Japan Summer Blog 2012
Kamakura is only about 45 minutes south of Tokyo, but its quiet temples, verdant hills, and cool ocean breeze make it feel a world apart. I spent my last day in this idyllic seaside town, and in many ways it captured the essence of my travel experience. Starting at the lush Jochiji Zen temple, I followed the 3km Daibutsu hiking course along forested ridges overlooking the ocean. Around the halfway mark one arrives at a torii gate standing in front of a tall rock wall--a strange sight, until you look head-on and see the long tunnel leading back to the Zeniarai Benzaiten shrine, where locals seeking financial success come to wash their money in the waters of a sacred spring. The hike ends at a 750-year-old great Buddha (Daibutsu), bronze and over 13 meters tall.
During the trip, I was constantly struck by the way cultural aspects are mixed in Japan: music and theatre, Shinto and Buddhism, modern and traditional. Walking along the Daibutsu trail gave me a sense of how the beauty of nature, the landscape woodcuts of the ukiyo-e style , and the quiet sanctuaries of remote temples and shrines flow seamlessly from one to another. Nearly all of these spiritual sites contained wooden frames on which visitors could hang small votive tablets (typically for sale nearby); in sites frequented by tourists, one can view prayers and offerings written in dozens of languages. Of course, these are the modern, popular manifestation of ema, the traditional votive tablets of which sangaku are such a fascinating example. The story of sangaku is not an isolated excerpt from math history; in a way, it seems to run parallel, and intertwined, with the story of what it means to be Japanese. It was such an honor to witness a small part of that story during these past two weeks.
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