Kamakura: The old world


Photo © Grigoris A. Miliaresis

I have two loves, my country and Paris sang Edith Piaf in my grandmother’s old 78 rpm records. And although it is very difficult not to fall instantly in love with Paris, my second love, after Tokyo, is Kamakura. Maybe because my first recollection about Japan was something my father used to say about the Big Buddha who sits and watches the centuries go by from his pedestal in Kotoku-in, a 20 minute walk from the shogun capital’s train station.

Kamakura is almost the complete opposite of Tokyo; that it is just a 50 minute train ride from the super-metropolis is just a reminder of the contradictions for which Japan is famous (notorious maybe?) Full of gardens and trees and with more than 200 Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines huddling within its 15.3 square miles, it brings to mind Venice, Florence and the other museum-cities of Europe. And like them, it is always bustling with tourists.

It would be a mistake, though, to think that this is just another “theme park”. Kamakura is a living city of almost 200.000 people, many of whom are particularly wealthy and even more are intellectuals and artists; the abundance of both is, I believe, a result of its background and its relation with the Minamoto family/clan, one of the most powerful families in Japanese history, with an influence that is strong even today.

Almost everybody starts their tour of Kamakura from Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the Shinto shrine that is closely related to the Minamoto and especially Minamoto Yoritomo –this is where the picture accompanying this text was taken. And indeed, it is a good place to start, provided that the visitor is willing to get lost in the gardens of the various temples and in their complicated history, accompanied by 800 years-old ghosts of warriors and saints.

 

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Journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.