Archive for June 2017

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   7 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

Tuesday, June 27:  On my way home from work tonight, I stop again at Kenji’s place, Kiyariya.  This time, they have an English menu and I choose a delicious shrimp dish from that.  Every time I leave the restaurant now, Natsumi, the server, walks out with me and says happily, “See you next week!”

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Shrimp with sauce at Kiyariya

Wednesday, June 28: Today my students presented their inventions.  As I only have my G class on Wednesdays, their inventions are shown below.  They had to do a sales pitch for their product, telling why people should buy it, and what it does.  They were really cute and inventive. 🙂

Click on any of the posters to see a full-sized slide show.

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

Saturday, June 24: I can never resist a walk that’s all mapped out, a route just begging to be followed.  Today, I set out to explore a neighborhood I missed when I went to the Ueno area of Tokyo soon after I arrived in Japan.   The City Walk comes straight from the pages of Lonely Planet Japan: ‘Strolling Yanaka,”  and I opt to do it in reverse from the way it’s laid out in the book.

I start by going to Sendagi Station and looking for Yanaka Ginza, a mid-20th century shopping street. It’s easy to find; I simply follow the crowds. Soon, I’m walking under the archway at the street entrance.

Yanaka Ginza

At 175 meters long and 5-6 meters wide, the street is packed with 70 shops (Go Tokyo: Yanaka Ginza Shopping District).

Though compact, the district is chock-full of restaurants and shops selling yukata, souvenirs, flowers, fans, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, fruits and vegetables, flip-flops, baskets, pillows, housewares, and anything else a person could want.  Jovial folks snack and drink beer while sitting on overturned milk crates.  It’s quite a festive atmosphere.

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

At one point along the street, I find a small hole-in-the-wall that sells okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients.  I haven’t yet tried one yet, because I’ve read that most of them contain squid, which I despise. I type into my Google translate app on my phone: “Can I get one without squid?” and show it to the shopkeeper.  He shakes his head no, so I move on.  Instead, I stop at a little bakery that sells slices of pizza and get one to carry with me.  I munch on it as I walk down the road, even though I know it’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan.  I have no choice, however, as all the milk crates are occupied. 🙂

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

At the far end of the street, I climb the Yuyake Dande, literally “Sunset Stairs,” until I approach Nippori Station.

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

I take a sharp right at the train tracks and walk along them until I reach the entrance to Yanaka-reien, or Yanaka Cemetery. Here, the paths are well-manicured and wide, presenting a good trail for a tranquil stroll. The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo period, is located within the cemetery, according to Japan-guide.com.

Yanaka-reien

According to Lonely Planet Japan, Yanaka-reien is “one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious cemeteries.”

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

I continue on my walk toward Ueno Park, taking several detours to visit some of the temples in the Yanaka area.  It’s hot and humid today, so I’m sticky with sweat and my mouth is dry.  Thank goodness for all the vending machines on street corners. I buy one of my favorite flavored waters and continue walking, dipping into the various temples along the way.

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

After leaving the temple area, I cross over Kototoi-dori and continue my walk through neighborhoods on Sakura-dori until I reach Ueno Park.

pink house on the way to Ueno

I pass by the Tokyo National Museum thinking that if I have time while I’m in Japan, I really ought to visit the museum.  I also walk past Rinnoji Temple, also known as Rinno-ji Ryodaishi-do, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Ueno Park Tokyo; it was originally a part of the cathedral of Kaneiji Temple and was called Kaizan-do or Jigen-do, according to GoJapanGo.com.

Rinno-ji

Within minutes I’m on an overpass looking down on the extensive rail tracks converging on Ueno Station.   My goal is to get to Ueno Station and find a tapas restaurant my friend Graham has told me about.  I don’t know the name of the restaurant, so I put “tapas restaurant” into Yelp and find one called Vinuls. The app says it’s near Ueno Station, which is where Graham said it was.  I then put the name into Google Maps and let the app lead me to the restaurant.

Ueno Station

I find Vinuls Spanish Bar & Restaurant right outside Ueno Station.  It is so easy!  It’s hot, so I sit inside at the bar and order a glass of cold wine and two small plates, one with prawns and one with tomatoes topped with garlic and olive oil.

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

My young Japanese waiter, who is attending high school in Tokyo, tells me in perfect English that he lived for a long while in Barcelona and so also speaks fluent Spanish.  He’s friendly and confident; I find when I encounter Japanese people with a command of English, they seem very confident; whereas those with little English ability are very shy in the face of a foreigner.

