Sandpanther (sandpanther) wrote,
Sandpanther
sandpanther

Japan, Day 3


Japan 2003, Day 3 (March 31, 2003)

Before I get into the events of the day, let me just note that the "new quest" mentioned above has absolutely nothing to do with IniD (for a change). See? I can be something other than a fangirl when I want to be. I can even get obsessive about something cultural.

As expected, we were all awake long before dawn broke. It's traditional, the first few days in Japan. In fact, it's so traditional that I even work it into my itineraries.

In this case, it was probably a good thing we were up and out so early, since it allowed us to beat the morning rush hour. The plan for the day was to head to Kamakura, and this required a transfer through the dreaded Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station is the largest in Japan, and is third on my list of stations in Japan I fear the most. (Osaka and Shinjuku Stations occupying spots one and two.) It's large, and horribly confusing if one doesn't know which lines come in, and understand where everything is laid out. On top of that, it's usually very crowded, with salary men rushing to and from the subway lines, tourists (both Japanese and non) pulling luggage and heading excitedly (or confusedly) to and from the Shinkansen lines, and just a general herd of people all heading somewhere. And we had to herd our chain of ducklings through this morass of humanity. It was a good thing it wasn't rush hour.

We got to the correct platform to catch our train without losing any of the ducklings. (Though my mother later admitted to me that she would be just as happy never to go through that station again. This is a vain hope when it comes to Tokyo Station, since the Shinkansen lines end there. But that is a story for another day.)

We hopped on a train that started out crowded, then gradually thinned out the farther we got from the city proper. The train never really got into anything rural, since it followed a corridor that went through the main costal cities in the area.

On the way down, we spotted a giant statue of Kannon. It was rather remarkable. We weren't able to get a picture of it then, but we did on the train back. (Sorry for all the power lines in the middle of the shot. Beggers on the train really can't be choosers.)

An hour later, we arrived at Kamakura Station. We transfered to a different line to go down a couple of stops. Our target: the giant Buddha of Kamakura.

Buddha is big. Buddha is really, really big. And I don't just mean popular. He's huge. When you approach the temple, you can see his head peeking over the gate. It's almost as if he's peering over the gate to see what visitors he has at the door.

One really interesting thing is that the statue is hollow, and for fifty yen, visitors are allowed to go inside the belly of Buddha. It's almost an Jonah-esque moment. There is light inside, provided by a couple of large doors in Buddha's back.

We were lucky enough to get there and get all our pictures before a tour group arrived. We saw them pulling in, with another group coming in behind them, and took off.

We wandered back toward a temple that we had spotted earlier. En route, we passed a stand selling sweet potato ice cream. Mmm! It made up for not being able to find any sweet potato donuts at the Mr. Donuts down the street from our ryokan. If you ever get the opportunity to try some, I highly recommend it.

The next temple in line was Hase-dera. This is a beautiful temple, with a really lovely garden. My photos really don't do it justice. It turns out that this is Temple #4 on the thirty-three Bando Kannon Pilgrimage. Unfortunately, I didn't know it at the time. Oh well, I'll just have to go back sometime. Darn, what a shame.

One interesting feature of this temple is the Benten Cave. Visitors walk through a cave that has a variety of carved reliefs in it, focusing on the Seven Gods of Good Luck. The cave is primarily dedicated to Benten, goddess of Music, Wisdom, and (sometimes) Wealth, among other things.

Leaving Hase, we returned (by train) to Kamakura Station. From there we walked to one of the major temple areas in Kamakura, the Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine. The walk from the station to the shrine goes down a street lined with cherry trees. Blossoming cherry trees. Lots and lots and lots of them. It's a beautiful experience in person. Unfortunately, it tends to come out rather flat on film.

It turns out that we were lucky enough to be at the shrine while a wedding was going on. This was done in traditional, Shinto style. There was a rather noticeable crowd gathered watching the wedding. I almost felt sorry for the couple, having such a large audience of strangers for their ceremony. Though I suppose that it's only to be expected, being married in one of the major tourist shrines in a major tourist town during cherry blossom season.

We paused for lunch at the shrine, then walked on to the next set of temples. The walk wasn't long, though it was warm. This was one of the two days that I got a sunburn. I was rather surprised. I've never gotten a sunburn in Japan before. I've never been as soaked in Japan as I was on this trip either. But that is also a story for another day.

The next temple that we stopped at was Kenchou-ji. This was a nice temple, though unfortunately its garden was under reconstruction. A pity, since it looked like it would have been a very pretty one.

