Kamakura

BUDDHA AT KAMAKURA
“And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura”

OH ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
Be gentle when the “heathen” pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!

To him the Way, the Law, Apart,
Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
Ananda’s Lord the Bodhisat,
The Buddha of Kamakura.

For though he neither burns nor sees,
Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
Ye have not sinned with such as these,
His children at Kamakura;

Yet spare us still the Western joke
When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
The little sins of little folk
That worship at Kamakura—

The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
That flit beneath the Master’s eyes—
He is beyond the Mysteries
But loves them at Kamakura.

And whoso will, from Pride released,
Contemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the soul of all the East
About him at Kamakura.

Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
While yet in lives the Master stirred,
The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
A-flower ‘neath her golden htee
The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
From Burmah to Kamakura;

And down the loaded air there comes
The thunder of Thibetan drums,
And droned—”Om mane padme oms”—
A world’s width from Kamakura.

Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
Buddh-Gaya’s ruins pit the hill,
And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
To Buddha and Kamakura.

A tourist-show, a legend told,
A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
The meaning of Kamakura?

But when the morning prayer is prayed,
Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
Is God in human image made
No nearer than Kamakura?

Rudyard Kipling

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Back in September I took a trip to Tokyo to see some exhibitions on the Saturday (Le Corbusier, Michelangelo, Rhizomatiks, and Tokyo Photo 2013) and then went to stay with my friend Esther who lives near Yokohama. On the Sunday, we took a trip to Kamakura to see the Daibutsu (Great Buddha). It was a beautiful day and there were a lot of tourists around. Although Kamakura is a small town, it has a lot of important temples from when it was the capital of Japan (1192-1333). This era in Japanese history is known as the Kamakura period, because it is when the Minamoto clan took political power from the Imperial court and Minamoto no Yoritomo became the first shogun. He set up his new capital at Kamakura, while leaving the Emperor in Kyoto. The Kamakura period came to an end when the Emperor was briefly able to regain power, but it heralded the beginning of the shogunate and feudalism for the rest of Japanese history until the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

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The Daibutsu is the second tallest statue of Buddha in Japan at 13.35 meters, the tallest being the Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara. It probably dates from 1252, and was originally housed by a temple, like the Buddha at Todaiji. However, over the next two centuries, the temple was damaged or destroyed several times, so since 1498 the Buddha has been out in the open. The statue has a reputation for indestructability because of this, and it even survived the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, though its base was destroyed. It was cast in bronze and was originally covered in gold leaf. It is hollow and visitors can enter it for the token price of ¥20. From the inside you can see where the head has been reinforced at the neck.

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The town of Kamakura is lovely and quaint with lots of shops selling traditional crafts and Japanese sweets. There are many temples and shrines, and we visited Hasedera, which is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It is built on a hill and as you walk up you pass by a shrine to the Jizo Bodhisattva, protector of the souls of dead children, where rows and rows of small statues are dedicated to him. There is also a cave, Benten-kutsu, dedicated to Benten, a goddess of feminine beauty and wealth, which contains lots of figurines dedicated to her. At the place where people write their wishes on wooden tablets, I saw one written by an Irish girl who had finished her final school exams, and it reminded me of my sister who also did her exams this year. By the temple there is an observation deck where you can look out to the coast, and on that day, with the white sailing boats on the water, I felt I could be by the French riviera.

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