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

After enjoying my wine and tapas, I walk across the street to Uniqlo, a discount fashion store much like Zara or H&M.  This is only a small branch of the store, but the clerk tells me they have a big store at the end of the adjacent shopping street, Ameya-yokocho.  Purely by accident, I thus find one of Tokyo’s popular open-air markets. This market got its start as a black market after WWII, when American goods were sold here.

Ameya-yokocho

These days, the market is crammed with vendors selling fresh seafood and produce, Hawaiian shirts, jeans and camouflage clothing.  There are also small restaurants and watch shops.

Ameya-yokocho

I’m surprised at these small markets to find so many Hawaiian shirts being sold.  I think they are so passé, but I find many Japanese young men, and even young women, wearing them.  Even some of my students wear them to class.

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

At the end of the shopping street, I see the huge Uniqlo store across a major intersection, so I wait until the traffic passes and cross over.

Tokyo taxi

At Uniqlo, I get in a bit of trouble buying a couple of shirts, although they’re not very expensive, about $15 each. However, right after leaving Vinuls, I also stopped into another more expensive shop and bought two other tops.  I won’ t say how much those cost. 🙂

One thing I can say about Japan is that it’s a very consumer-driven society, and as a person who has a weakness for shopping, I have a hard time resisting the enticing goods for sale! 🙂

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

myōhonji: in search of the elusive mossy steps   8 comments

Saturday, June 17:  By the time I make it to Myōhonji, in the southeastern hills of Kamakura, it’s 3:40 and I realize that the chance of getting back to Hasedera by 5:00 is very slim. I seriously doubt I’ll have the energy to tackle that crowded Enoden Line to get back there; nor do I feel energetic enough to even stand in the line to see the hydrangeas.  Instead, I take my time trying to find some beautiful mossy steps that my Japanese friend Yukie posted on her Instagram feed.

Myōhonji is one of several temples of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism; it was founded by Hiki Yoshimoto in 1260 (japan-guide.com: Myohonji Temple).

gate to Myōhonji

Myōhonji

The Nichiren sect of Buddhism was founded by Nichiren in 1253. The sect was exceptional due to its intolerant stance towards other Buddhist sects. Nichiren Buddhism still has many millions of followers today, and several “new religions” are based on Nichiren’s teachings. (japan-guide.com: Buddhism)

gate at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

There is an extensive cemetery on the temple grounds and I go exploring every nook and cranny in search of the mossy steps.

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

I find one set of somewhat mossy steps, but they are not the ones I saw in the photographs.

somewhat mossy steps at Myōhonji

I continue to search, but, while I admire the pretty cemetery, I can’t seem to find those steps. 🙂

Coming down a path from one section of the cemetery at Myōhonji, I see this leafy path and wonder if the steps might be found here.  I wander down the path for a bit, but I don’t find them.

a leafy path

A statue of Nichiren stands to the left of the main hall on the temple grounds.

statue of Nichiren

statue of Nichiren

I walk up some other non-mossy hydrangea-lined steps to another section of the cemetery to no avail.

stairway to heaven

cemetery at Myōhonji

stairway lined with hydrangeas

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

Myōhonji

I love the colorful carvings over the door of the gate.

gate at Myōhonji

If I can’t take pictures of mossy steps, I might as well take some fern photos.

ferns, but no moss

I follow another path, but it only leads to another small shrine.

hydrangea path at Myōhonji

bicycle in the bushes at Myōhonji

small shrine at Myōhonji

hydrangea pathway

Myōhonji

In the end, I give up.  I can’t find the mossy steps anywhere. It’s 4:20 when I finish at Myōhonji, and though it might be possible to make it back to Hasedera, it will be too much of a rush. I have a long walk back to Kamakura Station, plus I have to wait again for that frustrating Enoden Line and then climb up that hill through all the crowds at Hasedera.  I’m simply to hot, tired and exhausted after visiting Meigetsu-in, hiking the Daibutsu Hiking Course, visiting two temples along the way, seeing the Great Buddha and visiting Hasedera and Myōhonji.

At Kamakura Station, I get on the train to go back home.  After arriving at Fuchinobe, as I ride my bicycle home, I decide I’ll stop in at Curry Naan to have dinner.  I don’t feel like cooking after today, and I’m really sick of eating Bento boxes from the 7-11. I enjoy my regular vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  For some bizarre reason, the beer is filled to the brim with ice cubes.  I’ve never encountered that here before!  I’m paying for mostly ice and very little beer. 🙂

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

This has been one very exhausting day!

