The goal for today was to get out of Tokyo and see the daibutsu (great buddha) of Kamakura at Kōtoku-in, which is about an hour away by train. This simple plan, of course, wasn’t as simple as I thought.
Initially, I was to take a five-minute ride from Ikebukuro station to Shinjuku station where I’d transfer to another train and arrive in Kamakura an hour later. However, as I waited on the platform at Ikebukuro, I noticed that there was a commotion going on. People seemed confused and bustled around (although sometimes it’s hard to tell if this is just their normal speed or not).
I tried to ask a JR Rail employee if I was at the right platform. As usual, I asked if he could speak English first before stumbling through it in Japanese. He understood a bit of English and acknowledged that I was at the right place, but then he quickly disappeared. Shortly afterwards, the man announced something over the loudspeaker and people started moving, but I had no idea what he said.
Luckily, a woman who was standing nearby told me that the in-bound train had been in a collision and would be late. The JR Rail worker suggested catching a different train on another track to get to Kamakura. She asked if I’d like to join her and her friends for the train ride there. This was wonderful news to me because I didn’t know what the new train route was or what platform it’d arrive on.
On the ride over, the woman and her friends (who didn’t speak much English) peppered me with questions about why I was here and where I was going. They seemed amazed that I was traveling by myself and that I had no real plans ahead of me. Yes, I suppose backpacking would seem a bit odd to the highly organized people of Japan. The woman commented that she’d been to Hawaii many times and enjoyed visiting very much.
In the end, we parted as friends in Kamakura. Before leaving the train station, I found a tourist information office and picked up a map. The woman helping me asked where I was from (they always ask as I think it’s part of a census) and mentioned that she’d studied at the University of Hawaii for two years during her undergraduate education. It seems like I just can’t get away from Hawaii in Japan.
After walking for about 45 minutes through residential neighborhoods, I finally arrived at Kōtoku-in, the Buddhist temple that housed the bronze statue of Amitabha Buddha. The statue stands almost 44 feet tall and weighs 121 tons. Although not the largest Buddha statue in the world, an honor that goes to the statue at Tōdai-ji in Nara, the Kamakura daibutsu was still breath-taking.
After looking around the temple area, I decided to head back to the main part of the city to get lunch. Rather than return the same way I had arrived, I followed the road along the beach. Kamakura is known as a vacation spot for Tokyo residents because Yuigahama Beach is so close by, however, I don’t think I’d recommend this place at all. Perhaps it was just the wrong season, but the water and sand looked really dirty. There were only a few surfers in the water, all desperately trying to catch a non-existent wave. I don’t know how long they’d have to wait for a decent set to roll in.
As I neared Kamakura Kaihin Park, hawk-like birds swooping down around me. Now I know what rodents and fish feel like when birds of prey dive-bomb them from above. It turns out I wasn’t the real source of interest for these large killing machines. A man was ripping up large slices of bread and feeding them. After a bit of research, it looks like these birds might be tobi or black kites. Beware of your food if you’re in the area as tobi are known for snatching things right out of your hands.
Today ended up being more of an adventure than it was when I originally set out. But, I guess that’s part of why we travel. To live in the moment and experience the unexpected truly breathes life into your soul. It forces you to acknowledge that you really don’t have a lot of control over anything but yourself.