Land of the Rising Sun – Part 2 – Kamakura #1

This next entry in this new Japan series comes to you from Kamakura, a small town about an hour outside of Tokyo that is loaded with ancient history and relics.  With Fuji checked off of my list, my legs still feeling fresh, and a rather boring weather forecast, I quickly made the decision to hit up this somewhat well-kept secret on my second day.  It is also one of those places where there were a million different pictures to take, so I’ll actually be splitting this one into two separate entries.  A couple of express trains out of Tokyo led to the Kamakura station, where it was another short 10 minute ride on an old-fashioned electric train to the Hase section of town.  From there, it was on foot allll the way until I was finally at the end of the day, some 7 or 8 miles later.

kamakura
As soon as I reached the final station and started walking, I was greeted with my first rickshaw.  Fun fact – “rickshaw” is short for the actual pronunciation of the Japanese word “jin-rik-sha”, whose characters literally translate to “human-powered vehicle”.

kamakura hasedera
Not long up the road was the first of many stops – Hase-dera.  This is a buddhist temple with nice gardens, a very cool (and narrow) cave, great views of the city, and some nice traditional temple architecture.  This is one of the ponds in the garden, with some trees showing koyo already.

kamakura hasedera
The Japanese are known for their obsession with “cute”.  Exhibit #3803.

kamakura hasedera
Inside the cave, found this niche lit by a single candle.

kamakura hasedera
(tl) a short Japanese person couldn’t have fit through this tunnel, which was all of about 3 feet tall.  It was on the hands and knees or bust.  (tr) candles that people earlier in the day had purchased and lit inside the cave.  (bl)  a closeup of a room in the cave that literally had thousands of these tiny figurines.  (br) row of statues in the entrance corridor

kamakura hasedera
You know, I always thought the Japanese were always about quality over quantity, but nearly every temple or shrine that I visited seemed to be the exact opposite when it came to that.  It was very common to see hundreds or thousands of lanterns, statues, torii, carvings, etc.

kamakura hasedera
I’ve always loved their skill with grooming trees and gardens.

kamakura hasedera
View of the coastal town of Kamakura, from Hase-dera.

kamakura signs
Not quite sure what the translation really should have turned out to be… maybe “local peoples craft shop”?

kamakura signs
Mixture of interesting, confusing, out-of-place, and altogether entertaining signs.

kamakura
Gate of Hase-dera.  From there it was another relatively easy stroll further into town to the temple surrounding Kamakura’s most famous exhibit – the Daibutsu.

kamakura daibutsu
At the entrance to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) exhibit, what became a familiar sight for the rest of my trip.  Ritualistic cleansing of the hands (and often, mouth) before entrance to a sacred place.

kamakura daibutsu buddha
Kamakura’s famous Daibutsu.  It used to be indoors until a tsunami destroyed the temple, many hundreds of years ago.  Now it is the largest outdoor buddha in Japan.  See?!  I was there!!

kamakura hiking
Up the road began the hiking trail that leads through a few smaller temples and shrines on the way back towards the center of the city.  Things started off with a rather strenuous staircase, shortly followed by extremely narrow and steep steps, then polished off with a long and winding set of steps.  Did I mention there were a lot of steps?  Oh, and I won’t even mention the section of the trail where you had to use the exposed roots of a a freaking huge tree as a staircase.  Otherwise, it was a very nice hike that had you completely forgetting that there were probably people living just a few hundred yards down the hill.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Near the end of the main section of trail was my first stop, the Zeniarai Benten shrine.  Unlike the buddhist temple Hase-dera, shrines are the religious centers for Shintoism.   Both religions are very attuned with nature, but Shinto as a religion actually worships nature itself.  Very Green Party stuff.  This shrine is famous for being a place where people can come wash their money (see sign in a few photos back), which supposedly washes away taint on the money and brings good fortune towards what the money is spent on.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Long row of torii just through the cave entrance.  When I reached the end, the young Japanese boy that you can see in this photo, looking very lost, kept trying to ask me where something was.  May I remind you, there were a few dozen Japanese people milling around, and I am as pale as Casper, so who knows why he chose me of all people as the source of any knowledge pertaining to a Shinto shrine.  But I digress – eventually I figured out he was looking for the place where they wash their hands before coming in, answered as ineloquently as my skill allowed, and he thanked me from the bottom of his knees (in other words, how low his head bowed).  Cute experience.

