Japan Tour 2:
Yokohama and Kamakura

I visited both Yokohama and Kamakura on day trips from Tokyo. Actually, most books advise you not to spend any time in Yokohama, but it does house some points of interest.


The Heian Golden Age Rich (see Tour 1: Nara and Kyoto) ended when two clans of warriors, the Genji and the Heike, both distintly related to the emperor, tried to seize power from the courtiers. The court nobleman had come to dominate the various boy emperors. The Fujiwaras family in particular produced daughters to marry the boy-emperors whom they, in turn, could control as fathers-in-law.

At first, the courtier advisors to the emperors thought that they could exploit their rough, distant kin and tried to play one warrior clan against another, even stationing them in the city. Finally, however, the mist faded away when the Genji and Heike took to arms and actually executed those, including the courtiers, who opposed them.

The Heike, at first, won the battles. Their general, Tademura, defeated the Genji and killed almost all of them. He, then, settled down to rule the country and set himself up to control yet another boy emperor in tried and true Fujiwara fashion. Unfortunately, he made two mistakes: (1) he didn't kill every Genji (2) he settled down to life in Heian which quickly softened his warriors and got them used to easy living.

The Genji regrouped under a brilliant general and fought back. At the climatic battle on the island sea, they defeated the Heike. They determined not to make the mistakes of their rivals. To that purpose, they killed every last Heike, except for a lone (beautiful) woman whom they allowed to become a nun and pray for souls of the rest. They also didn't succumb to the temptation to stay in Heian, and thereby hangs the story of Kamakura.

The new military rulers assumed the title of "shogun," military rulers. They appointed their followers to rule conquered territories as "samurai," servants. They set up their court at the small fishing village of Kamakura. It held the advantage of defensible frontiers and a good harbor. The emperor they kept under guard at Kyoto though, if moved, they removed one or another children to make sure they stayed out of trouble.

The new military court of the shoguns (1160-1330) kept a martial air. Warriors rose through victories, not writing haikus, though many learned to do both. The new warrior class grafted military virtues, especially intense loyalty, on top of other, Confucian (i.e. ultimately Chinese) virtues.

To this very masculine court came exiles Buddhist priests from mainland China, then under the control of the pagan Mongols. They brought a new kind of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, the most astere with an immediate appeal to the shogunate court. They often taught the warriors by riddles, "koen," which relied on few words since the monks often had to teach either by translation or through butchered Japanese.

This martial nobility proved its mettle when the Mongols invaded Japan not once but twice (1274 and 1281). The first time the shogun's men fought the enemy to a stand-still (no mean feat at the time, but the Mongols did have a lot of unwilling Korean conscripts). The second time, when it appeared the force would overwhelm the Japanese, a mighty wind, the "Kamikaze," saved the country, a fact that assured the Japanese, until World War II, that the gods blessed them.

This marshall court, however, ultimately failed. First, the shogunate line quickly failed. The Hojos (who did not own restaurants) inter-married with the Genji and quickly became the powers behind the throne. This left the absurd situation of the regents controlling the shoguns who controlled the emperor who controlled the country. Finally, emperor Go-Daigo, for once not a child emperor, refused to give up the imperial throne and war broke out, shattering the powers of the shoguns (by now a doddering group) and the Hojos. The new "shoguns" moved back to Kyoto, but, in fact, the kind "organized feudalism" of the strong shoguns didn't return until the triumph of the Tokugawas (in Tour 4: Tokyo and Nikko)
Kamakura became, again, a sleepy fishing village. The zen Buddhist cults, however, continue to call Kamakura their headquarters.


Yokohama played a lesser role in Japanese history. Long the port of Edo, Yokohama witnessed the coming of first the Americans and then the Europeans. At first, the Japanese purposely kept the foreigners in Yokohama to try to restrict their influence. As a result, Yokohama probably boasts more American style homes than any other city in Japan.


Here Kamakura looks just litte a fishing village.

The unadorned center of a temple looks Zen clean.

These little idols stand for the souls of
the dead, in this case from abortions.

Here, the Buddha and I get on the same wave length.

This is the largest Buddha of its type.

Yet another view.

Japanese school kids picnic on the beach.

A typical Shinto shrine.

When all of the Heike died, the Genji allowed a single woman (a beautiful one) to live on and pray for their souls. An attractive woman, they made her shave her head and become a nun. This monument honors her memory.

This functioned as the main temple
during the era of the shoguns.

Another torii gate.


This bridge links Tokyo to Yokohama.

A view from the tower.

Okay, Yokohama has one too.

This shows the entrance to one of
the bigger Chinatowns in Japan.

Yokohama's modernistic transport terminal.

Related Japanese Tours:
Back to Tour 1: Nara and Kyoto
On to Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama

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