Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kamakura hiking day

Last Monday, October 11th, was “the National Health and Sports Day” in Japan. It commemorates the Summer Olympics in Tokyo 1964 and is held on the second Monday in October.
Actually, why do we have not such a holiday in Germany? Hardly surprising that Germans become fat and fatter ;)
Statistically, this day is one of sunniest days during the year. So we decided to make a trip to Kamakura. Kamakura is a coast town, ca. 50 km south of Tokyo. About 174,000 people live there and it is a very popular weekend destination for stressed Tokyo-residents. It has very jovial holiday flair, but a remarkable history, too:

-          caution: history lecture –

Kamakura - Period:  rise of the Samurai

At the end of the Heian – Period (784 – 1185), the Japanese Emperor in Kyoto had lost his power to the bushi – the warrior families. It was the rise of the warrior-caste, the samurai. Two of the most powerful bushi - families, the Minamoto-clan and the Taira-clan, fought for control over the declining imperial court. The Taira-clan seized power from 1160 to 1185, but in 1185 the forces of Minamoto no Yoritomo, ruler of the Minamoto-clan defeated the Taira-clan. So, the Minomoto-clan seized power and Minamoto Yoritomo received the title Seii Tai Shogun from the Emperor in 1192. With this act, Yoritomo became the first shogun of Japan. He founded his shogunate in Kamakura. Therefore, Kamakura became the de-facto capital city of most parts of Japan for the next 141 years (1185 – 1333), the so called Kamakura -Period. However, it has to be mentioned that the Emperor in Kyoto never lost his whole power, particularly not in West-Japan, so that Kamakura was never the capital city of entire Japan. At least, this is what the English version of Wikipedia says ^^

The Hojo clan takes power

But the rule of the Minamoto-clan was not for long. Yoritomo died falling from his horse in 1199. His 17-years old son Yoriie was underage, so his maternal grandfather Hojo Tokimasa took regency. When Yoriie regularly appointed shogun three years later in 1202, Hojo Tokimasa already consolidated his power. Yorrie tried to take power back but failed and was assassinated in 1204. From then on all power would belong to the Hojo, and the shogun would be just a figurehead. Since the Hojo were part of the Taira clan, it can be said that the Taira had lost a battle, but in the end had won the war.
Even today, the Hojo family crest, four triangles within a large triangle, is omnipresent in Kamakura, as this picture tells us:

You can see this shrine on Enochima, a small island close to Kamakura. The triangle is omnipresent here.

The Minnamoto clan ends tragically

In 1219, Yoritomo’s second son and third shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo was murdered by his nephew Kugyo under a giant ginkgo tree, which still stands in Kamakura. Kugyo himself, last of his line, was beheaded by the Hojo as a punishment for his crime just hours later.
What was the reason for the murder? The crime happened just after a large ceremony. Sanetomo was on his way back home and would have normally the leader of the Hojo-clan in his entourage. Kugyo killed Sanetomo and his whole entourage. Perhaps he wanted to get rid of the leader of the Hojo-clan and his puppet, the shogun, and take power for himself. However, the leader of the Hojo-clan was not in the entourage and the plan failed and Kugyo was killed, too.
This tragedy marks the end of the Minamoto-clan (at least this branch). The Hojo regency however continued until 1333 when it was destroyed at the Siege of Kamakura.

The cruel end of the Kamakura - Period

At the end of the Kamakura – Period, the Hojo - regency was weakened due to the fact that vassals were allowed to become owners of the land they administered, which led to a parcelization of the land.
On July 3, 1333, the Emperor Loyalist warlord Nitta Yoshisada attacked Kamakura to re-establish imperial rule. Yoshisada won, attacking during tide from the seaside and avoiding the fortified land passes. In accounts of that disastrous defeat, nearly 900 Hojo samurai committed suicide at their family temple. Many simple citizens imitated the Hojo and an estimated total of over 6000 died on that day of their own hand. This marks the end of the Kamakura – Period and the beginning of the turbulent Muromachi – Period (1333 – 1573), which was shaped by civil wars.
However, Kamakura remained to be an important city and the capital city of the Kanto‑Region and eastern Japan until it was almost completely destroyed 1526, at the end of the Muromachi-Period.

In the Kamakura period many important changes in the Japanese society occurred. The Imperial regency vanished and was removed by military rule in the hands of the Samurai. A new caste system was established, which lasted for more than 500 years until the Meji - restauration 1868. Samurai-lords (daymos) required the loyal services of vassals, who were rewarded with fiefs of their own. The fief holders exercised a local military rule.

Actually, why was Kamakura chosen by the Minamoto-clan as the capital city for their shogunate?

When you take a look on a map you can see that Kamakura is surrounded by steep hills in eastern, northern and western direction  and by the sea in the south. Therefore, it is a natural fortress. In former times, it could be entered only through narrow artificial passes. The seven most important passes are called “Kamakura’s Seven Entrances” or “Kamakura’s Seven Mouths”. Due to this natural fortification, Kamakura was easily to defend. 
Today, there are several tunnels and modern routes, which lead into Kamakura.

--- History lecture out ---

Anyway! Kamakura and its closer area are gorgeous and I really recommend you to visit it when you come to Tokyo. There's a lot to see. Here are some samples:

We started our tour in Kita-Katamura. Kita-Kamakura is somewhat like a outskirt North-West of Kamakura. Actually, its name is Yamanouchi but everyone calls it Kita-Kamakura, because of the railway station with that name. It was never part of historical Kamakura since it lays outside the Seven Entrances (see history lecture).

