The opeN Notes goes to japan! And this week we saddle up with some new friends on the way to the beautiful Kamakura City. And because the popular sights are scattered around the city, there’s no cheaper and more efficient way to explore it than on a bicycle.
Kamakura is a relatively small city located south of Tokyo, Japan. It was once a political center in the country from 13th to 14th century and the birthplace of Japan’s first military govenrment, Kamakura Bakufu. Today, a number of its significant structures from its glorious past still stand including shrines, temples, passes and ancient roads.
With the city’s rich history, Kamakura is a popular tourist destination in Kanagawa prefecture.The sand beach on its southern border is an added bonus for anyone visiting Kamakura.
Kamakura is roughly twenty kilometers from our starting point in Yokohama. The roads are moderately hilly especially on the Yokohama side so it would be quite a workout if you’re using a single-speed, steel-framed bicycle. In contrast to the Philippines, the roads in Japan are safer and more bike friendly.
Distance : 55.8 kms
Max Elevation : 91 m
Elevation Gain : 505 m
Moving Time : 05:44:31
Kamakura Sights and Scenes
It was my first ever bike touring experience outside my home country and honestly, I’m quite ecstatic about this ride. But since I left my trusty mountain bike back home, I bought myself a bicycle locally known as mamachari, which literally translates to “a mother’s bicycle”.
Commonly used for carrying grocery items, a mamachari usually has a steel body, single front and rear gears and a basket. They are sold very cheap so almost everyone (or at least every mother) has their own . And even though they have an obvious disadvantage in doing the bike adventures I usually do back in the Philippines, I think it is good enough for me to enjoy the road sights and scenes of Japan. And its vintage look appeals to my old school taste.
Okay, enough with the introductions.
Kotoku-in Temple and the Kamakura Daibutsu
Our first destination was the Kotoku-in Temple where the city’s iconinc Kamakura Daibutsu is housed. A Daibutsu, in Japanese, means a large Buddha statue. And this temple in Hase is home to a 121-ton bronze monument of the Amitabha Buddha.The construction of this colossal statue dates back to 1252. Today, it is recognized as a national treasure of Japan.
Before entering this sacred place, visitors have to wash their hands at the temizuya, a water basin within the temple gates. It is a common etiquette when entering temples like the Kotoku-in.
The seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai is the primary diety of Kotoku-in. The Daibutsu itself is hollow, and people may opt to go inside. The entrance is quite narrow and only wide enough for one person.
- Notes : Entrance Fee : 200 Yen. Addtional 20 Yen if you wish to enter the Daibutsu
The Kamakura Daibutsu of Kotoku-in Temple is an amazing piece of art and history. Although the original designer and other details about the contruction of this structure is unknown. Just by looking at it shows the high level of artistry and craftsmanship the early Japanese had even hundreds of years ago.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Just around three kilometers east, at the heart of Kamakura lies its most important Shinto Shrine. Established in 1063 by Minamoto Yoriyoshi, the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu was dedicated to Hachiman, the Shinto god of war and patron of the Minamoto family. This shrine is considered to be one of the Most Important Cultural Property of Japan.
The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine is a venue of some of the important festivals in the city. During the New Year season, the shrine can get really crowded with visitors reaching over two million. It is a good experience but for people who prefer a lesser crowd, I would suggest to pay it a visit on a different day.
Inside the shrine, people go to pray and wish for a good fortune. Visitors usually write their prayers on a small wooden plank and post it on some designated walls within the shrine complex.
Engaku-ji Temple Complex
Our next stop in Kamakura was the Engaku-ji Temple, one of Japan’s most important Zen Buddhist temple complex. It was founded in 1282 by Mugaki Sogen (Bukko Kukoshi), a Zen Master who arrived in Japan from China. Engaku-ji is the second of the “Five Mountains of Kamakura”.
The temple grounds houses several religious structures and monuments including 18 temples. The first main structure that welcomes every guest is the Sanmon or the main gate. There are also halls dedicated to Engakuji’s patron and founders.
- Notes : The entrance fee to Engaku-ji is 300 Yen
With a lesser crowd compared to other places we visited today, walking around the complex was really peaceful. The Engaku-ji temple was among my personal favorite.
Before heading back home, we had our final stopover at Ofuna Kannon-ji, a temple located near the border of Kamakura and Yokohama. Because of its proximity, this temple is not a usual part of the series of temples that tourists visit in the city. But since we were on our bikes, getting here was faster and more convenient.
The temple is sitting on a small hill and features a 25-meter concrete statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy of the white robe.
During the month of September, the Yume-Kannon festival is celebrated in Ofuna. Foreigners and locals share their belief in Kannon through song, dance and traditional stalls.
If you’re visiting Ofuna Kannon-ji on a special day, or if you’re simply lucky, you might bump into some rice-cake-cooking monks and give you some of their delicious mochi for free.
And because we were, we had ourselves a taste of their freshly cooked rice cakes and a couple of plastic bags more on the go. I guess our karma for the day was good.
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