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26
Sep

Daibutsu

I made a series of pledges in a blog post a few weeks ago. One of those pledges was to travel somewhere every weekend. I am glad to say, with another weekend having come and gone, I haven’t forsaken the writer/reader relationship. The pledge is in tact.

On Saturday, I took an hour of train hopping down to Kamakura, which was Japan’s capital until 1333. While it suffered from the 1923 Kanto earthquake, Kamakura was spared Allied bombing during World War II allowing for the hilly residential district to house more than 60 intact temples and nearly 19 shrines.

I began my tour by stopping at Jufukiji, one of the five most important Zen temples of the Rinzai sect, which together are known as the Kamakura Gozan. Jufukiji had been rebuilt, as all but two of the five had, but, I decided, if I were to visit any of the 65 temples in Kamakura, why not make one of the five most significant my destination?

So, I slid up the gravely path, tucked in from the tiny, sidewalk-less Kamakura streets, and met Jufukiji’s entrance. Guarded by a rickshaw, which had been parked by its driver who was entertaining two young Japanese girls, I walked past and marched down Jufukiji’s 100 foot, narrow stone path.

There was nothing unusual here. There was the same tree canopy that I found at other temples to which I had been and other gardens in which I had walked. There was a pond and small buildings, all of which had spiritual meaning lost on me and architectural meaning ignored by me.

Yet, I hadn’t lost my appreciation for the stillness and serenity and spirituality hidden just moments from honking cars. I was brought back to a Philadelphia rain storm that sent me umbrella-less into one of the city’s countless historic and beautiful Christian churches a year or so ago. A calm and a meaning for people in a place not known for either. It may all be wasted on me, but I am not without an admiration for those who understand it earnestly.

From there I walked south to the open-armed Yoigahama Beach. There was nothing white-sanded about the brownish granules or exotic about the empty glass bottle that my first step onto a Japanese beach found. There were hundreds of wetsuit-clad Japanese surfers who appeared to be waiting for a wave that never came to Kamakura’s Sagami-wan Bay, which meets with the Tokyo Bay on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

I walked down to the water and fell into the same game of my childhood which I had perfected on the sands of the Jersey Shore. I followed the water out and scurried backwards as it chased me back. I bent down, scooped up the warmish Japanese ocean and let it fall. I walked back to the street, pausing only to break my ardent adherence to the maxim ‘take only pictures and leave only footprints,’ by pocketing a small stone intended to be a present for a friend who has the curious habit of collecting things with origins she’ll never see.

I snaked my way along the curvy, hilled streets of the plush, residential community of Kamakura and came to what most come to see. Daibutsu. Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Kamakura. More than 40 feet tall and pushing 121 tons, I have no meaningful appreciation for why I was accompanied by 100 or more others left staring into his closed eyes.

It is one of the two largest pre-modern bronze Buddhas in Japan, the other resting in Nara. This well-visited personage was cast in 1252, survived a tidal wave that took its home in 1495, years of rain, snow, sun and wind, and a number of memorable earthquakes.

I didn’t mind the 200 yen ($1.80 USD) entrance fee, and I even dropped the 20 yen ($0.18 USD) to walk inside the hallow Buddha. Inside I found, aside from a ladder that stretched to his shoulders, that I was alone in a large bronze closet with fifteen or so Japanese tourists.

I walked outside, passing a couple that gave an offering and said a prayer at Daibutsu’s feet, and carried my camera to the exit. I took one last silly photo and thought about how often I had seen his face in nameless history textbooks from my primary schooling. Daibutsu has a lot more meaning now, to be sure.
Jaa mata,
Christopher

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