Total steps (including Meitgetsu-in, the Daibutsu Hiking course, the Great Buddha, Hasedera, and Myōhonji): 23,379 (9.91 miles).

I’m wiped out!  Luckily it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I can finally have a relaxing day. 🙂

 

 

hasedera temple: attempt #2 at the hydrangea walk   7 comments

Saturday, June 17:  It’s 2:15 by the time I arrive at Hasedera.  As I walk through the gate, I’m given a ticket with a number on it for the hydrangea walk.  I ask, “About how long is the wait?”  The young man tells me, with a pained look on his face, that it will be about 3 hours.  He says, “But you can leave and go do something else, and come back later if you like.”

I can’t believe it.  I have come all the way back to Hasedera at what I thought was a reasonable hour, and now I have to wait 3 hours.  What will I do for 3 hours? If I had known the wait would be this long, I would have come directly here, gotten the ticket, and then gone back to see the Great Buddha.  But now, I’ve seen the Great Buddha, and I even enjoyed an ice cream, and now there is nothing more of interest to do in this area.  I’m hot, tired and sweaty and I don’t want to waste all that time sitting around doing nothing.  Feeling defeated, I take a quick walk around the temple grounds while I ponder what to do.

I already attempted to do the hydrangea walk at Hasedera last Saturday, on June 10, and wrote about the temple here:  a hopeful trip to hasedera (attempt #1): too late for the hydrangea walk 😦  There isn’t much point to me going over the historical details of this temple again, so if you’d like to know more, feel free to check out my previous post. 🙂

gate at Hasedera

I stroll around the grounds, enjoying the stone lanterns and the iris pond, the Buddha and Jizo figures, the scattered hydrangeas, and the main hall.

pond at Hasedera

a line of holy characters

hydrangea

iris gardens in the pond

iris pond

hydrangea

Jizo statues

Jizo statues

Fukujyu Jizo

When I get to the top of the hill near the main hall, I find, once again, the cute Buddha footprints in a bowl of water.

Buddha footprints

I can also see the queue to the hydrangea walk, which I will have to wait 3 hours to join!

the queue for the hydrangea walk

The saving grace to this visit to Hasedera is the clear view over Sagami Bay.  The view is better than it was the first time I was here.

view over Sagami Bay from Hasedera

view over Sagami Bay from Hasedera

view over Sagami Bay from Hasedera

At Kannon-dō, the Main hall, people are sprawled out all over the steps.  I can only assume they’re waiting for their turn to enter the queue for the hydrangea walk.

Kannon-dō (Main hall)

Kannon-dō (Main hall)

Kannon-dō (Main hall)

I’m certainly not going to sit around on the steps at Hasedera’s Main Hall for 3 hours!  I originally had in mind to visit another temple in Kamakura proper, Myōhonji, which supposedly has some beautiful mossy steps. My Instagram friend Yukie posted some pictures of the steps and I was hoping to visit the temple after leaving Hasedera.  Since I have three hours to wait, I decide I will go to Kamakura proper, visit the temple, and if I have enough energy, I’ll return by 5:00.

I realize as soon as I arrive at Hase Station that the Enoden, or Enoshima Electric Railway, will again be a challenge.  The station platform is packed.  I wait in the sweltering heat with the always-patient Japanese.  Finally, the train arrives, already packed.  A few people from the platform are able to get on the train.  I have to wait another 10 minutes for the next train, and this time, I am the last one to get on the train and the doors can barely close as I hold my breath to pull my nose out of the doors’ trajectory.

When I get to Kamakura, I walk toward Myōhonji, making a brief stop at Daigyoji Temple to admire the hydrangeas in the garden.  As if I haven’t seen enough hydrangeas today!

entrance to Daigyoji Temple

hydrangea at Daigyoji Temple

I continue to Myōhonji Temple in search of those mossy steps. 🙂

 

 

 

 

daibutsu: the great buddha of kamakura   7 comments

Saturday, June 17: After leaving the relative serenity of the Daibutsu Hiking Course and being thrust out alongside the busy road, I stop at the first available vending machine and buy a bottle of water.  I’ve grown fond of a particular brand of flavored sweetened water, and as is usual, I get the orange flavor.  Hot, tired and parched, I gulp it down in several minutes.

