け is for Kencho-ji

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Temples in Kamakura always seem small and compact to me. Even if the grounds are large, there are hillsides and towering trees to make them seem not so. Not that I’m complaining, of course — I love Kamakura’s earthy little temples.

Kencho-ji, however, about 1km from Kita-Kamakura Station and 1.5km from Kamakura Station, is anything but small and compact. It’s open and sprawling — the largest in Kamakura, in fact. Its wide sando and grounds are airy and open, and it’s easy to see why it’s the first of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples.

Founded in the mid-13th century, Kencho-ji is not a terribly old temple (for comparison, Kamakura’s oldest, Sugimoto Dera, was founded in 734 CE), though it does sit on the site of an older temple, Shinpei-ji. In ancient times, the valley in which Shinpei-ji (and now Kencho-ji) sits was known as Jigokugayatsu (or Jigokudani, depending on the source) — the Valley of Hell.*

With a name like that, it’s not terribly surprising that the valley was known for something a bit sinister. The beautiful cherry tree-filled grounds upon which you walk were once execution grounds.

To help the souls of the unfortunate, Shinpei-ji had as its primary object of worship the bodhisattva known in Japan as Jizo-sama. Jizo-sama protects those in danger and those who are lost, as well as those who fall down to hell. Nowadays, though, he’s perhaps best known as patron saint of travellers; expectant mothers; children; and babies, including those who die before or during birth. (Hasedera, in the Hase region of Kamakura, has an area dedicated to fetuses, babies and children, and the area is full of Jizo-sama.)

Kencho-ji continues the tradition of having Jizo-sama as its primary object of worship, and a large statue of Jizo-sama sits in the butsuden. In Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu writes that Jizo-sama is

enthroned upon a mighty lotus; it is carved in wood, lacquered, and originally gilded, but the latter has almost entirely disappeared leaving the dark lacquer, which invests the great figure with a somber and forbidding appearance. (p. 110)

Jizo-sama sits under an impressive ceiling, so make sure to look up when you’re there.

Behind the butsuden is the hatto, where you’ll find Senju Kannon, or One-Thousand-Armed Kannon. The ceiling above Kannon-sama is also pretty amazing.

Beyond the hatto is the hojo, where zazen practice takes place. (A glowing review of a zazen session — yes, there are special sessions in English — can be found here.) Kencho-ji is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, so anyone with an interest in zazen should definitely try to fit in a session. Behind the hall is a garden — a National Scenic Spot, and benches upon which to relax and enjoy the view.

The road to the left of the hojo leads towards Hansobo Shrine and Shojoken Observation Deck, located at the top of the hills behind Kencho-ji. The walk up involves a lot of stairs, but the view will distract you from your burning quadriceps: after the first set of steps, the remaining hill is studded with tengu, a supernatural creature often depicted with a very long nose. Most of the tengu at Kencho-ji, though, are a bit different — they’re beaked. These raven or crow tengu (Jisho.org calls them “crow-billed goblins”) are an older tengu, more animal than the more common red-faced, long-nosed tengu. They stand guard on the hill, wings on backs, weapons (kendo shinai swords?) in hands. (For more info on tengu, check out Tofugu.com‘s post on the demon/spirits.)

At the top of the hill is Shojoken Observation Deck, where on a clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible. If you hope to see the mountain, it’s best to visit in late fall or winter, as once the temperature rises in spring, Mt. Fuji disappears into a haze that lasts until late fall, bar a few clear early mornings.

The Ten-en hiking course runs past Kencho-ji, with a path leading to it to the right of Hansobo Shrine. It’s a fantastic course — about two or three hours, not too challenging but also not too easy, and runs to Kakuon-ji (shorter hike) or Zuisen-ji (longer hike), both much smaller but still fantastic temples.

*You’ll also find Jigokugayatsu/Jigokudani translated as Hell’s Valley and Hell’s Hollow.

か is for Kaizo-ji

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Just six hundred metres from Eisho-ji is a temple that blooms year round. Kaizo-ji, founded in 1394, is most famous for its bush clover, which blooms in September. The temple, of the Kenchoji school of Rinzai Zen Buddhism, is also a great spot for plum-blossom viewing and koyo (fall foliage).

Behind the main temple building is a large garden with a pond. Though it’s not often open to the public, visitors can see the garden from the yagura (cave tombs) to the left of the main shrine building.

Another building houses the main objects of worship (Yakushi Nyorai among others), which are on display rather than locked up like at some other temples.

