By Larry from PA, US
Of all the places I encountered during my time in Japan, few resonated with me like Kamakura, a sleepy seaside town infused with temples, surf shops, and up and coming cafes. A dramatic contrast from the energy of nearby Tokyo, this picturesque coastal landscape provides the perfect backdrop for an arguably more considered experience.
A host of coffeehouses, for instance, invite locals and visitors alike to sit and relax while sipping a cappuccino or in the case of BASIC to enjoy some of the best hazelnut ice cream in the area. If you listen closely you may even hear the sound of waves crashing from afar. It’s scenes like this that inspire opportunities for reflection and inform much of my own affinity for the city. Even the local railway with its retro-style cars seems removed from a former, less hurried time.
Complementing this setting is WeBase Hostel, a preferred accommodation, promoting health and wellbeing through yoga and meditation classes as well as hot spring baths known as onsens. Other events and activities offered by what is really more retreat than hostel are meant to connect fellow travelers with one another. It’s all part of an effort to foster what I like to think of as “presence” or being grounded in the moment. A promotional video for WeBase Hostel (available here) does an excellent job of summarizing the experience not only of the retreat but Kamakura more broadly.
As an added bonus, the neighboring restaurant, Matsubara-an, yields truly superb handmade soba and roast duck. Patrons are free to dine outside among the zen garden, curled up in one of the provided wool blankets, or retreat inward for a more traditional setting (think tatami mats and recessed seating). One of my fondest memories in Kamakura was sharing sake with friends here and relishing in good company.
Perhaps the most iconic image of Kanagawa Prefecture, the giant Buddha of Kotokuin Temple, or Daibutsu, best captures the themes of zen and tranquility that are so pervasive throughout the region. Standing some 13.35 metres high, the Great Buddha is a testament to perseverance, having survived multiple tsunamis, and, in turn, remaining in a fixed lotus pose since roughly 1252. Gold leaf is similarly said to still graces the tips of the statue’s ears.
A short walk away, Zeniarai Benten Shrine presents further possibilities for contemplation. Hidden in a cave, and nestled at the end of a tunnel, the shrine exists largely as a result of a dream experienced long ago by its founder, Minamoto no Yoritomo. After passing through several torii gates, and purifying oneself in the adjacent chozuya, a collection of caverns and waterfalls await. It is said that rinsing money in the waters of the mountain will bring good fortune and financial prosperity, a detail that lends itself to the shrine’s popularity. Visitors can also choose to light candles and incense or transcribe wishes onto wooden plaques called ema.
Back on Komachi-dori Street, only a 20 minute walk away, various chocolatiers (my favorite being Dandelion Chocolate), along with Donguri Republic, an official proprietor of Studio Ghibli merchandise, further add to the city’s distinct charm. Wandering through the latter outlet, enveloped in the soundtracks of many beloved animated films, with the scent of warm cocoa beans wafting into the open street, it’s easy to understand the appeal of a place like Kamakura. Despite having only spent a day there, the memories I recall still seem like something out of a dream.