By 1:00, I’m at Kotoku-in Temple and in front of the Nio-mon Gate.  Kotoku-in belongs to the traditional Buddhist Jodo Sect founded by the priest Honen (1133–1212). He was a devotee of Amitabha, Buddha of the Western Pure Land, whose vow is to liberate all beings, irrespective of sex, age or social standing, regardless of whether the individual has engaged in good or evil deeds in their lives. According to the Jodo Sect belief system, one only needs to chant the nenbutsu to receive Amitabha’s protection and be reborn in his Pure Land. The nenbutsu is “Namu Amida Butsu” (I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha). (Kotoku-in: The Teachings of Kotoku-in).

gate to Kotoku-in Temple

The main draw of Kotoku-in is the Kamakura Daibutsu, or the Great Buddha of Kamakura. A colossal copper image of Amida Buddha (the Buddha of Eternal Light), it is unusual among Japanese Buddhist statues in that it sits in the open air. Designated a National Treasure by the Japanese government, the Buddha is some 11.3 meters tall and weighs around 121 tons. Though in size it falls short of the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple at Nara (an image of Rushana-butsu [Vairochana Buddha]), it essentially retains its original form; as such it serves as an example of Japanese historical Buddhist art (Kotoku-in: The Great Buddha).

Directly behind the Great Buddha are the hills of the Daibutsu Hiking Course that I walked over to get here.

the Great Buddha at Hase

The Buddha sits on a lotus throne on a stone platform, holding its hands in its lap, palms upward and thumbs touching; this is the mudra (position) of “Steadfastness of Faith.”  Its serene face and half-closed eyes reveal the Buddha’s calm nature.  This serenity should be the goal of the true believer.

Daibutsu, the Great Buddha

the Great Buddha

Daibutsu

the Great Buddha

Warazori, traditional Japanese straw sandals, hang on a corridor wall facing the Great Buddha. According to Kotoku-in’s website, they were a 1951 gift from the Matsuzaka Children’s Club of Hitachi-Ota City (Ibaraki Prefecture). As Japan was still recovering from the ravages of World War II, the sandals were given with the wish that “the Great Buddha would don them to walk around Japan, bringing happiness to the people.” Since 1956, the Matsuzaka Children’s Club has continued to weave these giant warazori and present them to Kotoku-in once every three years.

Buddha’s sandals

Daibutsu

the Great Buddha

girls in yukata with the Great Buddha

lotus and Buddha

me at the Great Buddha

The Kangetsu-do Hall is believed to have been part of the imperial palace in mid-15th century Hanyang (present-day Seoul), Korea. The Hall houses a standing image of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Kannon Bosatsu), probably from the late Edo period.

Kangetsu-do Hall

Hydrangeas are all the rage here in Kamakura, and Kotoku-in is no exception.  Near the Kangetsu-do Hall are some pretty pink blooms.

hydrangea at the Great Buddha

It’s only about a 7 minute walk from the Great Buddha to Hasedera Temple, so I walk down the street to see if I can make it into the queue for the hydrangea walk. I was too late to get in the queue last Saturday because I arrived after 4:00, having visited Enoshima during the earlier part of the day. On the way, I’m enticed inside a cozy little air-conditioned ice cream shop, where I treat myself to an ice-cream cone.

The ice cream is a wonderful refreshment, as is the break from the heat.  I love the churro stuck into the ice cream; it takes me back to memories of Spain.

an ice cream treat to beat the heat

After finishing my ice cream at 2:00, I continue my walk to Hasedera Temple, where I’m certain I’ll finally get to do the hydrangea walk. 🙂

the daibutsu hiking course: a love shrine and a money-washing shrine   9 comments

Saturday, June 17: After leaving Meigetsu-in at 10:40 a.m., I go in search of the Daibutsu Hiking Course, a 3km trail which begins at the steps just up the lane from the pretty temple, Jochi-ji.  The trail connects Kita-Kamakura with the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha, in Hase.  I begin the hike at 11:00, thinking the trail can’t possibly be that difficult, or that far.  I am quickly disavowed of this idea.

the beginning of the Daibutsu Hiking Course

The dirt trail climbs up and down over hilly terrain and through dense forest, over exposed serpentine tree roots and rocks.  Most of the time the trail is clearly marked, but at one point, several small groups are standing at a trail juncture not knowing where to go.  Luckily we’re directed by a passer-by to take the path to the left.  It’s hot and humid in the forest and with all the climbing, it’s not long before I’m covered in a layer of sweat.

