By Lauren and Mitch
Today the sun decided to shine on us for our day trip to Kamakura, which was much appreciated after the rain yesterday. Kamakura is very important to the history of Japan, being the birthplace of the first shogunate family. Many well known temples and shrines can be found in the area and we made it our mission to visit two of the most popular and one off the beaten track.
The train ride was a great start—we were all treated like celebrities by the school girls on the train. However, Mitch was the main attraction once he stood up from his seat! We all gladly posed with the traditional “peace sign” (while Mitch was flocked by the students for one final picture after our departure).
Kōtoku-in was the first place we visited, which is home to the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha. Dr. Boss instructed students in the traditional cleansing ritual and then set the students loose to explore. Rounding the corner into the main area yielded the main attraction: the 40 foot iron Buddha sitting in meditation. The Great Buddha is hollow and for the low cost of 20¥ (~20¢) visitors are allowed to climb inside and view the structural integrity of the Buddha. The Great Buddha was constructed using 36 molded casts which fit together with a unique slotted technique, which was only ever used in the Great Buddha. Though very loud and crowded, many took the time to pray and give their respects before the Buddha, which was very peaceful and humbling to watch amongst the hustle and bustle.
Our next destination was the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shinto shrine. Devoted to the war god, the massive shrine is cut out of the hillside, giving an overwhelming feeling of power and intensity. A stone path leads up to the shrine—originally visitors were meant to walk on either side of the path, and save the middle for the gods to tread. Approaching the shrine large stacks of sake—traditional rice wine—are displayed as offerings for the gods. (If they’re going to be visiting, why not have a good time?) We climbed the large staircase to the entrance of the shrine, where prayer takes place. Dr. Boss taught us the traditional way to pray: bow twice, clap twice, bow once again, and begin your prayer. Again, it was very humbling watching all the coins being offered and prayer performed, especially from our own professor. We then explored the rest of the complex which included several other smaller shrines.
Finally, we got back on the train to visit our final destination off the beaten path. Tokeiji Temple, originally a monastery, became the first shelter for battered women. As long as a woman could get herself—even an personal possession such as a hair pin—past the gate, they were welcome in the monastery. After three years of residence they could then commit themselves to the monastery and become a nun. Today, however, Tokeiji is a cemetery for famous and important figures, where visitors can come and pay their respects, meditate, and relax. Unlike our other visits, Tokeiji was absolutely peaceful and relatively unencumbered by a large amount of sight-seers. We took some time to relax and journal. Afterward, feeling refreshed, we headed back to Tokyo via Shinjuku-Station.
Experiencing this traditional sights and places is truly incredible, but I think it’s safe to say that a favorite part of everyone’s day is the food we get to experience! Many of us tried sweet potato ice cream, which was surprisingly refreshing (and delightfully purple); your bloggers for today were lucky enough to get Japanese curry for dinner, which couldn’t have been a better way to end a long, eventful day.
Tomorrow we leave Tokyo for Hakone, where we will be staying at a traditional Japanese guest house. Until then, time to rest our tired feet!