Kamakura, less than an hour by train from Tokyo, is a popular day tripper destination because of its abundance of things to see and do. A city built in finger valleys radiating from a small bay, one of its many fascinating features is the hiking trails that connect the different valleys.
Recently a few friends and I spent a wonderful day following one of these trails, often called the Daibutsu Hiking Course. It was a late spring day with perfect hiking weather.
We began from Kita-Kamakura Sation just after 10 am, visiting three temples before arriving at the trailhead. First on our list was Engakuji, very near Kita-Kamakura Station. Click here for one of my past articles on Engakuji.
After Engakuji, we continued south on the main road (below Engakuji’s front ponds) to Tokeiji, popularly called the “Divorce Temple” or the “Runaway Temple”. This is because from its founding in 1285 until 1871, it was a nunnery where women could enter as a means of escaping a bad marriage. It is now a small, serene temple in a pretty little valley. Though no longer run by or for women, there is always something blooming on the temple grounds, which also feature a beautifully decorated bell tower, a museum containing the temple’s greatest art treasures, and a very pretty cemetery that is the final resting place of former abbesses of the temple (one an imperial princess) as well as of many famous industrialists, philosophers and writers.
Continuing south from Tokeiji, we made a quick stop at a convenience store to pick up something for a picnic lunch and then visited Jochiji. Also founded in the 13th century and once considered one of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura, Jochiji is now something of a relic. The pretty, but well worn, stone steps leading to Jochiji reveal something of its past splendor.
Visitors enter the grounds via a Chinese style gate that doubles as a bell tower. There is only a small temple building beyond and and the real treat here is the remainder of the temple grounds, which includes a pretty garden, two cemeteries separated by a ridge and joined by a small tunnel, and a statue of Hotei, one of the Japan’s 7 lucky gods.
Turning right after leaving Jochiji, we ambled past some very pretty private gardens as the road became a pathway, and then a trail that climbed one of Kamakura’s many ridges. This is a well-travelled and well sign-posted path, but wasn’t at all crowded, in spite of the fine weather. The vibrancy of the fresh spring green was simultaneously soothing and stimulating. Besides enjoying the beauty of nature, from time to time we could get glimpses of the town in the valleys below.
After less than 30 minutes we emerged into Genjiyama Koen, a hilltop park with amenities and picnic facilities, as well as glimpses of Mt. Fuji on a clear day (we just managed to see the top of the mountain–20 minutes later as we were leaving the area, it had disappeared).
We made a quick stop at Kuzuharagaoka Shrine before enjoying our own picnic. Kuzuharagaoka Shrine honors Hino Toshimoto, a warrior loyal to Emperor Godaigo who was executed on this site in 1332 for supporting the emperor in his attempt to unseat the ruling Hojo clan.
More intriguing to us were the “man and woman stones” at the shrine entrance. Such standing stones, bound together by cord, are found in many place in Japan, symbolizing married couples. Here, people can tie 5 yen coins to the cord (the pronunciation of “5 yen”: go-en, is a homonym for the Japanese word for “honorable connection”, meaning in this case, the marital tie). Women are to tie their coin on the “man stone” and men, in turn, put theirs on the “woman stone”. Interestingly, the “man stone” was covered in coins, while the “woman stone” was less so.
After our picnic lunch we made our way to Zeni-Arai Benten, Kamakura’s famed “money washing shrine”. Nestled at the end of a valley surrounded by steep hillsides and most often accessed through a tunnel carved through the rock in the late 1950s, this shrine is famous for its cave spring, where visitors wash money so that it will grow. While there are often baskets available for this purpose, worshipers may make a donation of JPY100 to receive a basket, candle and incense.
As we left the shrine via its historic entrance at the mouth of the valley (ie, not the man-made tunnel), we spotted a small sign advertising “Cafe Gula”, with homemade cakes and coffee. This little cafe, mostly open on week-ends, apparently, is on the stairs descending from the shrine entrance, in the first private house you come to. The house, built in 1931, is quaint and picturesque. The cake/drink set is just JPY300 (drink only: JPY200) with a number of home-made cakes and drink options to choose from. It was a pleasant respite.
We continued down the valley into a small residential surburb, eventually turning right to reach Sasuke Jinja, an Inari shrine founded by Minamoto Yoritomo, the man who made Kamakura the political capital of Japan in 1192. The messenger of the god of the harvest worshipped here is the fox, and there are foxes aplenty at this little-known shrine.
Did we mention that the entire shrine grounds seems to be covered with foxes?
From the back of Sasuke Jinja, we climbed a rather steep and slippery path (fortunately there is a railing) to rejoin the original Daibutsu hiking trail and continue to enjoy the fresh spring green until we eventually descended to a busy road just above Kotokuin, the temple home of the famed Great Buddha (daibutsu).
A symbol of Kamakura, if not of Japan itself, the Great Buddha was cast in the mid 13th century (casting began in 1252 and took about 10 years to complete). It is 13.35 meters tall (nearly 16 meters, if you include his plinth). He has sat out in the elements since 1495, when a tsunami destroyed the temple in which he had been housed. Imagine the history he has seen!
This was my first time to see the Great Buddha with wisteria blooming in the hills behind him.
Being inveterate walkers, we continued our exploration at nearby Hase-dera, long one of my favorite Kamakura temples. The temple is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, and has many features illustrating mercy and peace. Nonetheless, today it seemed to be making faces at us–but in a good way.
Finally, we had just a little time and sunlight to spare, so we wandered around the corner to Goryo Shrine (also known as Gongoro Jinja), a little neighborhood shrine believed to hold the power to cure eye diseases. The popular little Enoden train runs right in front of the shrine, and we snapped a few pictures as it went by, too.
It was around 5 pm when we caught the Enoden from Hase station back to Kamakura station, where we enjoyed an early dinner at Tsukui, our favorite Kamakura restaurant. We enjoyed okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and Tsukui’s famed yaki tofu…and of course some electrolyte replacement in the form of ice cold beer.
This was a full, but not rushed day, in which we could alternatively enjoy nature, history and culture. We walked at a leisurely pace so that we were only pleasantly tired, not worn out, by the end of our day.
© 2018 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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