kamakura zeniarai benten
As most people have seen in movies that involve Japan, this is one of those places in a shrine where people do the “bow twice, clap twice, then bow once more” routine, marked by the large rope attached to a bell.  A few of these were scattered around the shrine, but I wish I knew the significance of different ones.

kamakura zeniarai benten
The cave after the clearing which came after the first cave.  Easy, right?  Inside here is where the money washing took place.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Baskets and a tiny creek.  You figure out the rest.

kamakura zeniarai benten
Yup, another mini-shrine-within-the-cave-inside-the-shrine.  One reason I’m glad I had my MarkII with me on this trip – it was DARK in there.

Funny story #2 of the day.   I decided for the heck of it, to be superstitious for 5 minutes and buy one of the plethora of tiny charms that they ‘bless’ and sell at shrines in particular.  Being a small town not in Tokyo, pretty much nobody spoke English.  Well, they knew how to say “difficult to explain” when I asked “what is the meaning of this?” in Japanese.  So I racked my brain for something that would likely to be something many people would come to a shrine to wish for good luck upon, and came up with the obvious – a good marriage.  So, I said “ii kekkon”, which literally means “good marriage”.  The nice lady at the counter said “ah!”, and indicated towards one, so I affirmed my choice and she wrapped it up and did a quick little blessing of it.

I thanked her and was about to walk away when I something started to nag at me.  You see, there is no future tense in the Japanese language.  “Present” tense is the same as future tense – you have to know the context or use other cues in the sentence.   So I turned back, and in my broken Japanese, I basically asked “marriage now?  or marriage later?”  She seemed confused, and basically asked me “you want to find love, yes?”  I said, “Hai… demo, watashi wa kekkon shite imasu” (Yes, but I am (currently) married) and indicated my ring.  The poor lady’s face turned pale and she was beside herself apologizing for her terrible mistake in hand gestures and words that I couldn’t understand.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and reassured her that it was my mistake and that it was ok.  I asked if there was one for money (can’t screw up that one!), and when there was, traded in my adulterous charm for one that could actually be of benefit to us.  Sorry, babe.

That concludes the first half of Kamakura!  Next up… even more temples and shrines!  I know you’re excited.  A lot of people who travel in Japan get “templed out” after just a few of them, but I actually loved visiting those more than anything else.  Especially in Kamakura, because it was not crowded, the sites were more quaint, and due to said not-crowdedness, I had more memorable interactions with the locals.  Also, can’t go wrong with great things to photograph.

Comments

  1. Love the photos and of course, always enjoy your sharp commentary. I can’t help but wonder as I view and read, how the areas of Japan you visited were affected by the earthquake tsunami and now nuclear evacuations. Such a great loss for the people in those towns and cities. I think you traveled mostly around Tokyo and the southern part of the country. Glad Jason and Masa are in safe places.

  2. Matt,

    I have LOVED reading about your adventures in Japan. As your mom has said, I can’t help but think that some of these beautiful places may have been hit by the earthquake. I’m so glad you were able to enjoy this beautiful piece of the world.

    Can’t wait until you post the next portion of your adventure.

    Susan :)

  3. I’m loving reading about your trip. And that last little anecdote had me actually giggling out loud while I read it. :)

  4. I love your photographs, they are very vivid, vibrant, full of life and colors. I am traveling to Japan soon, and your blog helped me a lot in choosing my destinations, as I want to experience the culture and the nature fully, and not follow the conventional touristy path. I also enjoy taking pictures, and it seems there is a lot to see there! Sounds very exciting and curious from your comments!

    • Kamakura is one of the best places I found that met your description of not-conventional-touristy!  I felt even more so that way about Kiso Valley, which I’ve also blogged about – check it out!

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