Panorama of the Week: The Great Buddha — Kamakura, Japan

Just outside the big city bustle of Tokyo lies little Kamakura, once the political and cultural capital of Japan during the 12th to 14th centuries. Kamakura is one of those places whose city map paralyzes the indecisive, for every few blocks is another Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple, many of which run 700-800 years old.

So where to get started?

Our recommendation: begin with Buddha — more specifically, the Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple. Dating back to 1252 and weighing in at 121 tons, this massive bronze Buddha sits meditatively, eyes partially closed. Perhaps he meditates for all of us (especially those of us who don’t meditate enough), and shoulders a few of our concerns.

Pause for a moment. It’s oddly calming.

Panorama: Great Buddha (Kotokuin Temple) in Kamakura, Japan

panorama directions

Disclosure:We extended our stay in Tokyo at our own expense, including the experience above in Kamakura. However, the rest of our trip to Japan is provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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  1. says

    Kamakura is going to be the first daytrip we take from Tokyo, which is the first city we will be hitting on our trip to Japan. I think it will be a really nice change of pace, and that Buddha is really stunning. Can’t wait to see it with my own two eyes!

  2. says

    Love the panorama! I first visited the Great Buddha in 2006 and you’re right, his presence is oddly calming. Even in the sweltering days of summer surrounded by hundreds of other tourists. Nikko is another one of those amazing places. Any plans to visit there while you’re in Japan?

  3. says

    @Steph: Kamakura is definitely worth a look. Make sure you get to the Giant Buddha early enough in case you’d like to go inside it. I think the inside closes around 4:45PM or something like that.

    @Heather: We were fortunate enough to visit Japan in the spring. So while we got a bit of rain, we avoided the sweltering summer heat we’d heard so much about. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to Nikko and decided to focus more time in Tokyo itself. Leaving something on the table for next time.

  4. Mike says

    We went in March, but it was very crowded. You must have been there during the week. Did you see the large sandals on the side of the gift shop? We had a large surprise when our guide took us through the side gate to show us her grandmother’s shrine outside the temple in a small plot. Very humbling experience overall!

  5. says

    @Mike: We went to Kamakura during the week. The town was plenty busy, but perhaps not as crowded as what you experienced. We saw the sandals (they were woven, weren’t they?).

    Your side trip to the grandmother’s shrine sounds very special. Human connections and interludes like that are always humbling, aren’t they?

  6. says

    I have attended WDS 2012 and were very inspired by your talk.
    And three weeks later, you are here in my home town!

    Welcome to Japan, hope you have a nice stay. If there’s any information you want to know, drop me a note at @mehori on twitter.

  7. says

    @Izy: We had a great trip. Stay tuned, there’s more to come about Japan in the form of stories and panoramas.

    @Amy: Amy!! We were in Japan in May, so this article is going back in time a bit. Wish we could meet you in Tokyo. Be sure to keep a low profile in the onsen.

  8. says

    Kamakura sounds wonderful. I love the sleepier towns outside of tourist laden cities. It gives you a chance to take a breath and really get in contact with your own experiences. I really like to have a chance to process my own experiences of travel and these sleepier places really allow for that.

  9. says

    @Josh: We haven’t yet been to Hong Kong, but now I’ve got a Big Buddha to visit when we do. Thank you for the suggestion!

    @Christopher: Japan was a dream destination for us for a long time. The country is certainly not cheap, but we did find some reasonably priced food options and discovered simple ways to save money. If you can Couchsurf, then accommodation will be much cheaper. Transport is expensive so consider getting a JR pass to see the country by train.

    @Megan: Big cities are fun and have so much going on, but it is great to get outside of them to smaller towns for a nice break. The sleepier feel of a place allows you to take time to explore and take it in. Kamakura is a nice balance to Tokyo.

    @Jude: Glad we were able to stoke the curiosity fire!

    @Will: Completely agree. Smaller towns often open up more opportunities to connect with people as they aren’t as rushed and busy. Fun for exploring.

  10. says

    I remember visiting the great buddha when I went to Japan. I loved walking there because all the houses looked so unique and small and interesting. It was truly amazing seeing it face to face and just looking up at it. I remember there were a few people that would meditate in front of it for hours (when I was there).

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