As we continued our unscheduled surprise hike through the wilderness of Kamakura, we came upon many of the same sorts of things we saw while walking through Takao-san: rugged, rocky trails; dense forests; elderly, fit hikers; and shrines hidden and carved just about everywhere you could think of putting one.

Eventually, we found our way out of the forest, and landed square on the pavement of a residential alleyway. As in Tokyo, the streets in Kamakura were not laid out on any sort of grid pattern, so we had to stop to check our map frequently. But luckily, the tourist promoting section of Kamakura citizens had posted signs in English, pointing toward the various temples and landmarks. So it wasn’t all that difficult to not get lost.

While we were walking through the alleyways, we heard a distant, roaring applause coming from somewhere inside the town. Having rarely heard any Japanese person speak in a volume even approaching what could be called a shout, we decided to investigate. And we were not dissapointed.

We came upon a large, fenced in elementary school playing field, completely filled with children and their parents. The children seemed to be seperated into large teams, each wearing a different colored headband. In the center of the field, several of the students from each team stepped ahead of their groups, and hoisted one of their members onto the shoulders of three teammates.

To the ominous beat of a taiko drum, the two groups of four faced each other on the field. They stared each other down for a moment, before the two groups rushed in, the two top members locking hands and starting to struggle.

The ensuing competition would continue, to the cheers of the large audience of students and parents. It appeared that each player would try to hold on to the others’ hands while also trying to grab the hat off of his head. People would rise and fall, but we never saw anyone actually get knocked off. Some of the matches were pretty intense, though.

After one of the players had successfully taken the others’ hat, the match was over, and the playground would erupt with cheers. The winning team had flag-bearers in their audience sections, who would basically act as cheerleaders for their teams.

Aside from being highly entertained by these games, Chris and I spent a great deal of time thinking about how quickly a game like this would get shut down in an American school, under a deluge of lawsuits from overconcerned parents.

Our curiosity satisfied, we continued onto another temple in eastern Kamakura. The name escapes me, but the temple’s drawing factor was one of Japan’s largest bamboo groves. Seeing as I, myself, had never been in any bamboo grove, one of Japan’s largest seemed like a good place to start. And while it was quite a walk, it was well worth the trip.

It’s difficult to describe a bamboo grove, other than saying that there’s really nothing like it. It was very bizarre to see bamboo – something we usually only see in small shoots, displayed as decorations in small glass vases – grow to enormous heights.

As the picture shows, the forest itself was dense, and the bamboo canopy blocked out most of the sunshine. When the wind blew, we’d hear the leaves rustling over our heads first. Then, a few seconds later, as the trunks began to sway along with the leaves, there was this odd hollow creaking that rang and echoed through the grove. When we pressed our ears against the trunks, the effect was even greater.

We took off back to the city streets to walk to the statue of the Great Buddha, stopping only occasionally to take pictures of comically tiny cars.

We made it to the statue about a half an hour before it closed (thankfully), but there was still a decent sized crowd hanging around. The statue itself is not the largest, or the oldest, but it’s probably the most stubborn. In 1498, about 250 years after the statue was cast, a tsunami wiped out the temple that housed it … along with most of the surrounding village. But the statue hung on. Resilient little guy.

While there’s not a whole lot to do at the statue, it’s just one of those things that it’s pretty cool to just sit down and stare at for a while. Maybe something contemplative about the statue itself inspires that same quality in those who view it. Or I could have just been tired from walking so much.

I’ll go with the first one.

And I couldn’t think of a better way to end my time in Japan.

All kinds of pictures from Kamakura are up on Flickr.

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