The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) statue of Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura is the second tallest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan (the tallest is in Nara). This is probably the most iconic and recognized attraction of Kamakura.
Standing at approximately 13 m (43 ft) tall, the statue is indeed quite a sight. This is one of those things you have to see for yourself to truly appreciate it’s splendor.
The statue used to be housed in a building but it was destroyed by a tsunami in 1498 and since then the statue had been left in the open.
A worker cleaning the inside of an incense burner.
My plan was to end the day with a visit to a nearby temple, Hasedera. But by the time I left, the temple was closing soon so I decided maybe next time. I ended my day at nearby Yuigahama Beach.
The beach is nothing great though, perhaps even a little unsightly with plenty of washed up seaweed and some trash around. But it was a good spot to just relax, watch surfers ride the wave and enjoy the sea breeze.
A perfect end to the day trip.
The thing I love most about my home country, Malaysia is it’s diversity. Growing up, I was exposed to some of the world’s major religions – Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism – all at the same time in Malaysia. I’ve visited mosques, churches and temples, most memorable of all the Hindu festival Thaipusam.
But this was my first time visiting a Shinto shrine. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Shintoism until I took a course on world religions in university (it’s actually more interesting than what it sounds like). And I was excited to see Shintoism in the flesh here in Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. For starters, there is the ritual purification of temizu.
Basically worshipers wash their hands and mouth before approaching the shrine. I did my fair share of temizu too. As they say when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Purified and cleansed, I braved this mighty flight of stairs approaching the main hall.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the hall (I think), so I kept my camera in the bag. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to observe worshipers go about their business.
As I left the main hall, there was a little commotion going on outside. Following the crowd, I discovered there was a wedding ceremony taking place!
While I was thrilled to be observing a traditional Shinto wedding, I kinda felt bad for the couple because their wedding ceremony became something of a tourist attraction. Everyone just whipped our their cameras and started snapping away. Now their wedding will forever be immortalized in someone’s travel album
and in my blog.
After that, I wandered around the temple grounds some more. This wall of saké barrels really caught my attention. This two young ladies were so engrossed in taking a photo that they did not realized they walked into my shot. Regardless, I thought it was good to have a human touch in the shot so I included them in the composition.
All in all, it was a very interesting first visit to a Shinto shrine. I felt like I was on a school trip observing all the things I’ve learned in the classroom.
By then it was late in the afternoon and I’ve yet to have my lunch. Yes, I was behind my schedule by a mile. So it was time to leave, grab a quick lunch and head on to Kamakura’s most iconic attraction – Daibutsuden (The Great Buddha).
Note: Kami are the sacred deities worshiped in Shintoism
After 15 minutes of walking under the merciless summer sun, I arrived at Kencho-ji, the most important Zen temple in Kamakura.
And it did not disappoint. Kencho-ji’s towering sanmon (entrance gate) definitely lives up to it’s stature.
There are 2 temple halls here, the Butsuden (Buddha Hall) and Hatto (Dharma Hall). The Hatto really captured me with it’s colorful drapes around the hall. Oh and that painting of a dragon on the ceiling. How cool is that?
Another point of interest is Kencho-ji’s main hall, the Hojo. I was photographing the Hojo’s gate when I noticed these Japanese men walking by. I thought it would be interesting to contrast the modern Japanese men in suits against a historical backdrop so I waited for them to walk into my frame and snapped away.
As the sun rose higher into the afternoon sky, the lighting wasn’t so flattering for photos. And I was slowly dying from the heat. But it was getting late and I had to move on.
Entrance to Kencho-ji will set you back 300 yen. These temple entrance fees can build up quite fast so be sure to budget accordingly. Fortunately, my next stop was free of charge, the Shinto shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Finally, after 2 months I got down to playing tourist in Japan.
Kamakura is a coastal town rich with Japanese history and often considered the birthplace of the samurai. Today it is a popular tourist destination with the town’s historical temples and beaches drawing the crowd. I am a big fan of historical sites so Kamakura was right up my alley.
There are 5 Buddhist Zen temples in Kamakura of which my first stop was Engaku-ji. One of the things that truly amazed me is the majestic gate known as a sanmon that greeted me as I entered the temple grounds. This is Engaku-ji’s sanmon - with a few tourists thrown into the shot to give you a sense of scale. Interestingly, the size of the gate is an indicator of the temple’s status.
The temple was relatively quiet on an early Saturday morning. I took my time exploring and admiring the landscaping around the temple grounds. On hindsight, I took a little too much time and had to cut 1 stop out of my itinerary but more on that later.
Engaku-ji is only a stone’s throw away from Kita-Kamakura station and it’s definitely worth the 300 yen admission. Next, I continued to Kencho-ji, the most important Zen temple in Kamakura.
So someone actually told me that ferris wheel was getting boring. Okay let’s try something different this time around.
I was on my way back to my apartment when I stumbled onto a small neighborhood Obon Festival. Obon is basically a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor one’s ancestors. It’s the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival.
I was immediately captured by the colorful lanterns and wanted to capture that but it was just a photographic nightmare. The dynamic range of the scene was very high.
It was a windy night and people were moving around so HDR processing was out of the question. So I exposed for the bright lanterns and tried to recover as much shadow detail as possible from Lightroom. Even then it was not perfect as some lanterns just seem brighter than others.
With a daily routine of work and sleep, I sometimes forget that I am ACTUALLY in Japan. So I am grateful for scenes like this because they remind me that there is so much more to see and learn in this beautiful country.
People often ask me what do i do during the weekends here in Yokohama.
“Oh I go out to take photos”.
“Really? So you’re traveling to somewhere new every weekend?”
“Erm… no. This is the 4th weekend I am photographing the city area”
Then comes the classic bewildered look and “Is there so much to photograph there?”
Well yes, there is plenty to photograph if one is willing to spend the time to look for them. And I am glad I kept I coming back to the same place (these were taken from Osanbashi Pier by the way) because I was finally rewarded with a beautiful sunset last weekend.
The greatest reward is perhaps seeing the silhouette of the iconic Mount Fuji. Yeah I know it’s really small but hey, it’s a big thing for someone new to Japan like myself.
Sometimes a great photograph is made when we happen to be at the right place at the right time. But that’s not going to happen everyday. It’s all about planning and persistence. And on that weekend, my persistence paid off.
I believe it is time to conquer new grounds.
The Cosmo Clock 21 is probably my favorite part of the city skyline. Huge structure, symmetrical patterns and colorful light displays at night. It just screams for your attention no matter where you are in the city center. And of course, this one also doubles up as a giant clock. Neat, eh?