Buddhism and Shintoism

Today was pretty much all about religious things.  First, we went to see the Great Buddha at Kamakura.  This is a 2/3 scale replica of the one in Nara, which I saw last year, but this one is actually several hundred years older, because the one in Nara has been reconstructed a few times.  They said it was originally completely covered in gold, but now it's basically just a bronze statue.  A hint of gold remains on one of the cheeks, though.

The statue, dwarfing everyone around it.

There are windows in the back, which were probably used in construction for the workers to be able to get in and out.

We actually got to go inside it.  It's completely hollow, and you can see up into the head area and everything.  They figure it was built using a clay base as a mold and the copper was poured in in layers.
After that, we went to another Buddhist temple in the area.  It was a pretty simple place as far as the buildings go, but it was nice outside.  Lots of plum trees, which it's famous for, along with azaleas, hydrangeas, and irises.

I don't know what these trees were, but they were impressively tall and straight.
At the temple, we got a lesson on zen meditation, then all participated.  Basically, you sit cross-legged (ideally with both feet up on the opposite thighs), hold your hands together, palms up and somewhat open with thumbs touching to make an O, and sit perfectly still while breathing really slowly and counting each exhalation.  Your eyes have to stay focused on the ground a meter in front or so, not closed.  The monk also lit some incense which let out a slight smell, but wasn't too noticeable except when the wind was blowing it my way (the room was open on most sides).  I made it to 57 breaths by the end, which was 20 minutes.  You're supposed to start over counting after 10, but I figured I'd just keep going.

The meditation room and head monk.
Nothing really came of it, except that I realized how fast 20 minutes can pass when you're doing absolutely nothing.  We couldn't take pictures during the actual meditation, obviously.  You're not supposed to move at all.  I had to shift my legs a tiny bit when they started falling asleep, though.  And I kept slouching slightly.

After that, we went to a major Shinto shrine, but I don't have the name.  It was still in the same area, Kamakura, which apparently has 5 major shrines in it.  We went to the biggest one.

A wall of vending machines.  Apparently this path is really popular.  The guide said the shrine we went to gets about 10 times the population of the town itself in visitors every year, roughly 1.7 million.

A cool tunnel we passed through.
The streets we walked along in this area seemed much more familiar to me than most of where we've been.  It was a smaller town rather than a big city, so all the sidewalks were just a couple feet across, and the roads were narrow with cars driving very close by.  It definitely reminded me of Izumichuo from last summer.  Just more people.

Amish in Japan?  Or just some Japanese person selling old-style western food?
There was a wedding going on at the shrine when we arrived.  Another one was about to start when we left.  Shinto-style weddings are less popular than Christian-style (girls like to wear the big fluffy white dresses, it seems), but this is a famous shrine, so it probably gets a lot of people for weddings here.

You can see some of the wedding party in the suits and kimono on the right.

This tree stump was once a sacred tree, over 1000 years old.  It fell a few years ago, I think in 2010, due to the wind, making national news.
We also wandered around some shops, then went back to the hotel and had dinner at a family restaurant.  Everyone kind of split up after that, some going off to eat sushi, some shopping, some drinking (that may still be happening now).  We leave the hotel tomorrow, so after going around town some, I'm back and mostly packed up again.

One of our chaperones is sick with influenza.  She was sent to the hospital a couple of days ago.  One of the Japanese guides we've had from the beginning is also sick at the hospital, but we don't know with what.  They've made us start taking our temperatures every day to identify if anyone's getting sick, but no one else is having problems so far.  I've been pretty careful, I think, and using hand sanitizer and such, along with some immune system booster medicine I brought.  I think everyone else will be fine.

I'm not going to be able to post again until I'm back in the U.S. on Thursday.  I could respond to comments/e-mail when I get up tomorrow morning, though, maybe.  See you later.

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