Running with the wind to that blue island25 February, 2013 by Chad
After yesterday, it was time to get away from things with a trip outside of the city. I was weighing between traveling to Chiba to visit a farm with alpacas or to return to Fujisawa to right the wrongs there. Coincidentally, Chisaki’s plans had fallen through too, so we decided to meet up in the morning for a journey over to the nearer little island of Enoshima.
Finally got my camera to work this morning after leaving the batteries out since yesterday and draining the internal backup battery. Leaving my apartment, I’d bump into a Caucasian tourist on the adjacent Fukagawa bridge, making hand movements he went “Picture! Picture”. Turns out he wanted me to help take a picture of him with the river in the background. After which he went “domo arigatou“.
Met up with Chisaki at the Shinjuku Odakyu Station in the morning to grab our round trip passes. A number of other tourists were headed over to the area today too, including a group of boys from Hong Kong. From there we caught the train to Fujisawa, before switching to the old coastal railway for Enoshima.
There was a causeway connecting the mainland to the island, so the last kilometer had to be covered by foot. Not too many people here since it was a weekday and the rest of the foreigners mostly continued onward towards Kamakura. It was mostly the elderly folks who had the free time to visit on such a day.
Along the way, we spotted a familiar white peak in the distance. We were having fine weather and it was clear enough to make out Mount Fuji in the distance.
We found this strange staue on the bridge. Amusingly, someone had put a pair of Crocs on the statue.
After a short walk, we found ourselves at the entrance to Enoshima. The rest of the small island would have to be trekked uphill. There’s only one main path that loops around the entire island so it’s not really possible to get lost. Land-wise, Enoshima is about 1/4 the size of Singapore’s Sentosa and can be easily covered in full in just one day.
Just past the entrance, we came across an interesting senbei shop. Even if Chisaki were not a big fan of senbei, these were definitely worth a try. There was a queue for the shop’s tako senbei (octopus rice crackers). Rather than the usual round crackers, the senbei at the shop were made by pressure slabs of octopus in a high pressure iron press cooker. The result of which you can see below.
Not far past the shops we came across the main shrine at Enoshima. Enoshima was one of the three islands in Japan where the goddess Benzaiten (Japanese for Saraswati) is said to reside. The shrine here was accordingly dedicated to her. As the goddess of music and arts among other things, her shrine here is apparently especially popular with artists and entertainers.
Got some omikuji here. Chisaki had been running around different shrines and temples picking these up. If anything, I believe in making my own fortune so wasn’t too keen but she ended up paying for two anyways. We both got really good fortunes, so there was no harm in believing in it though. Regarding travels, it said it’d be good, though I ought to take note of fellow travelers. If only it had told me sooner.
Past another flight of stairs up, we came across more buildings that were collectively part of the shrine. There was a full video crew here filming a local variety show with two unfamiliar faces. For some reason we’d come across people filming everywhere we went.
Looking at a map of the island, we decided to head toward some caves on the other side of the island first. Here we passed by some cafes and the entrance to Enoshima Tower and the gardens that held it. Made a note to return later for that. There were a couple of really fat cats basking in the sun outside the tower gardens. The first of many that we’d run into today.
There a good number of shop houses that call Enoshima home. These are a pretty common sight in touristy areas and had come across some similar ones at Miyajma. Many of these have shops running out of the first floors selling souvenirs or refreshments. What makes these shophouses different from other souvenir shops is that they often serve as people’s houses too. If they are no customers, the owners can simply retreat upstairs to the comfort of their home. Would be quite nice to live under such conditions.
Due to how small it is, traveling around Enoshima is quite manageable. But since everything is built around the circumference of the hill, it requires quite a bit of stairs. To accommodate the typically older visitors to such places, sheltered escalators had actually been build beside some of the taller flights of stairs but you need a separate pass to use them. While walking through here we actually came across a mailman going about his deliveries. There was a post office back downhill near the entrance to the island.
Here there was a shrine with a dragon perched on top. Benzaiten seems to have a certain association with dragons in Japan. There was also a forested path that split off from the main road, entered to take a look.
The forested area was a garden of sorts, though it was ill kept during this time of the year. The main attraction here though was the Ryuren no Kane (Dragon Lovers Bell). A lot of locks had been hung on a fence here by couples, just like at Kobe Tower. It’s a popular European practice that had spread to Japan at some point (and hence Taiwan and Korea as well) that’s meant to signify enduring love. You could buy locks from the nearby souvenir shop that we had passed by, though others had brought their own.
I guess Benzaiten’s rocker chick image is ill suited for love, since it is believed that couples who visit Enoshima together would spur the jealously of the goddess and would break up soon after. Still, as with any other island getaway, Enoshima tends to be pretty popular with couples. In this case, the Ryuren no Kane is used to call upon the help of Benzaiten’s husband (who also happens to be a dragon in Japanese folklore) to help pacify Benzaiten.
The weight of this meaning has probably been lost in modern times, but couples still come to ring the lover’s bell together in hopes of a lasting relation.
The area around the bell also signified the highest point in Enoshima, beyond here it was a steep downhill descend toward where the caves were located. There were some really nice old restaurants and cafes just beside with an amazing view of the ocean, and we decided to return here later for lunch.
