IKIMASHO!

"Isn’t Buddha a fat bastard?"

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No matter how hard I try, that’s the first thing that pops into my head every time I see a statue of Japan’s favourite character (not counting Pikachu). It’s a line from a drunken Jim Jeffries rant on religion – and while it technically is true, it does kind of ruin the serenity of certain temples for me when I’m walking around smiling to myself like an idiot. But sod it: Jeffries is a great comedian, and before I go any further I’m going to force you to watch him here:

So yes, as you can tell, I saw a big Buddha recently. Don’t all cheer at once. In fact, the feeling I got when I saw it wasn’t that spectacular either. Seen one, seen them all I guess – but the main reason this one kind of grated on me wasn’t because of Buddha himself, but the bus-loads of tourists I had to share him with.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura sits proudly on his arse in Kanagawa Prefecture, about 30 miles south-south-west of Tokyo. I took a day trip down there last weekend, and while I had a great day, it was seriously, seriously busy. Like any ‘tourist attraction’ there were trinkets galore, commemorative tea cosies and other assorted crap no one wants, or needs, but buys anyway. I dread to think how many lonely Buddha snowglobes are currently gathering dust on some forgotten Japanese mantelpiece. 

To get to the Buddha you have to take the Enoshima Electric Railway which is nice: it’s an old rickety train which hugs the coast, travelling perilously close to the houses which are scattered along the line. Some train nerd made a video about it here, but it is worth watching, just to see the quaint Japanese scenery you’re treated to. 

While the journey is fun, actually getting on and off the train on a weekend is a bit of a nightmare. There are people everywhere, and Hase, the town where the Buddha is located, is a non-descript little shithole that you would never ordinarily visit. I find it slightly sad that towns like this are simply kept alive by flogging tacky souvenirs to fat Amerian tourists. I tried hard to imagine what Hase would have been like at the turn of the 19th Century: peaceful, quiet, serene. But then I nearly got run over by a Japanese tour bus. That will teach me to be nostalgic.

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This picture sums up Hase

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While this one sums up what it’s like at Kamakura station: chaos while trying to visit a Buddha. Irony much?

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Buddha. Big in Japan. Groupies in Kimonos.

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Kamakura City itself was more lively, and <slightly> less tacky. Boulevards of upmarket boutiques sit alongside towering Japanese torii gates. The main shrine here is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, and it is the cultural centre of what was once one of the world’s biggest cities. (The 4th largest city in the world in 1250 AD. Thank you Wikipedia.)

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The grounds of the shrine were probably just as nice as the building itself. There were all sorts of stalls set up selling everything from Okonomiaki (Japanese savory pancakes) to rosted Gingko nuts. It was a good atmosphere. And there were ducks. Everything is made better with ducks.

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I drank Kamakura cider (lemonade)

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And befriended 3 girls in Kimonos who I ate lunch with

Finally, I took the train further south to Enoshima, a small island that flows into Sagami Bay. I walked along the boulevard that connects the island to the mainland, then hiked to the top of the peak and drank a beer as the sun came down.

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As I stared out into the vast ocean, it reminded me of a Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape…

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Planet Earth really is a beautiful place.

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