YOKOHAMA – U.S. President Barack Obama made a short visit to the ancient city of Kamakura on Sunday, a memorable site for him, and savored green tea ice cream before heading back to the United States after the two-day Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit.
Obama arrived at Kotokuin Temple in the afternoon to see the 11-meter-tall sitting statue of the Great Buddha, commonly known as the Kamakura Daibutsu. Many locals gathered along the roadside to welcome the U.S. leader.
Greeted by temple director Michiko Sato, 75, and Takao Sato, 47, the 15th chief monk of the temple, both clad in traditional Japanese robes, Obama shook hands with the two, told them of his childhood memory of visiting the Buddha and said he was delighted to pay a second visit.
Chief monk Sato explained the history of the Buddha statue and guided Obama inside where the president touched the statue after Sato explained to him that it was a national treasure and one of the few hands-on statues in Japan.
The visit was particularly special for Obama as he had visited Kamakura and the Buddha statue when he was 6 years old with his mother.
In a speech he made during his first visit to Japan as U.S. president in November 2009, he said, “I looked up at that centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility — the great bronze Amida Buddha. And as a child, I was more focused on the ‘matcha’ ice cream. But I have never forgotten the warmth and the hospitality that the Japanese people showed a young American far from home.”
On Sunday, he later entered a gift shop at the temple and bought bracelets for his daughters.
At the temple, an ice cream store put up a sign welcoming the president. Obama purchased a green tea flavored ice cream bar and ate it while sitting on a bench near the Buddha statue where he also took pictures with guides, the chief monk and others.
“I am honored and grateful that he paid a visit despite his busy schedule,” Sato later told reporters. Sato said that while Obama ate the ice cream, he invited the president to bring his family next time and Obama responded positively.