Lessons in patience27 January, 2013 by Chad
Without any concrete plans, this Thursday was effectively a free day. Which was great since I was coming down with a fever since last night. After 3 weeks of uninterrupted excursions and very little rest, I was approaching a limit. Being the only one willing to check up on logistics in advance of setting out each day meant an overall less time for sleep.
Unfortunately, Yan had insisted that we visit Kamakura today, and despite objections, I eventually complied. Perhaps the sickness had affected my ability to make rational decisions.
Met up with Yan over at Shinjuku, where we purchased the Odakyu Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass. Just like the Hakone counterpart, it provides a round trip to the Kamakura area and covers all transport within the area. You end up saving quite a bit.
There wasn’t enough time to catch a proper breakfast so I picked up some bread from a Kimuraya outlet in the basement of the department store below. Like their buns we tried at Ginza, it turned out to be lackluster.
The train dropped us off at Fujisawa and from there we’d make a decision on where in Kamakura to head next. The rest of the area would have to be covered by a smaller rail that ran parallel to the coast. It provided some scenic views of the famous Kamakura beaches and coast.
Unfortunately, when it came to where to go next, both of us had conflicting opinions. I wanted to visit Enoshima, while Yan wanted to hit up all the Buddhist temples around the area. Was in no condition to argue, so went along with that.
Did manage to convince him to at least hit up the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the main shrine in Kamakura, otherwise it’d be like going to Kyoto and not visiting Kiyomizudera. Yan decided that we visit the Buddhist temples first, then visit the shrine last, should we had the time. The day was indeed starting to mirror the bad tasting experience in Kyoto last year.
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) November 15, 2012
Yan offered to handle my camera this afternoon, so most of today’s photos would come from him instead. On one hand it takes a lot longer to process the images, thus explaining why this post has taken nearly as long to finish. On the other, you get lots of “loli” photos for the rest of the day courtesy of him. It looked like all the classes from one big grade school were all having a field trip around Kamakura this same day.
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) November 15, 2012
The first temple we’d visit would be Kotokuin, which was famous for the Kamakura Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura. The Kamakura Buddha is the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan after Todaiji’s. It’s probably the more popular and well known of the two statues among tourists though, thanks to Kamakura being more accessible from Tokyo. Like the temples in Kyoto, this comes with the downside of it feeling a lot more commercialized.
Entry to Kotokuin is 200 yen. It’s cheaper than most other Buddhist temples since there is very little of interest here other than just the statue itself. The courtyard at the entrance where the Daibutsu was held made up the majority of the temple grounds itself, with a amulet office, souvenir shop and restrooms around its perimeter.
Introduced Yan to goshuin at the amulet office. These were the special calligraphy and stamp that you can get at almost any major temple or shrine in Japan. While Japanese Charms represent handy little blessings that you can give out to friends and family, goshuin sort of represent a blessing that you can collect for oneself.
Again, most temples and shrines sell goshuinchou, the stamp books to begin your collection with. They cost approximately 1,000 yen each. With this book, you can visit the goshuin office (usually just beside the amulet/charm office) to make a donation and ask for the temple’s stamp.
It costs between 300-500 yen to get a stamp. Bigger temples or shrines may employ someone specialized for this task. But the calligraphers often double as the charms sellers too.
Yan ended up getting his first book and stamp from Kotokuin this afternoon. In the meantime, I took the opportunity to chill beside the Daibutsu statue for a while, while finishing up the remainder of my breakfast/lunch. The rest of the benches were mostly families and old people, who were eating ice cream that they had gotten from the temple shop.
Some of the children from the school were being restless. It was quite interesting to observe their behavior. The tinier girls got along better with the boys, while this tall girl was completely being ignored. Her efforts to mingle were passed off as being “annoying” by the rest. Even among children, there were senbatsu.
We backtracked towards the station where Hasedera Temple, another of the main Buddhist temples was located. Hasedera covers a hillside area of land and follows a pretty similar layout to Tenryuji. It’s much smaller, but has the advantage of its main building being located up on the hill. Entrance was affordable, at just 300 yen. We got our tickets from the vending machine up front, and proceeded up.
There’s was a small building midway up dedicated to the Jizo Bodhisattva. Accordingly, this part of the temple was dedicated to issues relating to children and childbirth. There were ema specialized for safe delivery.
As with other such temples, we’d find hundreds of tiny Jizo statues here. If the internet were any indication, most seem to think of Jizo statues as the temple equivalent of Gundam figurines. The foreign tourists, Yan included busily snapped up photos of them.
Personally, I tend to avoid the statues, as they depress me. The statues represent children who have died in their infancy or during childbirth, so they’re very much gravestones more than anything.
The main temple halls were located at the top of the hill. Here there were halls dedicated to the Seven Lucky Gods, Amitabha Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy. The last of which was the largest of the three, with a giant wooden Kannon statue in the center of the hall.
Waited around while Yan went to collect more stamps from the temple. There was a veranda outside which provided a pretty nice view of the surrounding Kamakura area. A rest stop just beside sold temple branded drinks and ice cream. A warning sign told visitors to take note of diving birds. There were sea hawks hovering all around the coastal Kamakura city.
