The enduring magic of Kamakura 鎌倉の不朽の魔法

When I ask friends and acquaintances about their favorite places near Tokyo, I’m surprised by the regularity with which they respond “Kamakura” 鎌倉. Before my first visit I regarded Kamakura as something of a tourist trap, an obligatory stop on a tour of Japan. I still partially feel this way. But with every trip south from Tokyo to this former capital of Japan, I appreciate the place a little more, perhaps in the way a simple holiday like Thanksgiving gains importance through repetition.

Riding along the coast from Kamakura to Enoshima on the historic Enoden line 江ノ島電鉄 , I can’t help but enjoy the quaint, small trolley cars, even if they are packed with day-trippers from Tokyo. While sometimes a nuisance, I now regard the crowds as an essential part of this cultural pilgrimage.

Back in the 1960s one of my relatives spent a few weeks in Japan, and recently she bestowed on me her collection of photographs and slides from the trip. While rummaging through the stacks of slides I found a picture of Daibutsu 大仏, the Great Buddha of Kamakura (map). Held against the dusky sky, I can see the Buddha as clearly as when I scroll through pictures on my Facebook feed. Although this picture was taken 50 years ago, Daibutsu remains unchanged, and likely looked much the same 500 years ago. Even if it is a tourist trap, Kamakura is aging beautifully.

Daibutsu through the ages: in 1863, in 1897, from Carpenter’s Geographical Reader, Asia, a rare photograph from behind (and above) from Around the World Through Japan (1902), and in 1923, seen damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake 関東大震災 (source).

And then in 1942, from the movie There was a Father 父ありき, in 1951 from Early Summer 麦秋, the back of the statue in 1961 (source), and a travel guide from 1983.

The Great Buddha in 1863, 1897,  1902, 1923, 1942, 1951, and 1983:

And from my first in 2012:

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