Kamakura, Home of the Samurai
When we travel, we seek more than what we see. Japan is such a breathtaking place but beyond that, in order for us to have a deep understanding of its culture, we need to know the geographical and historical conditions that had shaped what it is today…and Kamakura, being the heart of power for 150 years and the 13th century de facto capital, is one of Japan’s most significant historic places.
Although pottery fragments with jomon markings indicated that Japanese civilization started around 10,500 BC and its first recorded history started with the Yamato court around A.D. 400, Japan really flourished at the Heian court (794-1185). The capital city Nara (now Kyoto) was named Heian, meaning “the capital of peace and tranquilty”. The Imperial court moved to Heian during this period. The rich Fujiwara clan members married into the imperial family and held important government posts. Ultimately, the Fujiwaras held the absolute power but their power began to decline in the middle of the 11th century. Strong warlords emerged and two warrior families, Taira and Minamoto, struggled for power for about three decades until an intense battle between them ensued for five years. Minamoto family ultimately won the battle and Japan had their first Shogun in 1185.
Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) was appointed as a Shogun, which means “barbarian-subduing general”, by the Imperial Court. As a shogun, he was the supreme commander of the military. Although the imperial lineage remained, the shogun was the real ruler. The old court resided in Kyoto while the organized military families moved to Kamakura.
Kamakura, surrounded by hills on three sides and Sagami Bay on one side, had natural defenses and became a government center of power. The Samurai government was established in Kamakura by Yoritomo Minamoto in 1192. Headed by a shogun, it became a political force called the shogunate.
The samurai was a class of warriors which dominated Japan’s feudal society. Honor was of utmost importance to a samurai and once dishonored, a samurai committed “hara-kiri”. A samurai had a supreme loyalty and duty to his lord and followed the bushido code, meaning “Way of the Warrior”.
There were three shogunates that ruled Japan – Kamakura shogunate (1185-1333), Ashikaga shogunate (1336–1573) and the last one, Tokugawa shogunate (1603–1868).
The Mongols attacked Japan twice in the 13th century but “kamikaze”, meaning “divine wind”, protected Japan – strong winds and tsunami made the Mongols’ two attempts unsuccessful. However, the repercussions of war preparations with huge expenditures had a fatal impact to the Kamakura government, resulting to its gradual downfall. A civil war erupted around 14th century which ended the Kamakura shogunate and it was totally destroyed during a warlord’s invasion in the mid 15th century.
The opening of the railroad in 1890 linking Tokyo to Kamakura brought light to this desolate place. Resorts and vacation houses cropped up and flourished. Today, Kamakura, with its rich history and beautiful natural environment, is a popular tourist destination with more than 20 million tourists annually.
This is Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, the the spiritual center and symbol of the ancient capital Kamakura. This was built 900 years ago by Yoritomo Minamoto who established the first Samurai government here in Kamakura.
In history, it’s religion that had created a deep impact on man’s thinking and disposition. Kamakura was the age where Buddhism flourished. The Samurai introduced Zen Buddhism and placed shrines and temples around Kamakura, taking into consideration its beautiful landscape. Its philosophies and practices had profound impact on Japanese culture…and its artistic brilliance could be seen in the simple and tranquil beauty of their gardens, paintings, temples, tea rituals, etc.
Built in 1252, this Great Buddha of Kamakura, also known as Kamakura Daibutsu, is the bronze statue of Amida Buddha. This is one of 84 temples and shrines dotted around Kamakura. With a height of 13.35 meters, it was originally inside a temple but the structure was washed away by a tsunami so it has been standing in the open air since 1495.
I love walking around this beautiful tiny 39.6 km² island just 50 kilometers from Tokyo. The streets are filled with atmosphere from its long and venerable history and traditional culture. This half a mile long Komachi Street is lined with more than 250 cute stores and eateries.
The famous crispy octopus crackers which can be found only in Enoshima and Kamakura are made with large fresh octopus pressed into this hot iron plate until it becomes one paper-thin sheet of octopus cracker.
This 13th century capital of Japan is such a lovely historical place surrounded by mountains, Pacific Ocean, cozy shops, and Zen oasis of 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines! No wonder so many writers and literary figures have chosen to live in Kamakura!
>>>There is an Enoshima/Kamakura Freepass or the Romance Car Express tickets which can be purchased at any Odakyu Line station.
>>>You may check the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center for Enoshima/Kamakura tour at http://www.odakyu.jp/english .