Ok. So don’t judge me as being weird for saying this but while touring Kamakura, Japan, I skipped and danced every so often throughout the whole day. I bet that part doesn’t sound so weird. The weird part, or rather the part you might find weird, is that I kept singing Culture’s Club’s “Karma Chameleon” song in my head while skipping about the grand, majestic city of Kamakura.
Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon,
You come and go, you come and go.
Loving would be easy if your colors were like my dreams,
Red gold and green, red gold and green.
What can I say? I am a child of the ‘80s. When I was skipping, dancing and whistling about Kamakura, I flashed back to the time that Culture Club reunited and toured the United States. I went to see them at a small club in California and it was amazing to see the number of young women swooning over Boy George. Yup. I think the missed the memo on that one.
Back to Kamakura. I have been to Kyoto and found it filled with splendor. I was enthralled with Tokyo. But Kamakura was something entirely different. It was enchanting and mesmerizing. While it has its fair number of tourists, it is less so than Kyoto and Tokyo. I had the grand opportunity to visit temples, shrines, and monuments without many others milling about. No photobombs. No overcrowded background shots. I actually had minutes to stand about and take in the atmosphere. And, what a grand atmosphere it was. There was red, gold and green throughout the whole length of my walk. The red and gold of the temples stood out against the lush greenery of the landscape. The (pink) cherry blossoms only added to the enchantment.
So, where and what is Kamakura? Kamakura is a coastal town in Kanagawa Prefecture, less than an hour south of Tokyo. It is very easy to get there via the JR train system. Although I had a moment where I thought I was lost but I just followed the people who noticed I was lost and directed me to a connecting train. Surrounded to the north, east and west by hills and to the south by the Sagami Bay, Kamakura is a natural fortress. Looking back at it, I can now imagine the television show Once Upon a Time being adapted for this locale. Kamakura is naturally closed off on three sides by very steep hills and on the fourth by the sea. Consequently, before the construction of several modern tunnels and roads, Kamakura was a bot isolated from the rest of the world and could be entered only through narrow artificial passes. Specifically, there was Kamakura’s Seven Entrances which is sometimes translated as “Kamakura’s Seven Mouths”. Definitely, fairy tale land.
If you plan to visit Kamakura by train, many may tell you that Kamakura is just a little too big to cover on foot. However, I did manage to do it. Not only did I walk about everywhere but I had a baby in tow as well. I loved walking and getting a feel for the city.
The second you step off the train in the northern part of Kamakura (Kitakamakura Station), you are enveloped within a beautiful tranquil temple: that being Jochiji temple. You can also go see the Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that is the second largest in Japan (second only to that in Nara’s Todaiji), along with the grand Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine. While you are at it, you can get thee to a nunnery! Specifically, you can go to Tōkeiji (東慶寺) –not that far a walk from the train station. This nunnery was famous in the feudal days for sheltering abused women, who could obtain a divorce by staying here for three years. It is stunningly landscaped and full of large, haunting mazes. The nunnery has at times been called “Kakekomidera” (the fugitive temple. Throughout my day-long walk, I even came across an oddly placed Amish restaurant. Go figure. I don’t think we even have an Amish restaurant in New York City. Talk about a quirky city, eh?
Here are some quirky facts about Kamakura (鎌倉):
- Kamakura is known among Buddhists for having been the cradle of Nichiren Buddhism.
- One of its five sister cities is Nice, France.
- Kamakura was the political center of Japan back in 1192.
- On July 3, 1333, between 800-900 Hōjō samurai committed seppuku (ritualistic suicide) at the Tōshō-ji temple. Many citizens followed in the footsteps of the Hōjō, and an estimated total of over 6,000 died on that day of their own hand.
- The Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine attracts a million visitors on New Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year (Japan Rail runs trains all night long).
- You can go launder your money at the Zeniarai Benten Shinto Shrine. No really. You can literally wash your money there in the hopes that it will double.
- There are a series of burial caves-quite unique to the area where upper class and samurai were buried.
- Besides Cherry Blossoms, the nunnery has sugar plums….(get thee to a nunnery, indeed)
All together there are about 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines spread throughout the town and surrounding wooded hills. There are also some interesting local stores about the city that can give some insight into the culture. I even made it to their version of a 99 cent store and it was fabulous. I got several sets of ninja action toys. Seemed random, but cool. There were also several fanciful dog clothing stores for those doggies that traveled in baby carriages throughout Japan. So, while I visited historical, grand, and tranquil places, I also got to see the quirky side of Kamakura. As I traveled this enchanting city, I kept humming that Culture Club song and grooving to the quirky harmonica beats of Karma Chameleon that seemed to strangely fit Kamakura so well.