Yeesh. I wanted a week between the last post and this one, not a month. Once again, I’m too busy doing stuff to write about the stuff I’m doing. Oh well.


After Tokyo and Nikkō, I spent a day in Kamakura.

Kamakura – a 45-minute train ride down the coast from Tokyo – was the capital of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185-1333). This was the first shogunate, and it displaced the imperial court as the center of power in Japan. But rather than constituting a new government, the shogunate was more like a new layer of government. The emperor had unassailable legitimacy, so although everyone knew how things really stood, the court continued on in Kyoto until the Meiji Restoration.

Today, Kamakura is probably most famous for its giant statue of Buddha.

Kamakura Daibutsu

When the statue was built in 1252, it was inside a temple, but a couple centuries later a typhoon swept away the building and it’s been in the open ever since.

In addition to the Daibutsu (“Great Buddha”), Kamakura is known for its Zen temples. Zen entered Japan around the beginning of the Kamakura period and quickly became popular with samurai, thus many temples were founded in Kamakura.

This one, Tōkei-ji, is nicknamed “Divorce Temple.”

Kamakura Toukei-ji

It was a sanctuary for abused women from its founding in 1285 until the Meiji Restoration. During this period, women couldn’t initiate divorces, but the temple enjoyed extraterritoriality and any woman who stayed there for three years was granted a divorce.

Another temple, Jōchi-ji, was heavily damaged in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, and it’s buildings have been rebuilt in the past couple years. The contrast between the fresh wood of the new buildings and the temple’s relics is as sharp as that of the new and old tatami in this picture.

Kamakura Jouchi-ji Tatami

Wow, that was a spectacularly awkward analogy. But let’s not dwell on my bad writing! Here’s another picture from the same temple.

Kamakura Jouchi-ji Hotei

This statue is of Hotei, one of the “Seven Gods of Fortune.” He represents abundance and contentment. Outside of Japan, he is depicted as a fat, laughing Buddha – based on an actual Chinese monk who lived in the early 10th century – and is regarded as an emanation of Maitreya (the Future Buddha predicted to renew Buddhism after it disappears from the world).

Kamakura’s biggest temple, Kenchō-ji, received this statue as a gift from Pakistan.

Kamakura Kenchou-ji FastingBuddha

And rounding out my pictures of statues, this is one of many tengu on the steep hill/mountainside at a shrine dedicated to protecting Kenchō-ji from fire.

Kamakura Hansoubou Tengu

I was surprised to see them, because in stories, tengu often delight in using their magic to trick monks. But although they’re dangerous and fond of mischief, tengu aren’t necessarily evil, and since they’re protectors of mountains, I guess it makes sense to want them on your side.

One last picture before I finally put this post up.

Kamakura Hase-dera Revolving

This is a revolving sutra repository at Hase-dera. Even literate Japanese adults can’t read sutras without extensive study, so turning this repository lets you read them symbolically.


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2 Responses to “Kamakura”

  1. Doug Says:

    Kevin, I’m sure your other readers are both more attentive and better informed than I, but I’ll still offer this crutch, courtesy of Wikipedia: In Buddhism, the term “sutra” refers generally to canonical scriptures that are regarded as records of the oral teachings of Gautama Buddha.

    What language are the sutras written in? Why are they difficult to read? When you turn the revolving gizmo, what is it that you see?

    This was another wonderful post…worth the wait.

  2. kevinjames Says:

    These days, translated versions are being produced, but traditionally sutras in Japan were written in old Chinese, with many loan words from Sanskrit and characters that have unusual readings in a Buddhist context.

    With the repository, you don’t really see anything, you just turn it like a horse mill. But some of its doors/shutters are open to show the scrolls and books stacked inside.

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