Another Vijayanathan family road trip in the books! This time we ventured out to Kamakura, located in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture and about a 90-minute car ride from Tokyo.
Our first stop included the Kōtoku-in Temple, where the colossal bronze statue of a seated Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Life and Light sits. We were one of the first families to arrive, and everything seemed so calm and perfect. I kept staring at Mila as she stared up at the giant Buddha; her state of mind was quiet and serene.
We were quite impressed by the statue’s scale; how did they cast such a large figure in 1252? That alone is astonishing! A giant wooden Buddha preceded the current bronze statue completed in 1243 but was destroyed by a storm in 1248.
There was a building around the statue, but it was destroyed due to extreme weather – typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis, you name it. There were also thirty-two bronze lotus petals at the base of the statue, and now, only four petals remain. To think what this Buddha has probably seen in its rich history. The Buddha’s powerful religious meaning and symbolism and, of course, its profound presence is a must see.
Anyone who enters will see a sign that reads: “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Buddha and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”
Height, including the pedestal: 13.4m Height of the cast: 11.3m Weight: 121 tons
After visiting the Great Buddha we headed over to the Hokokuji Temple, also known as the Bamboo Temple. This is one the zen temples which belong to Kenchoji Temple of Rinzai Sect. It was created to commemorate Ashikaga Ietoki, grandfather of Takauji the first of the Ashikaga shoguns. I have no idea who these people are but they sound important.
Upon entering we fully appreciated the beauty and power of the 2,000 Moso-bamboo (the biggest species of bamboo). The grounds were a bit uneven so I definitely recommend wearing sneakers. Mila really enjoyed it here as she was having fun leaping onto all of the stepping stones and pointing out all of the blue hydrangeas to me. I am really enjoying this age with her as she loves to tell me the colors of every flower we see, she also grabs my hand now and say, “walk”.
At the top of the bamboo garden is a quiet and calm tea house where you can appreciate the bamboo garden and have a cup of matcha. We didn’t feel like sitting down and touching anything, so we skipped this but it looked so calming and relaxing.
A “Yagura” is a cave to acommodate tombs and proper to Kamakura. The yagura of Hokokuji accommodates a few tombs of Ashikagas.
Kamakura was the capital of Japan for 150 years long governed by Samurai. It is said to have over 400 temples and shrines, both Buddhist and Shinto. June is such a great time of year to visit Kamakura as it probably one of the best cities for hydrangea viewing.
We could have easily spent 2-3 days exploring the town. A few places I wish we saw while in Kamakura, Hase-dera, a Buddhist temple that is built on a hill and houses so many different types of hydrangeas (although not sure how this would have gone w/ a toddler & stroller, Meigetsu-in Temple (known for the iconic circle window and beautiful garden), Yuigahama Beach, and Enoshima Island (known for shrines and also a big aquarium).
We had such a lovely time in Kamakura and it was unique opportunity to experience pure zen with my little family.
Some tips for traveling to Kamakura.
- come early so you can avoid the crowds and get good parking. We got very lucky to be the first family to arrive at both places
- bring coins for parking lots and use google translate to use the machine as its in Japanese
- pack hand sanitizer, sunscreen before you leave the house, and tissues if you have allergies
- good walking sneakers, this is a must!
- map out what sites you want to see before leaving, with a toddler we could really only see two places while also social distancing and avoiding the big crowds
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
- Bathroom facility (handicap and stroller friendly) located behind the Big Buddha, all benches have been removed for social distancing
- As of June 1, open from 8am
- Fees: 300 yen/adult, free for kids under 6
- Stroller not allowed in Bamboo Forest, however they allow you park it just to the side upon entering
- As of June 1, open from 9am
- Fees: 200 yen/adult; Matcha fee of 600 yen at tea house
Kamakura has lots of cute little shops for souvenirs and sweets.
- Kamakura Benita – a confectionary shop. We bought the Kurumicco’s and boy I wish we bought another pack because they were all gone in one afternoon. Its this yummy walnut caramel cake with such a unique and gentle flavor. Look for the packaging with the little squirrel. 〒248-0005 Kanagawa, Kamakura, Yukinoshita, 1 Chome−8−36 津多屋ビル
- Japanese Herbal Tea Shop | Harebaredo is next door to Kamakura Benita. I stopped in for a quick lemon and ginger herbal tea for take out and picked up the snowy tea, used for anti aging and detox. They had such a great variety of Japanese herbal teas and make great gifts.