Only a few steps from the train-station is the Tokei-ji-temple. This Buddhist temple was a former nunnery and a refuge for women in times when they didn’t have the right to divorce. Behind the temple there's a graveyard where many celebreties are buried. Today, this place is a miracle mix of nature and Buddhist spirit.

 the back of the entrance card shows the temple in ancient times

The Zen-Garden is covered with moss and looks native but still neat.

It is sayed that this monument is dedicated to an American woman, Ida Russell, the the first Western woman who practiced Zen in Japan. It stands in front of the Taiheiden - the main hall.

Old stone monuments, also covered with moss, are signs of time in a place that was founded 1285, more than 800 years ago.

The so called Sokoto Tower reminds to Uemura Soko, a priest, who practiced asceticism hard and tried to master the profund principles of Buddhism. However, he was killed in the Russian-Japanese War (indeed, the monument in the picture above isn't 800 years but about 100 years old). Behind the trees you can see the Shoin - drawing room. It was destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake 1923 and is a reconstruction. It is not open to the public.

When the sun shines through the leaf canopy on the graves and you hear the silence of the forest, the graveyard becomes some kind of … magic ^^

The tomp with the Buddha - statue is the grave of Shaku Soen. He was leader in the Buddhism world from the Meiji Era (1868 - 1912) to the beginning of the Taisyo Era and was conferred the title of Tokeiji Reviver.

Following the main road in direction to Kamakura, after a few hundred meters there’s another temple on the right side, a little apart the street. We didn’t visit it, but a hiking trail, which leads through the mountains into Kamakura starts here and we took this trail.  The trail is about 1-2 hours, depending on your condition and sometimes quite steep.

It's as steep as it looks like. And slippery. I would like to see this passage on raining days.
Signs are written in japanese and also in english, so you can barely get lost.

At about half the way, there is the Kuzuharagaoka-Shrine and the Genjiyama view point. You can take a rest here and buy food and drinks.

For 100 Y, you can shatter porcelain bowls for fortune

 Huh, whats this? --> see next picture and you will know

Ahh!! そおですね。富士山です。
take a closer look to nature

 and have an open ear for her, too

you can see Kamakura from here

taking a last fight with jungle and mud and ...
...we arrived in Kamakura (bypassing the seven entrances). I think I was very proud.

The hiking trail ends in Kamakura near the Kotoku-in Temple with the very popular daibutsu-statue. Dai means big and butsu means buddha in japanese. And indeed, this big boy is the second largest (sitting) Buddha in Japan.

The face alone is 2.35 m, on ear has a length of approx. 1 m. All in all the daibutsu is 13.35 m high and weights 121 t. In former times, the daibutsu was in a temple but the temple was destroyed 1498 by a Sunami. But the statue itself resisted the tidal wave and even the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, only the basement was destroyed and renewed in 1925.
The statue is hollow and you can enter it. It's astonishing spacious.

me and daibutsu
for everybody who want's his own daibutsu; here's the construction manual (found inside daibutsu)

By the way, the largest (sitting) Buddha in Japan stands in Nara in the Todai-Ji Temple and is about 16 meter tall. The largest standing Buddha in Japan is in Ushiku, about 60 km northeast from Tokyo and is 120 m tall!! ( but its only 13 years old). I guess I have to go there, too.

After visiting the daibutsu, we went to Kamakura-Beach, which is only a few hundred meters to go. The beach itself is nothing special, except of the surfers and a hawk "infestation". However, it was good to take a bath in the pacific ocean, which was still very warm.

these majestic hawks are omnipresent at Kamakura-beach
But they live from food of the tourists and beach visitors. Some are quite bold, so keep your food close to you. In order to reduce the problem, you are not allowed to feed them.

As omnipresent as the hawks are the surfer, who wait for the "one big wave"

The next and last station on our Enoshima, a small island close to Kamakura, in western direction. It is linked to the mainland by a 600 meter-long bridge. On the mainland-side of the bridge lays Fujisawa. You can reach this small town by taking the Fujisawa-Kamakura-Express.
 the Fujisawa-Kamakura-Express to Fujisawa and Enoshima

Enoshima is famous for the Enoshima-Jinja-Shrine with the statue of Benzaiten and a botanical garden. In the center of the island is an accessible lighthouse. From the top you can have a beautiful picture on Mount Fuji on clear days. There is a small harbor on the east side of the island, too. Furthermore, there are many restaurants and, of course, tourists. The western side of the island is more naturalistic, with cliffs that are famous for fishing and the Iwaya grotto. Our aim was the grotto.

the lighting house is probably the most striking building on Enoshima. At night, it is illuminated in different colours. Indeed, I’m not sure it’s really a lighting house. By the way, have you noticed the romantic couple on the latern ^^
I'm not sure if this is a real shinto shrine or just a touristic attraction. Perhaps it's both.

Because it was already 4 o'clock and nightfall started, we had to hurried up. But we had still time to watch a wonderfull sunset at the pacific ocean.

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Unfortunatly, we was a little to late at the grotto, it closes at 16:30. However, this is, in addition to other points, a good reason to come here again. Indeed, their are still a lot of "undiscovered" places in Kamakura, so watch out for a continue ...

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