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Kamakura – Part 2


A long, straggling country village, between low wooded hills, with a canal passing through it. Old Japanese cottages, dingy, neutral-tinted, with roofs of thatch, very steeply sloping, above their wooden walls and paper shoji. Green patches on all the roof-slopes, some sort of grass; and on the very summits, on the ridges, luxurious growths of yane-shobu, the roof-plant, bearing pretty purple flowers. In the lukewarm air a mingling of Japanese odors, smells of sake, smells of seaweed soup, smells of daikon, the strong native radish; and dominating all, a sweet, thick, heavy scent of incense, — incense from the shrines of gods.

Akira has hired two jinrikisha for our pilgrimage; a speckless azure sky arches the world; and the land lies glorified in a joy of sunshine.”

(Lafcadio Hearn, 1894, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan)

kamakura jinrikisha

Even though it has been almost a year since I read Hearn’s observations on Japan, and I only read his book once, passages flooded back into my memory as I wandered around Kamakura. I was reminded of the “jinrikisha” Hearn mentioned in the above quote when I saw this one parked outside this more traditional Japanese home. While Hearn was pulled around Kamakura and over to Enoshima via a jinrikisha in an age before automobiles, the Hybrid Prius in the above photo provides quite a contrast in transportation.

Kamakura’s one big downside (I suppose there are two–the other being the number of tourists. Go on a weekday that isn’t a holiday, like I did, and you can avoid most of the tourists.) is that the government should have passed some housing regulations twenty years ago (better yet 50 years ago). All new or reconstructed buildings should be required to be built in a more historical style. On some streets you can’t tell whether you are in Kamakura, Monterey (California), or Park City (Utah). There are boutiques and other souvenir shops catering to the tourists that do nothing to add to the charm of the city. The new buildings aren’t even remotely Japanese in nature and frequently have more writing and signage in English than Japanese. It’s a shame really.

Should you ever visit Kamakura enter within the temple and shrine boundaries as quickly as possible to avoid all of the nonsense that has sprung up around them.

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