Kamakura Daibutsu

“Welcome to Kamakura! Where are you from?”

“We’re from New York, but right now we live in Bangkok.”

“Ohhh, New York. Three years ago I visited United States! Boston, Washington DC, and New York. I entered Central Park, I entered Empire State Building, hmm let’s see, I entered Ground Zero, I entered…”

We were on our way to see one of Japan’s most famous Daibutsu, or “Great Buddha”, when this elderly, somewhat eccentric chap dressed in pressed light-blue pants and a button-up white shirt stopped us to indulge his curiosity over who we were and where we were from, and to wish us well during our stay in his country. This was our first visit to the breezy beach town of Kamakura, located about an hour outside of Tokyo via the JR Yokosuka Line, and just before crossing paths with our new friend we’d received our first and perhaps most important lesson for staying safe on its surfer-friendly beaches: beware of hawks.

Along with the omnipresent black ravens found throughout Japan, Kamakura’s menacing hawks filled the sky in abundance that afternoon. Hovering ominously, scanning the sand for scraps of discarded food, and like us apparently harboring a serious taste for salmon. With a small box containing four pieces of sushi resting in my lap, I snapped my wooden chopsticks apart and began to mix a spot of wasabi with soy sauce… and then I looked up. A group of 5 – 7 hawks had picked up the scent and were circling us, descending at an alarmingly fast rate and clearly pondering the merits of divebombing and challenging us for these fresh slices of fish.

I’m happy to say that to this day I’ve never experienced a bird attack, but that was close. So close, in fact, that the circle of hawks followed us as we slammed our sushi boxes shut and scampered off the beach in search of shelter. Our salvation was a covered parking lot at a restaurant across the street. Phew!

Sufficiently sated and casting two cautious pairs of eye to the sky, we walked the length of the beach, watching optimistic surfers ride baby-sized waves to the shore, and after getting pointed in the right direction by The Man Who Entered New York cut back up into the city for the modest uphill trek to the Daibutsu.

Kamakura’s bronze Great Buddha is the main draw at the serene Kōtoku-in Temple. Believed to be erected around 1252 under the direction of a Buddhist priest, this magnificent 93-ton monument has features which differ from many of the buddhas seen throughout Southeast Asia: the shoulders are broader, the face rounder, and the robe more… revealing. There’s another key difference: its pudgy belly is hollow, and for 20 Yen can be accessed via a small door on the base.

We stepped in and reverently brushed our hands over the fading bronze belly. The air was still, musty, metallic. Peaceful. Back outside, daylight dimmed, and our hike back to Kini Kamakura Station via the forested Daibutsu Hiking Trail awaited.

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Brian Spencer

Brian Spencer is a Singapore-based freelance writer. He has written for BBC Travel, CNN Travel, DestinAsian, Fodor's Travel, Lonely Planet, and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among other publications.