through the woods

After a while, I come upon a clearing with picnic tables and, off to the side, Kuzuharaoka Shrine, a love shrine lined with rows of blooming hydrangeas.

hydrangeas at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

hydrangeas at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

There are stacks of heart-shaped ema, wooden plaques on which people write their wishes or prayers.

heart ema at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine has a miniature version of Meoto Iwa, or Married Couple Rocks.  Meoto Iwa, a couple of small rocky stacks found in the sea off Futami, Mie, Japan, are joined by a shimenawa (a heavy rope of rice straw); they are considered sacred by worshippers at the neighboring Futami Okitama Shrine. According to legend, the rocks celebrate the union in marriage of man and woman (Wikipedia: Meoto Iwa).

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

In front of the shrine is a small pond with pretty irises.

irises at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

irises at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

iris bud at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

There are some beautiful hydrangeas here, and it is quite deserted compared to the crowded Meigetsu-in!

I love how the path to Kuzuharaoka Shrine is lined with colorful hydrangeas.

pathway to Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

pathway to Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

dragon at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

marker at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

hydrangea at Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

Kuzuharaoka Shrine

After spending quite some time admiring the hydrangeas at this quiet little shrine, I sit at one of the picnic tables in the adjoining park and eat a sandwich I bought at a Kita-Kamakura Family Mart before starting the hike.

After walking quite a while up and over hills and stumbling over more exposed rocks and boulders, I find a fork in the path.  One sign indicates that if I go left, I can visit Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Jinja Shrine, better known as the “money washing temple.”  To the right is the path to Daibutsu.  It’s a long downhill detour to the shrine, but it is well worth going despite knowing I’ll have to climb back up that hill to get back on the Daibutsu Trail.

The shrine was founded around 1185 by Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-99), although the present buildings date from some time after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. He built the shrine after a god appeared to him in a dream and advised him to build a shrine to bring peace to the country.  The dream occurred on the day of the snake, in the month of the snake, in the year of the snake.  Because of the timing, the shrine was later dedicated to the Benten, a Buddhist goddess associated with snakes (japan-guide.com: Zeniarai Benten Shrine).

The shrine was originally dedicated to the kami Ugafukujin, whose symbol is a snake with a human head.  Kami are spirits worshipped in the Shinto religion and can be elements of the landscape or forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can include the spirits of venerated dead persons (Wikipedia: Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine).

The entrance is through a tunnel carved out of a natural stone cliff topped with moss, foliage and trees.

entrance to Zeniarai Benzaiten

The tunnel continues through a line of torii gates on the other side of the cave entrance.

torii gates at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Sadly I can’t find the significance of the rooster ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Jinja Shrine.

ema at Zeniari Benzaiten

Zeniarai Benten Shrine fuses elements of Buddhism and Shinto.  Many other shrines were stripped of their Buddhist connections when the Meiji government attempted to separate Shinto from Buddhism.

Worshippers are advised to get a set of three candles and incense sticks from the shrine office, and to borrow a basket. At the main shrine, they should light the first candle with the big candle there and put it on the candleholder, and place incense sticks in the incense burner. They should bow twice, clap their hands twice and bow once again to pray (jntoJapan: the official guide: Zeniarai Benten Shrine).

Zeniarai Benzaiten

incense at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Next, visitors are advised to go into the cave, put the second candle on the candleholder, and wash money in the basket by pouring the holy water on it with a ladle (jntoJapan: the official guide: Zeniarai Benten Shrine). It is variously said that money will double or multiply if washed in this stream, and by the number of people who are here washing their money, it seems many hope this will actually happen.

inside the cave at Zeniarai Benzaiten

money-washing at Zeniarai Benzaiten

shrine inside the cave at Zeniarai Benzaiten

origami cranes in the cave

origami cranes

activity in the money-washing cave

ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten

waterfall at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Visitors should then offer prayers at Shichifuku-jinja Shrine, which is said to have power to bring prosperity in business, and put the last candle there.

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

creature in the garden

Next, worshippers should climb the stairs and visit Kaminomizu-jingu Shrine and Shimonomizu-jingu Shrine to pray.