Near the yagura is a path that leads to a grotto with sixteen small wells, each roughly 40 centimetres deep and 70 centimetres in diameter. What were the wells used for? The Kamakura Today website says the following:

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What were those wells used for? Nobody knows for sure. The established view by the archaeologists is that they were used for burying ashes of the departed, but the Temple denies it saying each well represents a Bosatsu or Bodhisattva and the sacred water was dedicated to those Bosatsu.

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Established: 1394

Pilgrimage: Kamakura 33 Kannon Pilgrimage (temple # 26)

Kamakura 24 Jizo Pilgrimage (temple #15, however, the building that  houses the Iwafune Jizo is not on the main Kaizo-ji grounds, but rather a short walk away.)

 

Iwafune Jizo (磐船地蔵)

か is for Kakuon-ji

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In her book, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu calls Kakuon-ji a “venerable temple of unimposing exterior.” It is indeed quite simple on the outside (though wonderfully peaceful), but inside it houses a number of statues and other items, including two national treasures (the Yakushi Sanzon and the Black Jizo).

While the outer grounds are free to wander, getting a chance to see the temple’s treasures requires joining a tour for about ¥500. The tour takes roughly 50 minutes and is in Japanese. It’s only offered a handful of times a day, and not at all during certain times of the year (August, end/beginning of the year, rainy days), so make sure to google or contact the temple if you’re determined to join. Please note that photography is not allowed.

Founded: 1296 (built on the site a Buddha hall established in 1218)

Festival: Black Jizo festival, August 10

Trivia: Kakuon-ji is home to the Black Jizo, which is Jizo #3 of Kamakura’s 24 Jizo pilgrimage.

か is for Kamakura-gu

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Kamakura-gu is one of Kamakura’s newer shrines, having been founded in 1869 by Emperor Meiji. The spirit of the shrine goes back much further, however, as it was established in memory of Prince Morinaga, who was imprisoned in a cave on the property for seven or eight months before being beheaded in 1335.

While the main shrine grounds are free to wander, the area behind the main shrine building — where the cavern entrance is — requires a small payment. There’s also a garden area; and a glass-walled building containing paintings, a huge statue of Prince Morinaga on a horse, and other knickknacks and oddities, in the paid area.

Kamakura-gu’s Setsubun ceremony in early February is a great one to visit with kids, as it has a special area where they can join the scramble for beans without worrying about being knocked down by bigger kids and adults. The shrine also has a bon festival in August.

Kids’ Play Between Kamakura and Hakone: Odawara Wanpaku Land

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The oft-visited Kamakura-Hakone stretch isn’t terribly child-friendly outside of the summer beach season. Kids get bored with temples and shrines, and wandering the omiyage streets of hot-spring towns gets pretty old, pretty fast. Luckily, there are a few spots that provide ample opportunity to play, and that will, with any luck, fill kids’ “play tanks” full enough to let the mums and dads enjoy what they came for without too many complaints from pint-sized companions.

Located between Hakone and Kamakura in the castle town (and Shinkansen station) of Odawara, Kodomo no Mori Koen Wanpaku Land is easily accessible by both car and Hakone Tozan bus. This expansive park isn’t too far from downtown Odawara (which is worth a visit for its castle and castle grounds — beautiful cherry blossoms in early spring, hydrangeas during the rainy season, and if memory serves, irises in May), though don’t expect to be able to walk.

Wanpaku Land is on the side of a hill, so be prepared for some steep inclines in the playing area, but for those lacking the ability or inclination to walk from spot to spot, there’s a road train, as well as a proper mini train, that make the rounds (though thanks to the park’s geography, they don’t visit each and every mini-park within the park).

The day we visited — a chilly, windy Sunday in February, a handful of food trucks were parked at various parks-within-the-park, serving a variety of hot and cold food. Vending machines with both snacks and drinks were on hand in rest areas.

The park also has some ponies, goats, sheep and pigs, with several pony-ride times open during the day. A taiken/workshop or two teach kids to make little knickknacks. At the entrance, a collection of kiddie rides offers some electronic fun for wee-er ones.

Our six-year-old had a blast, and judging by the expressions of sheer delight on the faces of the other kids, every other non-adult was also having the time of his or her life.

Please note that though entrance to the park is free, the train, road train, pony rides, kiddie rides and parking all require payment, though prices aren’t steep.

**Closed Mondays (unless Monday is a national holiday, in which case the park is open), the weekday after national holidays, and the end-of-year/new-year period**

**Information is accurate as of February 7, 2018. Please refer to the website (Japanese) for updated information before visiting.**

お is for Onari Shotengai

 

Onari Shotengai, out the west side of Kamakura Station, doesn’t get much press, being overshadowed by Komachi Dori, the shopping street out the east side. But it has a lot going for it.

