When travelling to Japan as a visitor I would recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to buy a rail pass, which must be bought before leaving for Japan and then validated once you arrive. It gives you the chance to travel anywhere in Japan on the JR network for either 7, 14 or 21 days. We purchased a 7 day pass and used it not only to take day trips from Tokyo but also on JR trains around Tokyo.
Day 4 saw us taking out first trip out of the city as we headed to Kamakura, about 50km (31 miles) south of Tokyo. The city is one of the ancient capitals of Japan, unsurprisingly during the Kamakura Period. Today it is famous for it's Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples set amongst the hills around the city, offering hikes, culture and access to the beach at Sagami Bay.
We spent the day visiting a number of shrines and temples, hiking through the surrounding hills and doing a little shopping in some of the lovely little stores on the main streets of the town.
We hiked the Daibutsu trail, a 3km hike from the Jochiji and it's Engakuji Temple to the Great Buddha (daibatsu) in the west of the city.
The Sanmon Gate at the entrance to the Engajuki Temple which was built in 1783.
The wall of temple.
Traditional temple shoes worn by Shinto priests.
Bamboo forest at the start of the hiking trail. It was about a 1 hour walk through the hills, passing small temples and shrines and getting views over the coast. The hike takes you to the Great Buddha of Kamakura, which was originally cast in 1252 and was originally located inside a great wooden hall which was destroyed in a tsunami in 1498. Since that time, the giant buddha has been standing in the open.
The statue is 13.35m tall and it's thumb is 0.85m in diameter. You can go inside the buddha to see how it is constructed.
Further down the road from the giant buddha is Hasedera Temple. The entrance to the temple is beautiful, with pine trees framing the gate with its red lantern.
Inside the temple gardens were beautifully manicured, in fact, we even saw gardeners up ladders removing the remaining leaves from the trees before they fell to the ground.
Tiny statues in the gardens.
In the Kyozo is a rotating bookrack called a rinzo, where the important Buddhist sutras are kept. By turning the rinzo it is said that you can earn the same merit that you would if you read all the sutras.
The roof of the Kannon-di (main hall).
This is the Jizo-do Hall, with hundreds of little Jizo statues that are to comfort the souls of unborn children.
After Hasedera we headed towards Kamakura's most famous Zen Temple (one of 5), Kenchoji which was founded in 1253.
Inside the Dharma Hall at Kenchoji, which is the largest wooden temple building in Eastern Japan (below) housing the statue of Kannon and with a dragon painted on the ceiling.
Our final shrine of the day was the Hachimangu Shrine close to the centre of the city, Kamakura's most important shrine. The main hall stands atop a wide stairway.
We were lucky enough to be in Japan n November...around the 15th of November the temples host the Shichi-Go-San Festival, a traditional rite of passage for three and seven year old girls and five year old boys. With odd numbers being lucky in East Asian numerology and during the samurai period a number of other traditions were added, related to the fact that children aged up to three were required by custom to have their heads shaven and at three they could grow out their hair, at five the boys were allowed to wear hakama for the first time and at seven girls are allowed to wear an obi, instead of a cord to tie their kimonos. At these ages the youngsters are taken to the temple to be blessed and to wish for a long life. For this reason we were lucky enough to see many children in kimonos and hakama (traditional Japanese dress for men).
The little girl in pink must be 7 as she is wearing an obi, the sash used to tie the kimono, whilst the smaller girl is wearing a little waistcoat over her kimono so she must be 3. The kimonos were so colourful...
We also saw a wedding/buddhist blessing at the temple...with musicians, priests and of course the bride. In buddhist ceremonies the bride wears a colourful kimono, including the iro-kakeshita with long sleeve and red padding at the bottom topped by a uchikake, an elaborately designed kimono with a heavy brocade or patterning which is worn as a sort of coat.
Symbols at shinto shrines...the priest's shoes, prayer strings and more...