It was at this temple that I picked up my new Quest. In Japan, when pilgrims go on a pilgrimage they have a book that they get signed at each of the temples that they visit. The custom continues today, and is called "goshuuin". For 300 yen (a little under USD$3.00), an attendant puts some temple-relevant stamps and writes the dates, the name of the temple, and a phrase that is related to the main image venerated at the temple. Each temple's goshuuin is different, and it's fascinating watching the various people doing the calligraphy. Crystal picked up a blank pilgrim's book (goshuuin-cho), and after a moment, I decided to as well. I'm glad that I did, since it was wonderful fun collecting each of the stamps, and the different calligraphy is wonderful.

Tracking around Japan collecting calligraphy at each of the temples has inspired me. I now want to try going on one of the classical pilgrimages, and collect all the goshuuin for the temples. I've been pondering the idea for a while now. This has convinced me that I really do want to do it. I think I will start with the Bando pilgrimage (basically, the Kantou region), possibly beginning with my next trip to Japan, since I will be mainly in Tokyo on that trip anyway. I don't expect to complete it on that trip, but that's okay. It's not about the end, it's about the journey. And that sounds like a fascinating journey indeed.

Leaving Kenchou-ji, we walked down to the final temple of the day, Engaku-ji. This was a pleasant temple, though by this point in time we were all tired and footsore. As a result, we didn't do much more than a quick walk around while Crystal and I got our books signed.

Though we didn't realize it at the time, we sadly missed one of the spots I very much wanted to hit -- Tokei-ji, the Divorse Temple. This was a temple where, in feudal times, women could become nuns in order to escape a bad marriage. Before the Tokugawa period, there were many of these kinds of temples throughout the country. During the Tokugawa era, the number was reduced to just two, Tokei-ji, and a temple in Gunma. (Why Gunma? I can't say.)

Finishing up with Engaku-ji, we crossed the street to the train station, and headed out of Kamakura. We were tired and ready to head back. Despite all we had see and everywhere we walked, we barely scratched the surface. I've always thought that Kamakura would be one of those places in Japan that I would have to go to several times to catch everything I wanted to see. Now I have a better idea of how often I will have to go. Among other things, four of the temples on the Bandou pilgrimage are located in the area. I now have something to occupy a day in Tokyo besides shopping.

Since we were tired, we headed back to the hotel in the late afternoon. We arrived back in Tokyo around 5:30, and Jan and I decided this would be a perfect time to fit some shopping in. Our ryokan was located not far from Akihabara, so it seemed a logical choice. (Okay, so we were all but frothing at the mouth wanting to get down there and do some tunes shopping.) Crystal came with us, since Jan and I had been saying that Akihabara at night was one of the sights to catch.

Akihabara proved to be one of the great disappointments of the trip. I think the best part was the nice katsu curry we caught for dinner at a place next to the station. Most of the stores I usually haunt had re-done their stock, and were pretty much cleared out of anything I was looking for. I walked away from the trip with four CDs. Jan got none. Even Animate failed to have anything that I wanted. Jan left about half an hour before the stores closed, since taking a bath seemed to be more promising than wandering around further. I stayed around a little longer, on a quest to find the new IniD PS2 game which was supposed to have come out the week before. (My search, as it turns out, was in vain. The release date got pushed back, so the game won't be out until the end of June. *sigh*)

Returning to the ryokan, I decided to make a side trip to a bookstore located in a mall near-by. Interestingly, that store was open past 8. Rather convenient, since I can poke around in there after everything else is closed.

They had an impressive selection of road atlases. Since we were in the Kantou region, there were a lot of Kantou maps. I picked up an atlas of all the Kantou prefectures, and one of just Gunma Prefecture which had me just about salivating in the store. (For those who think this is easy, it's actually not. I have enough maps of Saitama, Tochigi, and particularly Gunma that it's hard to find a map that I look at and don't say "I have this information already." Also consider that I picked up the Kantou atlas at the same time -- which means that the Gunma one had information not covered even by the regional atlas. Mmm, map-y goodness!) I wanted to pick up the atlas for Tochigi as well, but I wasn't sure if the store took credit cards. It turns out that it does, but at the time I was running low on cash, and I didn't want to risk going over.

The advantage of being the last person back to the ryokan was that someone else had already run the bath water, and I didn't have to wait fifteen minutes while the tub filled. I had my happy, soothing bath, then went to bed.

Tomorrow: Beer Building, and the Golden Turd
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