Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August 12: Kamakura Day Trip

We slept in until 9:00 a.m. today which was the latest we have slept since arriving in Japan. Having been nonplussed by the breakfast at the hotel we opted not to partake in their extortionary breakfast buffet and find our own breakfast on the way to the train station. We had decided to make today our excursion to Kamakura. At the Scandinavian Bakery we bought French croissants and egg sandwiches (for later) from a Japanese girl—the city is very diverse.

Because we decided to wear hats and put on sunscreen today, the weather decided to change and what appeared to be a sunny day turned into a very rainy and moist day. Putting on sunscreen never ceases to amaze.

The train ride to Kamakura was only 50 minutes long from the Shinjuku station directly with no transfers. We went to the South entrance of the Shinjuku station where the information booth is and we asked the young lady how to get to Kamakura and she told us the name of the line, when it was departing next, and the gate number it was departing from. Easy. It was here that we experienced the authentic Japanese experience of being stuffed into a train car more snugly than sardines in a tin can. It still surprises us how much order there is within the chaos.

Kamakura is an ancient Japanese capital and was the centre of Japanese culture about 900 years ago. This seaside town was also the centre of the Samurai culture. It has innumerable temples and is, in April’s words, achingly beautiful.

We started at the train station where we went to the tourist information centre. There a lady gave us an English map of the town and sites and circled some of the highlights for us since there are probably about 30 to 40 different shrines and temples in town. She also gave us a schedule for the train back to Tokyo and kindly circled the ones that went directly to Shinjuku so we would not have to transfer (or get lost).
We first visited the Hasadera temple. It was here it really started pouring. It probably made the garden with all of its water features more beautiful. It had an amazing garden and in the temple itself there was a huge wooden statute of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, which is a Buddha that has put of enlightenment. It was about 30 feet tall with gold leaf. It was stunning. There was also a shrine to the god of wealth, good harvest, and the kitchen, a jolly rotund chap. This area also has a cave where there were carvings of various Buddhas. On the way up steps from the temples there was a shrine dedicated the unborn children with thousands of little Buddha statues with different faces. There is a lookout to the town and ocean and a warning to not let the kites get you because “they have sharp claws that will hurt you.” Lots of warnings to be careful around Japan.

After Hasadera, we had a yakisoba lunch that we cooked in front of us at our table on a grill built into the table. We then headed down the road to view the Kotokuin/Daibutsu temple where there is the Giant Buddha (11.4 metres tall or about 40 feet tall). It appears to be made of bronze. It’s not as big as the one in Kyoto, but it is pretty big! It used to be housed in a temple, but a tsunami washed the temple away in the 1400s and it has been sitting outside ever since. We stood in the pouring rain and stared at the Buddha and listened to the cicadas and chimes. It was stirring.

After looking at our map we decided to walk the Daibiutsu hiking course through the woods to find a few other temples. The rain had made the paths slippery and muddy, but it was a welcome contrast to the bedlam of Tokyo. We saw very few people in the woods, and were often surrounded by the chirping of cicadas. It was peaceful and appreciated the solitude (duotude?). After many climbs, dips, and curves we came across Hino Toshimoto’s grave and then found the Kuzuharaokajinja temple. Here we found temple cats taking refuge from the water. They were shy, but April was able to pet one of them which put her in good spirits. The cat probably appreciated it too.

It was getting to be later in the afternoon, and so when we passed the Jochij-ji (with a beautiful stone bridge with carp in the stream), Engakuji , and Kenchoji temples on our way back into town we found them to be closed, but we  still poked our noses over the fences and observed their beauty from a distance. We finally made it back into town and found the large Tsurugaoka Hachimangu temple still open and wandered through it. It was a huge complex right near the centre of town. It had giant water lilies in bloom on the water around it, impressive stone bridges, red entrance markers, and multiple gorgeously carved buildings.

After the Hachimangu temple, we wandered down Wakamiya Oji Street and found dinner at Moni Jay’s Indian Restaurant. We caught the 7:37p.m. train back to Shinjuku. We observed that many people slept on the train but seemed to be roused at their appropriate station because at each station stop there is different music that plays, rather like completing a level in a video game.

We walked from the station back to our hotel and took a well deserved shower to get rid of the mud and grime. It was well worth the journey and we highly recommend Kamakura.
Hasedera Temple - April's favourite garden so far

Hasedera Temple

Great Buddha, Kamakura

Bill is enjoying all the political posters. Stern and confident seems to be the image they go for here.

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