, and only recently determined with some archiological excavations done at the area.

Given our experience with the local coastal train, it was hopeless for us to get back on the coastal single-track train without a very significant wait.  We decided to walk from the Budha back to town in Kamakura, which is the station for the (larger) train returning to Shinjuku and Tokyo.  It was a pleasant walk, going through neighborhoods, and providing an opportunity to see some of the houses in the coastal area, away from Tokyo.
Walking the back streets to Kamakura--   To avoid becoming a compressed brick on the small coastal train (6.2 Km) we decided to walk the back streets to get us to the main train station at Kamakura for our return to Tokyo.  Clearly, many people were having the same idea--  looks like a pilgrimage.  The back streets leading to Kamakura made for a very pleasant walk (although we were pretty tired)--  a chance to view some of the houses and gardens of the seaside community, away from urban Tokyo.

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