Many locals had come to the southern coast of Enoshima to fish. During the low tide the rocks here are exposed and it is possible to fish from here. Others perched themselves on faraway rocks which had become cut off by the rising tides. I spent about 2 months traveling the entire coastal area of Port Phillip Bay in Australia some years back, and had always wanted to visit rocky coastal shores like this in Japan too so really enjoyed the experience.
Chisaki seemed to be quite excited about it too and had come much better prepared for the terrain with her high platform shoes. Since the tide was still quite low, we managed to walk around below to take a look.
A number of the locals used these really long flexible poles that required just a slight flick to cast. Used to fish a lot when I was younger since my dad was a big enthusiast. Haven’t for years though, but it would definitely be an interesting experience. Pretty sure it’d be heaven for my father.
The entrance to the Iwaya Caves were right beside. Entrance is usually slightly pricey at 500 yen, but it’s subsidized (450 yen) if you have the Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass, and completely free if you purchased the island’s Enopass. Still, it might be worth taking a look inside the tidal caves if you haven’t been to too many.
The Iwaya caves serve as the birthplace for the Benzaiten shrine in Enoshima. People in the past must had drew analogies between caves and wombs, and thus the tendency to enshrine Benzaiten in caves.
Not too many pictures inside since it was really dark. Parts of the cave were dimly lit by modern lighting, but there are others that were almost totally pitch dark. To navigate these parts the staff there provide some candles. There were some rock statues and a tidal pool. Sitting in the pool was a slab with an old tanka poem by Yosano Akiko.
The caves here are split into two parts, connected by an elevated walkway that had been build into the side of the bluffs. Stopping to take a look on the way back, an old lady would stop us here to ask if we had seen the sea turtle shaped rocks below, another of the island’s accidental attractions. Like at Kamakura, there were various kites/sea hawks circling the island, though they were much closer here than on the mainland.
Nothing much in the second cave, except a more contemporary looking dragon statue. The second cave is dedicated to the dragon, but since that isn’t literal enough, a dragon statue had been placed here in more recent times. It seems they replace the statue with a new one every few years.
There were some signs warning of cave-ins here, which didn’t look too scary at that point. I would learn at the time of writing though that there had been a bunch of casualties here in the past.
Returned uphill to one of the cliffside restaurants, opting to have lunch at this spacious open concept one. Most of the restaurants tables were laid out against the windows, allowing for some great views of the surrounding oceanfront.
We both had a serving of Enoshima’s speciality, Nama Shirasu Don (Raw Whitebait Rice). The one from this restaurant was especially attractive and came with a side of lovely crab miso soup. First time trying the dish. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Chisaki quite enjoyed it, while I found the overall fishiness quite overpowering. Each tiny fry has a full fish worth of fishiness concentrated into its tiny body. Thankfully, it’s served with wasabi and ginger to mask the taste.
There were some interesting fortune dispensing capsule machines on each table at the restaurant. Chisaki took the opportunity to get more omikuji of course. You need to align your biographical data through levers on the mechanism and put in a coin to dispense a minuscule capsule that contained a tiny slip of paper with your fortune written on it.
After the late lunch, all that was left was to visit the island’s tower. On the way, passed by even more cats. There are probably more stray cats here on this tiny island than the whole entire Tokyo. Judging from the various breeds, they were hardly native. It turns out that Enoshima is a popular place for people to abandon their cats.
The Samuel Cocking Garden takes up the central spot in Enoshima, the Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower its centerpiece. Entrance to just the garden costs 200 yen, while a combined entrance with the tower costs 500 yen. Once again, entry is free if you get the island Enopass for 1,000 yen.
Tip: I didn’t know at the time since it isn’t publicized to foreigners, but if you’re just headed to Enoshima there’s a new combined Odakyu ticket which includes a round trip from Shinjuku to Enoshima, as well as an Enopass (which covers entry to the Iwaya Caves, Samuel Cocking Garden, Enoshima Tower and unlimited use of the island’s escalators) for just 1,940 yen. If you do not plan to visit Kamakura on the same day (I wouldn’t recommend it), this works out to be a bit of savings since the Kamakura-Enoshima Free Pass costs 1,430 yen alone.
While sizeable, there wasn’t much to see in the garden during this season. Instead we’d head onward to the tower first. At its base, we spotted a souvenir shop and took note to visit later. There were also lots of advertisements for Enoshima Aquarium back on the mainland. I would learn later that it was actually quite a well equipped aquarium but we didn’t have time to visit today. Perhaps another time.
If you’ve been following, then you’d know that I was quite the fan of towers so was quite excited to be here. Enoshima Tower isn’t particularly impressive when it comes to its size, it’s a mere 60 meters tall. But since it’s build at the pinnacle of Enoshima island, is sufficient for a nice view of Kamakura and the surrounding Sagami Bay. It’s also the only way you’re going to get a 360 degree view of the area.
Enoshima Lighthouse Observation Tower’s design is also quite exquisite. As the name suggests, its primary purpose is to serve as a lighthouse for the island. The grid pattern bears a certain resemblance to the similarly purposed Kobe Tower. Thanks to its unique design, the tower is now referred to as the Enoshima Sea Candle.
