Finally, the rain over Tokyo stopped and the forecast for the next day was blue sky and clear view. We decided to take a JR train from Shinjuku on the Shonan Shinjuku Line to Kamakura, which is about 50 kilometres south-west of Tokyo (the train takes about 50 minutes). Kamakura is a small city but with a big history. It used to be the facto capital of Japan during the Kamakura Period (around 1180-1330).
Kamakura has many historically significant Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, some over 1,200 years old. Others are just replicas, as the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 destroyed some temples and shrines.
We started our visit by getting of at the Kita-Kamakura train station and entering the Engakuji temple, which is an important Zen Buddhist temple, built in 1282. There are 18 different buildings on this site, they are arranged rising up a wooded hillside.
After the large wooden Sanmon main gate we reached the temple’s main hall, the Butsuden (rebuilt in 1964), which displays a wooden statue of the Shaka Buddha, the main object of worship. Usually, Shaka Buddha statues wear simple clothes and put on no accessories such as crowns or jewelry. But in this temple, the statue has its hair dressed up with a crown on top of the head.
We then came across a small pond, designed by Priest Muso, the founding priest, who was also famous as a garden designer. Today’s pond is muddy – it must have looked quite different from the original one.
Further into the temple grounds, the Shariden is a beautifully designed hall in which a tooth of Buddha is enshrined. It is designated a national treasure, but can only be seen from a distance during most of the year. It the oldest building in the whole Engakuji complex and the only building in Kamakura that is designated as a National Treasure. It was first built in 1285 and rebuilt in the early 15th century.
Walking along the path, we saw a few entrances to temples and shrines – some are only open to the public on specific days. Other areas are closed completely, as they are the living quarters of the priests.
The garden is green and wonderful – lots of trees providing cover and shade on sunny days.
We walked back until we reached the courtyard of the living quarters of the priests again – this area is open to the public, and it is the area I enjoyed the most.
There are scores of stone figurines in the garden along the wall. Those are One Hundred Kannon statues, or the Goddess of Mercy, and all have different expressions on their faces.
In reality, there are around 70 statutes in this courtyard. But each and every one of them is very beautiful. Very peaceful, calming and relaxing.
- Some of the JR trains from Shinjuku station stop at Kita-Kamakura, get off there if you want to see the Engakuji temple. If you train does not stop there, don’t worry – you can take a shuttle bus from the mains station
- There is an admission fee of 300 yen for visitors to enter the temple complex and additional similar charges to enter a few of the buildings and enjoy some tea or Japanese sweets in a calm environment