The past year or so has seen quite a few new shops open along the shopping street, including cafes, jewellery shops (with a taiken/workshop option — there’s even the option to make your engagement and wedding bands as a couple. Squeee!), and fanciest of all, Chocolate Bank (located in an old bank, natch), purveyor of fine chocolates, pastries and other chocolate-related goods. Pricey but yummy — and there’s a giant gorilla on the communal table, which my six-year-old daughter assures me is made of solid chocolate (…), sweetening the deal even further. (Non-communal seating is also available.)

Craft shops, a cat-related goods shop, a basket shop, vintage kimono shops (more than one!), bakeries, cake shops, coffee beans, a crêperie, clothing boutiques, a shoe store, flower shops, a Pinterest-worthy interior decor shop (one of my faves!), a liquor shop, a yaoya (greengrocer), a place to get your nails done, your hair done, your photos printed… the list goes on.

And if you’re dreaming of owning a house in the area, there are two real estate agencies with lovely photos in the windows, too. The one even charts the seasons with the help of Anpan Man.

Anpan Man dressed for Setsubun
It’s Setsubun! 

One of the best parts is that it’s not nearly as crowded as Komachi Dori, which is wonderful, especially on hot summer days.

お is for Ofuna Kannon

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We’re finally leaving え, though I’m guessing we’ll be back again eventually. So many え…

But onto お we go.

Ofuna is a funny city, half of it being in Yokohama-shi and half being in Kamakura-shi. Luckily for us and our kana series, the Ofuna Kannon is on the Kamakura side.

Kannon-sama is the goddess of mercy and lord of compassion (depending on whether s/he is being depicted as a female deity or male deity), and she comes in many forms, like the 11-headed Kannon, and horse-headed Kannon. The Kannon in Ofuna is a Byakushozon Kannon, or white-robed Kannon.

The Ofuna Kannon is a newer monument — construction started in 1929. Unfortunately, the lead-up to the war meant that construction was put on pause in 1934. After the war, construction recommenced, and the Ofuna Kannon was completed in 1960. The monument stands 25 metres tall and 19 metres wide, and you can even go inside, where there are several small alcoves containing various figurines, origami cranes, and drawings by children. There is also a small altar to Kannon-sama.

The grounds are home to a flame from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, housed in a stone lantern, as well as stones from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The stones are in memory of those who died during the bombings.

On the 18th day of each month (except for May 18), the temple celebrates Kannon Day by offering a one-day Zen school. For more information, please see the website.

Festival: May 18 (観音五月大祭)  and September (Yume Kannon Asia Festival)

 

え is for Enoden

 

Or, to use its full name, Enoshima Dentetsu.

Green, purple, blue — both sky and dark, occasionally hawking Coca Cola, with wooden floors if you’re lucky, the Enoden line is Kamakura’s cute little engine that can, ever so slowly, take you from Kamakura to Fujisawa.

Slow, yes — the trip from start to finish takes about 30 minutes, but the view is better than the alternative. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji rises high in the distance, and can be seen between roughly Shichirigahama Station and Kamakura Koko-Mae Station. So, not for long, but still, it’s worth it ambling pace (and cost — it is not a cheap train line).

Hase in the Snow

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Taking a bit of a break from Kamakura in Kana to post some photos of the snowstorm from Monday, January 22. It only snows a few times a year here — sometimes only once or twice, so to get this much snow was pretty exciting, especially for this Canuck.

While I didn’t manage to make it to other parts of town, I did manage to catch three different temples in the snow: Hasedera, Kosoku-ji, and Kotoku-in. The Daibutsu was serene as always, even wrapped up in flurries.

 

え is also for Eisho-ji

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Eisho-ji, a nunnery, is one of the newer temples in Kamakura, having been founded during the Edo period. It has ties to both the Tokugawa Shogunate, and to Edo Castle, as the founding nun, Eisho-In-Ni, was a descendent of the founder of Edo Castle, as well as a concubine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Eisho-ji is surrounded by a wall, and it’s easy to walk by and think nothing much of it, but ducking through the low door in the wall and stepping inside reveals fairly extensive (for Kamakura) grounds, and several interesting structures, such as the bell tower shaped like hakama (traditional Japanese wide-legged trousers), and the butsuden, which, though double-roofed, is a single story. The butsuden also has carvings of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac carved into it.

Also within the walls of Eisho-ji is a small but beautiful bamboo grove through which a path winds. If you wander through the grounds in the suggested direction, you’ll end up in the grove at the end of your walk, finishing things off in a peaceful, impossibly green way.

Founded: 1638