A couple of weeks ago I spent a few minutes looking out at the sea from Yuigahama Beach in Kamakura city just south of Tokyo. The beach faces south so you are always going to see the sun over the ocean from this point, I always wonder what Kamakura would like like from a boat in the ocean? Someday I need to find myself a spot on one of those boats I sometimes see on the horizon here. It’s an unseasonably cold early April afternoon but already some windsurfers and surfers are out there.
One of the most important buddhist temples of Kamakura is the historic Jufukuji, founded in the year 1200 A.D. by the monk Myoan Eisei who studied philosophy in China before founding zen buddhism and revolutionizing the Japanese attitudes to green tea (he wrote of the health benefits which were later proved by modern science). The main temple building, which is not open to the public, was rebuilt in the 1750′s, but the charmingly moss covered cemetery is open and even holds a small almost hidden path to a nice park nearby.
If you have ever traveled on one of the many JR Trains heading south west from Tokyo to Kamakura or beyond, you’re most likely to have seen or at least passed while unaware of it, the huge Ofuna Kannon Temple statue on the hill to the right just as you pass Ofuna station. I have been on that train hundreds of times and every time I passed Ofuna I always thought that someday I should get off and investigate that huge white statue up there. Technically Ofuna is part of Kamakura City, but due to the geography of the area Ofuna is almost completely cut of from Kamakura in the south, even though I have walked between the the two stations in about 45 minutes a couple of times. The Ofuna Kannon Temple is quite young, being founded in 1929 and only completed 1960 with the finish of the handmade 1900 ton heavy statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon. The temple is dedicated to peace and has a number of relics from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, including some building stones and a flame taken from the fires that raged after the bombing and kept lit since then (you can barely see it in of one of the photos). The kannon statue itself is hollow and there’s a small prayer room inside with hundreds of miniature hand carved buddha statues with toothpicks for staffs in their hands. There’s also quite a few memorials to the friendship between the Japanese and the countries of South East Asia, and a lot of Vietnamese and Burmese people visit this temple. I saw one ema votive plate written in Vietnamese. I wonder what it says?
I visited the Ofuna Kannon Temple in spring, so the photos look a bit bare, also scenery in the middle of the day is as far from my preferred subjects as it can possibly get, hence the poor quality. I wish I had had a color negative film camera for this!
Most tourists visit the beautiful city of Kamakura, south west of Tokyo, alone or as part of a tour group. Kamakura is famous for its dozens of temples but not so famous for its smaller shrines (temples being buddhist, shrines being shinto, a good example of how two very different religions can coexist in one country). One of the least visited but maybe the most interesting shrine in Kamakura is the Sasuke Inari Jinja, and the holy grove behind it, where I took these photos of the many fox statues. The legend behind this shrine is that a man was visited by an Inari God (a God of fertility whose animal is the fox) who told him the solution of one of his problems and saved his life. To thank the Inari spirit the man founded a shrine in a remote part of the mountains in Kamakura, the old capital of Japan. The shrine itself is quite hard to reach and out of the way, but is part of the very rewarding Great Buddha Hiking Trail that goes from just south of Kitakamakura station to Kotokuin, the Daibutsu of Kamakura. On the way you will pass this shrine and the grove of foxes, after quite a lot of climbing and muddy mountain paths. The grove itself is an almost magical moss covered little patch of forest covered in hundreds and hundreds of fox statues and votive shrines, stones, engravings and cups and platters of offerings to the Gods of this place. If you visit off season on a weekday, you might be able to the place for yourself for a little while, and get a chance to really take in the place in peace and silence. This really is one of my favorite spots in Japan, and if I believed in that sort of thing, I would call it a “power spot”. If you want to visit, it might be best to make sure you have a map to the Sasuke Inari Shrine, 佐助稲荷神社, beforehand. The grove of foxes is above the shrine entrance, to the left if you come from Zeniaraibenten, or right on the path to the shrine if you come from the Daibutsu following the hiking trail.