By Eve Bentley
Seeking to escape from the constant bustle and vivacity of Tokyo, you can utilise the endless convenience of the Japan’s vast train network and make occasional getaways to some of the most beautiful historical and natural heritage sites this country has to offer.
On a bright and unusually warm November Sunday, the eight PEAK students made the trek to this magnificent site. Quietly serene, Kamakura offers not only the grandeur of the Buddha, but a peaceful and comfortable spot to enjoy a day, or just an afternoon. Embracing the coast of Kanagawa prefecture in all its glory, one of our first year PEAK students quickly managed to bury his bare toes in the sand whilst the rest of us admired the sea, sky and warmth. Along our walk to the Great Buddha, we came across a multitude of hidden treasures, in the form of both abandoned and maintained miniature temples and a fusion of modern and traditional Japanese architecture.
Nestled amongst the autumn colours only an hour away from Tokyo, and of course accompanied by a swath of milling tourists with camera in hand, lies the Kamakura Daibutsu. Known in English as the Great Buddha of Kamakura (Kamakura Daibutsu), this magnificent Buddha is a bronze statue of the Amida Buddha, which stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. With a height of 13.35 meters, it is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, surpassed only by the statue in Nara’s Todaiji Temple.
After taking a sufficient amount of photographs, we took a short walk from the Great Buddha itself, to Hasedara Temple. Famous for its statue of Kannon, or the goddess of mercy, this temple houses the 9.18-metre tall gilded wooden figure, with its eleven heads. Each representing a characteristic of the goddess, this statue is mesmerising to say the least. Built along the slope of a hill, the Hasedara temple offers unparalleled views across the coast of Kanagawa, and over Kamakura itself. With a number of other smaller temples along and up the hill, as well as a cave at the bottom, this temple was superb under the canopy of changing autumn leaves. Although there was a flurry of visiting tourists, I appreciated the way the visiting Japanese regarded these historical structures, and the consideration they maintained for their long and varied history. This consideration is not only the respect with which they treat these sites, but the conscientious nature in which they travel long distances to visit, admire and pay homage to their historical and spiritual importance.
Priding itself on this fusion of the old meets new, Kamakura offers, what I believe to be a truly authentic contemporary Japanese experience. The ability of the Japanese to maintain their most famous temples, statues and historical flashpoints indicates a sense of importance in history that I find unparalleled elsewhere. Not only was I able to enjoy my first plate of cold udon noodles with sesame in Kamakura, but also I was able to experience awe in the presence of these wonderfully conserved sites.
Eve Bentley is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.