We thought we have seen most of Kamakura – the Great Buddha, the beach, and its rich heritage and history. But we did not expect that we will see a different Kamakura from yesterday’s trip with two of my evening English class students.
Very early in the morning yesterday, my husband and I were already on our way to Tokyo to take and early trip to Kamakura. We met Yoshi and Mika at the east exit of Kamakura station around 9:00 in the morning. From there we rode a bus going to Houkokuji Temple. The temple is one of the Zen Temples which was established in 1334. It was built to commemorate Ashikaga Ietoki who is the head of the Ashikaga shouguns. It is also known for its bamboo garden which consists of more than 2,000 Mousou bamboo trees, the biggest species of bamboo. While we were not allowed to go inside the main temple, we were able to enjoy the inside garden.
We also had a brief moments to enjoy the view of the bamboo forest while enjoying a cup of green tea and some sweets.
While we were having a look at the facade of the temple, Yoshi gave us a small book. It was called Goshuin Chou or the Honorable Red-Stamp Notebook. He said that this where we can keep the stamps of the temples and shrines we visited in Japan. The name of the shrines are handwritten by the monks and then they put a red-inked stamp on top of it.
After that we head to Kamakurayama to have a traditional Japanese lunch at Rai Tei Restuarant. The restaurant was located quite far from the city center. Going there we took a taxi since we need to catch our 11:00 am reservation time. But one can also go there by car or bus. Depending on the traffic, the trip going there would take around 15 minutes from Kamakura station. Reservation is a must for the traditional Japanese meal because the restaurant only caters to a limited serving per day.
Since we arrived 30 minutes earlier than our scheduled reservation, we made a brief tour around the restaurant’s garden. The main restaurant is located uphill which enabled us to enjoy the overlooking view of the mountains as well as the forest-like hike around the garden.
At exactly 11:00 am, we went back to the restaurant where ladies in kimono greeted us. We first stayed at the reception room to have some hot tea while they prepare our room. From here, we had a spectacular view of the outside world. We were even fortunate to see Mt. Fuji and portions of Hakone.
Our lunch was one of a kind. Our sumptuous 9-course meal was very delicious! Plus the view from our room was spectacular. We also had a very nice conversation with Yoshi and Mika while enjoying the freshness of the oysters, urchins, and fishes; hand-made soba noodles; and traditionally-cooked chicken and vegetables.
After our elegant yet hearty meal, we again made a short trip to the garden before we headed back to Kamakura station.
When we reached Kamakura station, we walked along Komachi Dori, Kamakura’s shopping street, to visit Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Just recently, my husband and I visited this shrine. But yesterday’s visit felt like it was our first time there. Instead of following the crowd going to the main shrine, our walk started from the small entrance on the our right near the great red Tori-i. It lead us to the peony garden. Although there were no peonies blooming, the structure of the garden itself is still captivating. From there we also had a great view of the Genpie pond, the Hataage Benzaiten Shrine which is located on a small island in the middle of the pond, and the resting area.
And after we had some green tea and sweets at the Saikan or guest house, we spent some minutes marvelling at its inner traditional garden.
On our way to the main shrine or the Hongu, we saw some couples getting on their traditional wedding dress. It was my first time to see a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony.
After paying our respects to the gods at the main hall, we then went to Kencho-ji, the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura. Its Karamon (Chinese gate) and Butsuden (Buddha Hall) are both important cultural properties including the juniper trees which are more than 750 years old. We also had our first meditation experience in its Zendo (Meditation Hall) which is located at the temple’s monastery. It was another first for me yesterday, first time to sit for an hour of Buddhist meditation. The whole experience was both good and challenging. Good because I was introduced to another religious practice. Challenging because I got hit by a monk and my feet died for some minutes 😉
And to end the great and tiring day, we went home using the green car of Yokosuka Line. The final first of our trip.