From the moment I had seen a picture of the Great Buddha of Kamakura I knew I had to go and see it in person if I could, so I booked a Tour through Viator.com (actually run by JTB Sunrise Tours) that went to Kamakura and visited a number of Temples including Kotoku-in Temple where the Great Buddha is located.
The tour included hotel pick-up, then took us to a central bus terminal where we were sorted into our tour groups then re-boarded buses and set out on the approximately 90 minute drive south west to Kamakura. The guide we had, who was named Mayumi, was very good and on the drive she gave us lots of historical information on Tokyo and what we would see and be doing in Kamakura. Our first stop on the tour was the Jomyo-ji Temple, established in 1188, where we made our way to the Tea house.
At the Tea house we were treated to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We watched as the Tea Master showed us the procedure for making the Macha green tea, and then we were all served our tea and a small sweet to go with it.
Our guide had explained to us that at it’s core, the Japanese Tea ceremony is a meditation. It was a way for the Samurai to stop and appreciate each thing in it’s time. It was also an important companion to his martial arts training which placed a value on clarity, honour and transcendence.
We had all removed our shoes as we entered the Tea house and before stepping onto the tatami mats, we then took our places, there were some seats and tables for those who could not sit on the floor and the rest of us knelt down or sat crossed legged while the tea was served. The tatami mats give a real softness to the interior and add to the serenity of the experience I think and it was lovely to sit, sip our tea and look out on the beautiful Zen garden that the Tea house opened up to.
The Macha tea is actually fairly bitter to drink, so I was grateful for the sweet that was served it.
After relaxing at our Tea ceremony, we had a short time to look around the grounds of the Jomyo-ji Temple before our guide led us on a approximately 5 minute walk to the Hokoku-ji Temple.
The Hokoku-ji temple was founded in 1334 and is the family temple for both the Ashikaga and Uesugi clans
It is famous for it’s bamboo grove behind the temple, consisting of about 2,000 moso bamboo reaching up to the sky, and a Tea house which it seemed was popular with tourists. There are some beautiful gardens with water features and lots of moss covered statues. In front of the Temple there is also a lovely and very substantial Bell tower.
Our tour group gathered back at our bus and boarded it for the short drive to Hachinoki Kitakamakuraten Restaurant where we were to have our Buddhist vegetarian lunch. There were 4 of us on the tour who were traveling solo, so we were all seated together for lunch which was actually good fun as we all got chatting and enjoyed eating the delicious food together and trying to figure out what some of the dishes even were!
Back on the bus and onto our next stop, Kotoku-in Temple and the Great Buddha which I was so excited to see! Kotoku-in is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo-shu sect and is renowned for it’s Great Buddha. On the way in I made sure to stop at the washing basin for the traditional cleansing of the hands and mouth.
I then continued on into the Temple and there it was, the fabulous Great Buddha! It does not disappoint.
Rising over 43 feet high, the Great Buddha dates to around 1252 and at one time the copper was gilded in gold leaf. It weighs over 121 tons and was originally inside a large hall, but the hall was destroyed by a storm in 1334, rebuilt, damaged again in 1369 and rebuilt yet again. The last building housing the statue was washed away in a tsunami in 1498, and since then the Great Buddha has stood in the open air. The tour didn’t allow us enough time at the Temple for my liking, I really could have lingered for some time, but as time was short I took photos, made a quick purchase from the temple shop and did a loop around the some of the grounds. The Kangetsu-do Hall which is set back behind the Great Buddha dates back to the mid 15th Century and was moved here to the temple when it was given as a gift in 1924.
Unfortunately I had to drag myself away too soon and get back to the tour bus for the drive to our last stopping point, Enoshima Island.
Enoshima Island is a small off shore island (about 4 km in circumference) in Sagami Bay and is linked to the mainland of Japan by a 2,000 ft long bridge. It is a popular resort area on the coast and our bus dropped us off with 1 hour to explore the island. Our tour guide handed out our tickets which gave us access to the escalator that took us up the steep slope of the island and admittance to the observation tower on top. Once up the escalator, I set off to explore a number of the Shrines.
Because my time was short, I decided not to go up the observation tower, but instead to follow the path and make a complete circuit of the island. There was some lovely gardens and little shops along the route.
On the back side of the island there was a really hazy distant view of Mt Fuji (so hazy, a photo barely made it out), so I can imagine how great the view would be on a lovely clear day. But I wasn’t too disappointed as a few days earlier I had been lucky enough to be over half way up the Mountain and get a clear view of it.
After circling the island, I just had enough time to buy and quickly eat a yummy soft serve green tea ice cream, before getting myself back down to our tour bus meeting point. We had another 90 minute bus ride back into Tokyo and during some of that time Mayumi chatted to us and answered any questions we had, she really was a very good guide who was full on information. The tour dropped me of at the station in Shinjuku and from there I got a train back to Shibuya and finished my great day taking a photograph of a sunset view of a distant Mt Fuji across Tokyo from our hotel bar.
Date of visit; April 2017.