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Sunday, July 30

Temples, Shrines and Buddhas... Oh, My!

Kimono Hubby, myself and a friend who moved here from DC at the same time we did, all made our second trip on the trains to spend the day in Kamakura. You might say we are serious experts on Japanese mass transit now. Then again, you may be very wrong. We did do well enough and didn't get lost. We are just painfully slow to make a decision and hop on a train still. Looking forward to a bit more confidence.

Off to the Hase Station and from there we walked down the narrow streets in search of lunchtime nourishment. There were colored curtains hanging from every third building but we have yet to figure out which color signifies which type of food so we still go by the "ooh... that food looks pretty in plastic" approach. Taking into consideration the red sign with dragons on it, we think we found a Chinese place. However, Chinese here is not like American Chinese. It's much, much better! We were handed our menus and thankfully they read like a picture book... with very tiny pictures. You can't really tell what the food is so it is constantly a gamble. Today, we all faired well. Even when the food came to the table, we still had to guess what some of it was. Actually that is pretty fun and a great way to amuse yourself. The other way to amuse yourself is to watch people that can't eat with chopsticks. I will admit I giggle at first but then I do always try to help... I would hate to see anyone starve. I ended up with a dish made of some type of meat (would one ever really know if it was cat?) in a sweet and sour sauce, rice, tofu and soy on the side, Japanese pickles and another brothy-type soup. Everything was truly delicious and presented just as beautifully as ever on about five different plates all set into a large black box. The woman running the restaurant spoke very limited English but my Japanese is actually getting to a point where I can order different items, thank the presenter properly and pay without any serious problems.

We left the restaurant and headed further up the road to the Great Buddha (Daibutsu). Before you enter a shrine or temple area, you must first cleanse your hands which siginifies cleansing your spirit. There is a covered fountain and it has long handled large spoons resting on a bar above. You take the spoon and pour water over your hands and then can proceed to the temple. The Japanese also cleanse their face and palate (yes, I mean put the water in your mouth and spit it out), but most foreigners will have none of that. The hands were good enough to pay our respect to their tradition and most Japanese do not expect to see you even doing that much.

On with the show. As we walked towards the Buddha, it was just as one would expect... a VERY BIG Buddha. Bronze and covered in patina from years of weather ailments. Truly magnificent. We walked around him, staring up in awe from all angles. This is some place that I will make sure our visitors see and experience for themselves.

Then, as I have mentioned bathrooms here before, I couldn't leave without visiting them here. Inside there were "European" and "Japanese" style. Want to take a guess which one I used? My first experience in the Japanese style and - no - I did not pee on my pants. Not even a little! It is much easier than I even expected and the funny part in this one was that it had an automatic flush. When you stood up and stepped away, it did all the work for you. Very sanitary as you really don't touch anything but the handle. I had TP in my purse but this place did provide. Not all do so I am always prepared. (For those of you sickos... yes, of course, I took a picture... before I used obviously.)

We left Daibutsu and headed back down the street, stopping along the way to have Kamakura's famous purple ice cream. The flavor... potato! It is actually quite tasty and just what we needed for a day that was sweltering us.

Further down the street, we made a turn and headed toward the Hasedera Temple. This was the highlight of my day. A place exactly like you dream exists in Japan. First, the cleansing of the spirit. Then we walked all around the lower gardens and observed its beauty. We took paths of stones that crossed directly over a small waterfall and into a basin where foot-and-a-half-long goldfish swam in serene waters. We climbed the first set of steps to a small temple where thousands of small, stone Buddha sculptures lined cut ledges in the surrounding hillside. The smell of incense and candles filled the air while people made their prayers to the Buddha. Another stone stairwell led to the main temple which housed about a twenty foot tall gold Buddha that shined brightly in the dimness of the temple. We passed through to a small, two room museum where another twenty Buddha sculptures sat behind glass and showed the viewer how he has changed and evolved over the years. We quietly left the main temple and walked back through gardens to see a spectacular city view of Kamakura below and what I believe to be Sagami Bay. We started back down the steps and discovered there was an entrance we hadn't gone into. It appeared to be a cave with candles glowing inside. Once our eyes adjusted to the candlelight, we could see that Buddhas had been carved into the stone walls of the cave. Under each one were candles that you would light and the pray at that Buddha. Each Buddha and prayer would have different purpose but our knowledge of hte religion just isn't extensive enough to understand what it could be. As we went further into the cave, there was another entrance that took you deeper into the hillside. The passage way entrance was only waist high so to pass through, we had to bend at the waste and squat down. The caves walls around us were wet from the waterfalls that streamed down they outside of the hill and the caves themselves were cool compared to the humidity outside. Into a deeper chamber, we found more carved statues in the walls. Even more interesting, were the hundreds of tiny, yellow Buddhas that could only have measured about an inch tall covering the sides of the floor and stuck into the crannies of the cave walls. They appeared to be the room's light source as they reflected the dim candlelight. Another low tunnel that we essentially crawled through and we came out on the other side of the hill. I could have stayed all day at this temple and just sat in the gardens and reflected... exactly the purpose for which it was built. It just felt entirely natural to want to do so.

But we had a train to catch so we headed back to the station and on to our final destination of the daytrip, the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu Shrine. From the train station, this is a very long walk. Well, let me be honest and say that it was probably because we completely... more than once... went the wrong way. It is honestly quite difficult finding directional signs. I did ask a few people and we were close, but always somehow on the wrong street. Once we did find this Shinto shrine, it was not as I had hoped and far from the Buddhist temple we had left.

The shrine was built in 1063 by the first Samurai who declared Kamakura the capitol of Japan in his time. In that period of Japanese history, the shrine was the center of politics and culture and is, therefore, an important part of the country's history today. It is a large red building with a gently sloping roof built on yet another hill that required walking yet another hundred stone steps. The lower grounds are surrounded by lotus ponds that were sadly just past their primary blooming time. While I appreciate the history of the shrine, I think I am more interested in seeking out the serene gardens that Japan is famous for.

Back to the train station and one train switch later (they apparently shut the train we were on down for maintenance) and finally home-sweet-hotel.

This was a place that I had been hoping to visit while I was here. It is only twenty minutes away and I will be going back as much as possible. There are still about fifteen other temples and shrines in that area alone that we didn't have time to explore.

For now, I am heading back to my room and will begin to prepare mentally for the driving part of my test tomorrow. Maybe I will sit on the bed and pretend I have a steering wheel in front of me. That should definitely make me an expert on the Japanese streets, right? We also begin our house search tomorrow. I will consider this to be my fulltime job for the time being and intend to get us into something very soon. I am already feeling terribly claustrophobic and need to get us out of the hotel as soon as possible and into our own digs... or who knows what we might try to do to one another.


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Kimono Karen said...

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Kimono Karen said...

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