Apart from the souvenir shop downstairs, there’s also a cafe on a terrace level of the tower. The first observation floor of the tower had many beautiful paintings of Enoshima on display. The paintings were labelled between 100,000 to 200,000 yen (SGD$1,400-$2,800) a piece. Not sure if these were the actual sale prices, or donation prices for adopting the paintings. If they were the former would had been quite the bargain as far as art pieces are concerned.
There were many amazing ones on display, but especially loved the ones on display by Kita Hideaki. According to a a description here, he was a background artist for various popular anime titles, including Nana and Death Note. There was something about his bold use of colors and perspective that was reminiscent of the Hildebrandt Brothers.
After spending some time on this floor, we realized that there was a staircase leadings upstairs for an open air observation area. Unhindered by windows, you can get a much better better view here.
The sun was just starting to set at this time, though we didn’t stick around long enough to see it actually descend. We could get a clear view of the rest of island from here. Below, the tide had risen a bit more, with only a few left fishing on now isolated rocks.
A while later, we returned back down. Distracted by a cat here, we forgot to check out the tourist shop however and had missed out on getting some souvenir medallions that we had spotted earlier. Would also learn much later that they had postcards featuring Kita’s artwork for sale too. He had a whole series featuring various views and locations of Enoshima. Would probably had grabbed a whole bunch.
Spent a bit of time walking around the garden or what was left of it this Autumn. It was mostly bare, though they had crates of sprouts lined up ready for the next season.
We found a nice cafe at the edge of the garden with an overlooking view of the bay. It served some seriously tempting gourmet pancake waffles and seemed especially popular since it was packed with a ton of adult women. Chisaki and I wanted to give it a try too, but unfortunately they didn’t accept cards and both of us were out of cash, having forgotten to draw some before coming.
A lesson learned and tip when traveling to out of the way places like this is always to have physical cash on hand, since you can’t really expect them to accept credit cards, even if it’s a popular destination.
So while it was still too early to head back, we couldn’t get anything else to eat on the island without any cash. Instead, decided to make use of our free passes to take a train down to the Kamakura shopping district to see what we could do there.
While more shops were open today, even at this time many had already closed (or perhaps had never bothered to open on a weekday at all). While looking around, we bump into yet another film crew. I guess this is what it means to have so many different variety programs in Japan.
Itching for a snack, we stopped by a crepes cafe for a break.
Chisaki went with a chocolate crepe, while I got a choco-cinnamon one. Quite like cinnamon flavored stuff, though they’re rare to come by in Singapore. The crepes here were quite nice. Chisaki pointed out that the ones at Harajuku were better though, she still had some shopping to do there, so perhaps will try some tomorrow. The biggest draw to the crepes here was probably the fact that they actually had a sit in area to take shelter from the cold. While there were a number of restaurants lined up along the side alleys here, we were still quite full from the late lunch and recent snack to take dinner yet.
Instead, took the long journey back to Shinjuku, dozing off again thanks to the comfortable heated seats. Brought up yesterday’s festival and since it was on the way and Chisaki had yet to experience that, we’d pay a visit there again today.
Along the way, we’d pass by some of the first Christmas lighting to be set up in Tokyo. She was quite happy to take some pictures here since she would realize that this was where some band members had tweeted or blogged some photos not too long ago.
It was especially crowded today at the festival, more so than even yesterday such that we really had to squeeze through the crowds to get anywhere. Picked up some other food today and learned that the festival food actually wasn’t half bad, you just need to pick out the right stuff.
The tried and true stuff are your safest bets. Take these giant takoyaki balls for example, which while hardly bite sized, were great. Each steaming hot piece of takoyaki came with a giant slab of octopus inside.
Fighting our way through, would notice a few other shops that hadn’t seen yesterday. The grilled fish on a stick looked quite appetizing, a pity didn’t room for more.
Gave one of the dorayaki stands a go, though this turned out to be the one failed try today. The pancakes had probably been left on the grill for too long.
Came across this interesting okonomiyaki shop along the main road which looked exceptional. The servings were huge and the okonomiyaki was sinfully topped with bacon and eggs. It was also noticeable since the cook looked to be quite the diva.
He had a pretty intense aura and put a great deal of care to making the okonomiyaki at his own pace. Amusingly, a gyaru came along and tried to plead for one but he nonchalantly sent her to the back of the queue. You can see him in action below.
While serving putting the finishing touch of a strip of bacon on our okonomiyaki, the cook accidentally dropped the bacon back onto the grill. He cooly topped ours off with an extra piece of bacon. Lucky!
Needless to say, the okonomiyaki was about as awesome as you can imagine.
Didn’t stay out till too late since I still had to return back to the apartment to pack. This would be my last night in Japan, since will be flying back tomorrow.
Funny how before you know it, time really flies by. Will make full use of the remaining day left though. For starters, had made plans to meet up with Chisaki again to re-visit Asakusa and Harajuku again tomorrow morning.
For those wondering, today’s subtitle is just a nod to a classic by Seiko.