In Kamakura, we visited our first Buddhist temple, Kaikozan Jisho-in Hase-dera, or simply Hase-dera temple.  When we entered the gardens, I was blown away by the hydrangeas in bloom! We just so happened to be visiting during the hydrangea festival, and I saw variations of hydrangea I had never seen before.  Vivid shades of purple surrounded the koi pond and covered the garden grounds.  We wandered through the gardens, admiring the blooms of Japanese hydrangea and the meticulously kept gardens before finding our way to the bottom of the steps leading up to the temple.  The temple sits on a hill, overlooking the ocean, and the gardens cover the base of the hill.  As you walk up the steps, tiny statues line the hills, a dedication to children who have passed away.  The closer we came to the top of the steps, the smell of incense began to fill the air (the holy smoke of Buddhist temples).  I enjoy the smell, but it gives James a headache, so we didn’t stand next to the incense for very long.

The Hase-dera temple houses a statue of the Buddhist goddess of mercy.  The statue was carved from a single tree, stands over 30 feet high, and is covered in gold (and has eleven heads).  It is disrespectful to take photos within the temple, so I didn’t, and just observed what others were doing.  Many people were praying in front of the statue, buying trinkets to commemorate their visit, and I believe buying fortunes.  We didn’t stay inside very long, as seeing people praying to a golden statue made me a bit uncomfortable.  I kept seeing verses about the golden calf idol in my head, and decided to admire the architecture and gardens outside.  I know that seems strange, and I respect others for having different beliefs, but gold religious statues are very foreign to James and I.  I also wouldn’t want people who didn’t believe the same things as I did watching me pray in church, as though I was just a tourist attraction.  There were other statues of smaller gods there as well, including the god of luck (I think) and another one I was shooed away from by a tiny Japanese woman before I had a good look.  I was later told that a Japanese person making a big X across their chest doesn’t mean they are strongly telling you something, but it is similar to shaking your head no.  I didn’t know that at the time, and thought that I was aggressively being told to leave the area.

The architecture and woodwork of the temple was incredible, as is the age of the statue, which is believed to have been carved in the 700’s.  Being in Japan has really made me understand that the United States is a very young country.  James and I have been all over the country visiting historic American sites, and we are continuously amazed at how much older everything is in Japan than in America.  Another interesting aspect of the temple was the Shinto shrine that shared the temple grounds.  Shintoism was the religion of Japan long before Buddhism was brought from China, and it remains very important in the lives of the Japanese.  What I find interesting is the convergence of the two, as it is not uncommon to find a Shinto shrine at a Buddhist temple.