The Buddha’s Birthday Festival at Kamakura
Two weeks ago, I decided to revisit one of my most favourite town in Japan- Kamakura. I was not expecting to see anything, but just a day of doing the rounds on my beloved temples and checking out how the Sakura season is developing.
Little did I know that I will be in for a celebration and the streets of Kamakura will be crowded more than usual, since the date April 8 is said to be none other than the birthday of the “enlightened one”- Buddha.
Unlike Christmas, which is more on a commercial celebration on this part of the world, the Japanese takes on Buddha’s birthday lean towards the cultural side. The highlight of the celebration is a long line of parade, showcasing no less than the members of the community.
If there is one thing that I love the most with this specific parade, apart from the chanting of “Buddha, Buddha” was the involvement of kids.
Headlined by boys and girls on their scout uniforms carrying the parade flags, followed by enthusiastic school children who don’t mind the shutterbugs around them but just danced their best, a 4 year old who might not fully comprehend what the celebration is about but willingly tried to help carry a small festival float- it somehow reminds me back when I was a kid on a sunny afternoon, where a time after school is sometimes best spend perfecting a dance routine for a school or town celebration.
Apart from the kids, the parade also showcase ladies dancing on their kimonos, floats with drummers aboard, men on their very conservative fundoshi either carrying a float or twirling something like a decorated post and the one who decided to climb a ladder to do some acrobatic moves on top of it. The colors of the floats and the costume was really beautiful and even the parade is taking longer than expected, everyone stays put to see up to the end of the line.
The parade takes place at the cherry tree line of Dankazura , the pathway toward Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. With the weekend tourist and more, it is not possible to setup a mat under the cherry tree for a Hanami, so everyone just settle for a photo opportunity.
Most of Kamakura festivity takes place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine grounds and on that date of my visi,t it was the beauty contest- Ms. Kamakura. As expected the contestant donned their prettiest kimono and address the crowd ala politician style on why they should be the town’s fairest of them all.
After seeing the celebration, I went head straight to the town of Hase and visit the celebrant – Buddha. The town of Hase is synonymous to the 13.35m bronze statue of the Great Daibutsu Buddha. The most recent, famous visitor basing on the pictures spread on most sweet potato/green tea ice cream shops is no less than the US President Barack Obama.
Like many others, no matter how many times I have visited the Daibutsu and no matter how crowded the place usually is, I can’t help but to be awe on how huge the structure is. Most of the time a wishful thought will cross my childish mind that the Buddha will somehow blink or raise its hand.
Not to far from the Great Daibatsu is another equally beautiful temple – Hasedera, so I decided to drop by and see how the beauty of spring colors were adding to the already magnificent statues and shrines.
Whenever asked by a friend for a place to recommend to visit or a relative for a sightseeing bonding, Kamakura is always on top of my list. It is one of those place in Japan where I feel strangely calm despite the crowded atmosphere.
For related post and different style of photography, see Temples and Shrines of Kamakura.