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More temples in Kamakura

Wednesday September 6

Our destination for the day was a place that shouldn't be missed Kamakura. It is one of those places where the Japanese go to hang out whenever they have a day off, joining devotionals to enjoyment. Our first stop was the Hasedera temple, impressive with its rows upon rows of small statuettes offered for the souls of stillborn children. Like most temples, it featured the sacred pond with carps and turtles, as well as walls of prayer plates: the latter are small wooden plates printed on one side with a design specific to the temple. On the other side the devotee writes a prayer or message and then hangs the plate with dozens of others. This particular temple also had very curious features: underground tunnels lined with the statues of deities, and a spinning sutra library. To rotate its shelves represents a symbolic reading of the entire Buddhist cannon, and thus gives equivalent merit.

Offerings for the souls of stillborn children
Ema prayer plates
These statues are dressed and taken care of like children
Kamakura is known for the Dai Butsu: the Big Buddha, a 15-meters-high bronze statue that is not only hollow but also earthquake-proof. His giant reed sandals hang on a wall nearby.

Originally, the statue was inside a temple, but the latter was washed away during a tidal wave in 1498. The statue has been exposed to sun, storms and snow ever since.

It is in Kamakura that I really start noticing the lightning-bolt shaped pieces of paper that are suspended everywhere or set on the ground. One mustn't touch them: they keep evil spirits at bay from the sacred places. Interestingly, I saw this same motif repeated in a heavy metal rod that a priest shook over the heads of people, probably to cleanse them.

Roof details from different temples

Temple bell

We had tempura udon for lunch, a memorable attempt. They are the heaviest, most slippery Japanese noodles in creation, and you're supposed to eat them without flooding the place. Like I said: memorable.

Attempts at eating udon (note my platter is flooded)
As the weather started to spoil we visited yet a third temple complex in Kamakura, from which runs a street into the commercial area of the village. It was a lovely walk, with the largest evidence of Maneki Neko, the Lucky Cat, I have seen. The cat with a paw raised in this characteristic gesture is a hugely popular motif in Japan.

Despite the rain we went to Chinatown in the afternoon, in Yokohama. Not something you expect to find in Tokyo, and yet it is there, and it immediately feels very different from the rest of the city.