Returning to the entrance of the temple we found the entrance to a cave just beside. The small winding cave served as a shrine dedicated to the Japanese goddess Benzaiten. Various deities had been carved into the cave walls itself.
We found the Benzaiten statue in a separate chamber of the cave. It was smaller than the rest of the cave, such that you had to bend over just to stay inside. There were hundreds of tiny clay Benzaiten statues inside.
Power cables had been laid inside the temple to provide some lighting inside. Past visitors had scribbled down their names and date of visit here. You’d think less people would consider vandalizing a place of worship a good idea, but it seems to be quite commonplace.
With that, we had covered Hasedera Temple. Back outside, we took a break at another souvenir shop by the entrance. Apart from omiyage snacks, it also sold temple branded ice cream and even cider. Yan had seen it earlier and was keen on trying some. Contrary to the name, the cider here referred neither to the apple or alcoholic drinks but a generic soda water.
I took the opportunity to get the temple’s ice pop, in strawberry milk flavor. It was mostly just milk, with a couple of frozen strawberry chips. It’s an amusing experience, eating ice cream in the cold, since no matter how long one takes, it doesn’t melt.
I observed a middle-aged couple pass by while sitting outside the shop with the ice cream. Looking at the steam buns sold there, the lady commented excitedly to her husband that it looked delicious. It’s quite amazing how Japanese ladies manage to maintain their charms even at old age.
An elderly woman came over to initiate some idle banter. It’s probably rare to see adults of our age at such places. She asked where we had been to, then if we had seen the other nearby temples and the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, to which I replied that we were on our way there now. The woman then broke off into a monologue about the other temples and shrines in the area. Agreeing politely, I excused ourselves on account of really having to make our way to the shrine.
We returned to Hase Station to catch a train to Kamakura for the shrine. Passing by another Buddhist temple along the way, Yan suggested visiting it but we somehow managed to avoid that.
Between the train to Kamakura Station and walking, it’d take us about another half an hour to reach Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. By this time, the sun had started to set. A few people were making their way there but for the most part, people were already making their way out. We didn’t spend much time at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and there were hardly any pictures. Guess Yan didn’t care for shrines nearly as much as temples.
On the way out we passed by another smaller shrine within the area dedicated to the Seven Lucky Gods. Guess they were really popular in Kamakura. It was surrounded by a lake that had been infested by some sort of invasive plant. The entire lake was filled with these black weeds. Efforts were being carried out to remove them. A group of workers were hauling them out en mass and a water filter was placed at another corner but they seemed to be fighting a losing battle.
We returned to Dankazura and the shopping streets before Tsurugaoka Hachimangu to take a look at what they had to offer there. Apart from restaurants and a few omiyage stores, most of the shops had already closed by this hour. There we found a pickle shop, which we entered promptly. One of the things on Yan’s itinerary was to get up more Japanese pickles, something he had been keen on ever since trying the ones from Ryoanji in Kyoto.
Unfortunately, most of the pickles don’t last very long. I had the nice lady at the shop recommend us some that did. In addition to those, Yan ended up grabbing some that expired quickly which he’d have to consume during his stay.
We also came across a snack shop called Mameya that specialized in beans and nuts. There was a constant crowd gathered around since the shop offered free samples. It was especially popular with the middle-aged and elderly women. One of them even pointed out some faves to me. Yan ended up getting a whole bunch from there, while I walked away with a pack of their limited special: apple bits wrapped and baked in a ground nut shell.
Found a really nice Studio Ghibli shop at the entrance to the shopping streets. The homely shop was split into two parts, with half of it dedicated to Kiki’s Delivery Service and the other for My Neightbor Totoro. Accordingly, it carried a wide variety of merchandise for these two franchises. While it was tempting, I had already done my Ghibli shopping yesterday, so didn’t get anything else.
There were commemorative Kiki and Totoro inked stamps exclusive to the shop here, though once again I had trouble finding anything to stamp them on. One of the things I ought to had done years ago before all these trips should had been getting a physical travel journal of sorts.
While there were a number of promising restaurants all around Kamakura, Yan wasn’t too keen on them on account of having already spent a significant amount on temple stamps and snacks today. We eventually settled for trying what looked like a newly opened conveyer belt sushi restaurant not far from the Ghibli shop.
It turned out to be a pretty bad idea, since while affordable, the sushi here was pretty terrible. Most of the cuts had seen their rounds of the conveyer. Even the custom orders tended to be tasteless and not very fresh. Goes to show, that you can get terrible sushi, even in Japan.
Ended up eating just a half dozen plates to counter the hunger of not having had a proper meal thus far today. I’d get something more substantial from a convenience store on the way back to the apartment.
Taking the train back to Shinjuku, I thought I’d actually try doing something that I wanted to this day. One of the things on hand was trying to find the flat Takeo Kikuchi shoulder bag that the rest of us had previously encountered in Nagoya, since lugging around my current one together with a camera was starting to become quite a hassle. Unfortunately, by the time we’d arrive in Shinjuku most of the department stores were already refusing entry.
We did manage to take a look around a Shinjuku Marui and Marui Mens which closed later than the rest though. While there were some nice designs, we didn’t find the one I was looking for, nor anything that would match the requirements. Would have to head back empty handed once again.