25 August Big Buddha
We took the subway and then a local train to Kamakura. This small town was the capital of Japan between 1192 and 1333, or at least its seat of military government. Minamoto Yoritomo started it. He was Japan’s first shogun, or supreme commander, appointed by the Emperor. This was the end product of Japan’s equivalent of the Wars of the Roses. This time, however, the victorious Minamoto clan sported the white rose, and the vanquished Taira clan the red rose.
Yoritomo eventually subjugated the Taira clan (and incidentally destroyed some of his own allies who he feared might have later opposed him). He even killed his own cousin and half-brother in the course of this conflict, as required by the strict samurai code of honour.
A particular form of Zen Buddhism flourished under this regime and Kamakura-based Zen warriors and warrior monks became powerful throughout Japan.
We arrived around noon so we popped into a small restaurant in the central station complex, overlooking the bus terminus, for an early snack lunch. Rather than walk all the way in the noontide heat, we took a taxi up to the remarkable and main tourist attraction: the Daibutsu.
This is a huge bronze statue of Buddha (“Dai” = “Big”, “butsu” = “Buddha statue”), set in the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple. It is the second-biggest bronze statue of the Buddha in the world. It stands 11.3 metres high and weighs 93 tons, they say. Its construction started in 1252. It used to be housed in a massive wooden building. In 1495, a tidal wave struck Kamakura. The town and the wooden building were destroyed, but the Buddha, half a mile inland, remained intact and undisturbed. We paused for a moment to take the obligatory “Isn’t Val strong?” photo.
The Kamakura Daibutsu is a truly imposing figure that represents Amida or more properly the Amidabutsu. The Jodo sect that founded this temple is a “Pure Land” sect of Buddhism that was founded in China, but was introduced into Japan in 1175 AD. Like all Pure Land sects the Jodo believe that to achieve enlightenment (the objective of Buddhism) a person must go to a higher power for aid. Those higher powers are Bodhisattvas, which are Buddhas that live in other universes. Amidabutsu is such a Bodhisattva.
The Daibutsu sits cross-legged in serene contemplation. The statue appears unaffected by, and oblivious of, the changing world around him. On the forehead of the Daibutsu there is a lumpy marking, meant to represent him enlightening the world. The placement of the hands on the statue symbolises solid and steadfast belief.
I paid an extra 40 yen to enter the innards of the statue. From inside, you can see its separate sections, individually cast and then riveted or brazed together. There is a window half way up its back, but unfortunately the scaffolding that leads to the window was out of action, so I missed the view. It was intensely hot inside the statue, what with the sun beating down on it all day long, and there being no wooden building to shield it from the sun, so I only spent a couple of minutes inside.
In 1613, an English sea-captain Saris and his men from the Clove also visited the Daibutsu. Saris wrote, “it was in the likenesse of a man kneeling upon the ground, with his buttockes resting on his heeles, his armes of wonderfull largenesse, and the whole body proportionable. Some of our people went into the body of it and hoope and hallowed which made an exceeding great noise.”
In the temple grounds there were lots of cute grey squirrels cadging tit-bits from visitors. They (the squirrels, not the visitors) were very confident, scurrying up and down trees and scuttling around on the ground. They were cheekily taking scraps of food from the hands of visitors, to the terrified delight of small children.
After a fascinating half hour around the Daibutsu - and a cooling rinse in the temple’s purification spring - we strolled along to the neighbourhood station and caught the street-level train (more of a tram, actually) to Enoshima.
Enoshima is a small island attached by a causeway. We walked along it, passed under a torii and wended our way past shops and restaurants and hotels lining the uphill route. We climbed ever higher, up steep streets and flights of stairs, past the entrances to shrines, and entered the botanical gardens. There were cats everywhere, sleeping on the roofs of buildings, and on the footpath, strolling around the tropical plants, sprawled on the branches of trees. I saw no mice!
Entering one of the doorways, I was amazed to discover a set of escalators (you have to pay for them!) running perhaps 80 metres up inside the hillside. It certainly saved a lot of effort, and it was pleasantly cool as we ran the gauntlet of the billboards festooned up the walls of the escalators. “Buy Coca-Cola” seems to be everywhere, a tribute to sustained marketing, I guess.
A further steep path and flights of steps took us to the foot of the lighthouse. We ascended the rusting blue metalwork and arrived at the top. The view was wonderful. We could see a long way inland, and even fancied we could see the Daibutsu up the coast. There was a warship anchored off the island, but there appeared to be no one on board, at least no one visible from outside. It looked rather eerie, a Japanese Marie Celeste, perhaps.
Many legends surround Enoshima. It had its dragon that had to be appeased by the blood of young maidens. The Shinto deity who oversees the island has a romantic legend too complex to enter into here. The upshot of this, though, is that many lovers and honeymoon couples come to the island to seal their relationship. They signify their enduring troth by locking a padlock to appropriate bits of fencing.
Descending, we found a small amusement park that was about to close down. However, we managed to find a Coca-Cola machine and sat down for a few minutes to refresh ourselves. Val went off to find a Ladies restroom, where she changed into her swimming costume, as we had decided to go down to the beach.
Having retrod our footsteps, we walked off the island towards Enoshima beach. The light was beginning to fade, and the beach was emptying. Nonetheless, we went onto the darkish sand. Val and Stephen went into the sea, but I have to say I did not think it looked very clean.
There was certainly a lot of washed-up seaweed following the typhoon, but there was also an unpleasant quantity of rubbish littering the water’s edge. Thus I stayed on the beach and had a little snooze.
When I awoke, the stars were becoming visible, but Val and Stephen were still in the sea, flinging a Frisbee around. There were others in the water, notably three apprentice sumo wrestlers. We knew they were sumo wrestlers because of their considerable bulk and their distinctive hairstyles, with the special bob at the back. A small group of teenage girls spotted them too, and rushed down to get their autographs and to be photographed with them. All of this was accomplished by a lot of girlish giggling and the “V” peace sign that everyone makes when photographed. It looked as if the sumo guys had struck lucky, for they left the beach accompanied by the adoring teenagers, heading perhaps for one of the discos whose booming rhythms we could now hear.
Leaving the beach and dusting off the sand, (and scraping off the seaweed and the grime in the case of Val and Stephen) we returned to the tram station and travelled a few stops to somewhere whose name I cannot remember. There we searched fruitlessly for a German restaurant that Val and Stephen had visited previously. They were especially keen for me to meet the manageress, a formidable though friendly Frau who ordered her customers around, to the extent of ignoring their menu choices and bringing what she thought they ought to eat. I whistled a few bars of “Lilli Marlene” (not being able to remember the overture to the third act of “Lohengrin”) in the hope that she might hear and summon us, like the Rhinemaidens, to her presence, but this ruse failed to work. We got somewhat lost during this excursion, and took a short cut along deserted streets and through some kind of private park before regaining sight of civilisation. Eventually, pangs of hunger beginning to assail us, we found a Hawaiian burger restaurant, where we dined al fresco on excellent burgers with avocado, which we chose for ourselves.
Fortified thus, we walked until we found a railway station and caught the last train back to Tokyo, and thence home.