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

shrine at Zeniarai Benzaiten

torii at Zeniarai Benzaiten

ema at Zeniarai Benzaiten

Finally I leave the money-washing temple and climb the steep hill back to the Daibutsu hiking trail, where I continue my walk over undulating terrain.  Strangely, I find this rather Western-looking house right along the trail.

a house along the Daibutsu Hiking Course

I find a nice view of Sagami Bay from the mountain trail.

view of Sagami Bay and Hase from the Daibutsu Hiking Course

About an hour and a half after beginning the hike, I make my descent from the mountains and by 12:30, I’m on the road leading to Daibutsu, the Great Buddha.

 

 

 

meigetsu-in: the temple of the clear moon (aka the hydrangea temple)   12 comments

Saturday, June 17:  This Saturday morning, I get up early to tackle an ambitious quest. My plan is to arrive in Kita-Kamakura by 9:00, visit the Hydrangea Temple Meigetsu-in, then take the Daibutsuzaka Hiking Course to the Great Buddha of Hase, called Daibutsu. After that, I plan to go to Hasedera for the second time to hopefully make it on the hydrangea walk.

It’s a hot day today, and I have a lot of walking ahead of me. Little do I know how exhausting it will be.  I get a bit of a later start than I intend, arriving at Kita-Kamakura at around 8:45.  When I walk out of the station, the crowds are already thick.  People seem to be in some kind of slow-moving queue, but I don’t think it can be a queue for Meigetsu-in because a sign indicates it is a half kilometer away.  At a certain point the loose queue takes a sharp left at a road where the sign points to Meigetsu-in. At that time, it dawns on me that these people are in fact in a queue for the temple.  People have been walking to the right of the queue and I’ve just been happily following along.  But at the point where the road turns left, the people I’m following peel off to the right and I realize I should have been in the queue.  I hope I can just blend in and join the queue at this juncture; I keep my head down and merge in, hoping I won’t arouse anyone’s ire. The Japanese are generally too polite to say anything.  I feel bad, but there is no way I’m going to go back to the end of that queue upon my belated realization.

Still.  Even though I join the queue at this juncture, it’s still another quarter kilometer to the temple. It’s already hot and humid, and the queue is moving slowly.  I’ve come a long way and I’m not about to turn around and give up, so I will myself to be patient and just go with the flow. It’s hard!  Patience and crowd-tolerance have never been virtues of mine. 🙂

Finally, at about 9:15, I pass through the entrance to Fugenzan Meigetsu-in (福源山明月院), a Rinzai Zen temple of the Kenchō-ji school (Wikipedia: Meigetsu-in). Meigetsu-in was founded in 1160 as the Meigetsu-an (Bright Moon Hermitage) by Yamanouchi Tsunetoshi for the repose of the soul of his father Toshimichi, who died in the Battle of Heiji the previous year.  This battle was part of the struggle for power between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late Heian Period.

Meigetsu-in, the Temple of the Clear Moon

Meigetsu-in later became part of a larger temple complex called Zenkoji, which was abolished during anti-Buddhist movements soon after the Meiji Restoration, leaving only Meigetsu-in to remain as an individual temple today (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

The main object of worship is the Kannon Bodhisattva, the deity of compassion. This bodhisattva is variably portrayed in different cultures as either female or male (from the Meigetsu-in brochure).

hydrangea at Meigetsu-in

Famous for its hydrangea that bloom during June’s rainy season, it’s also known as Ajisaidera, The Temple of Hydrangeas. About 95% of the hydrangea here are of the Hime Ajisai (“Princess Hydrangea”) variety; they are thus named because of their pretty blue colors.

hydrangea heaven

blue hydrangea

Though the hydrangeas are beautiful, I am annoyed by the crowds, which make for slow going.  It is also nearly impossible to get pictures with the hydrangeas and the temple buildings together, which is the point of coming here.  I could see hydrangeas anywhere, but to see and enjoy them in this setting, in the midst of the temple complex, is the enticement for being here. However, it’s a challenge to take photos without people in them.

I love the ema at Meigetsu-in with their painted hydrangeas.

ema at Meigetsu-in

ema at Meigetsu-in

Buddha cradling hydrangeas

hydrangea ema

The founder’s hall (Soyudo) is a thatched roof building that enshrines the temple’s founder and stores mortuary tablets of the succeeding head priests (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

Founder’s Hall (Soyudo)

water purification

hydrangea love by the Buddha

I love how the statues wear blue bibs and have hydrangeas artfully arranged around them.

hydrangeas at Meigetsu-in

Buddhist dignitaries

Buddhist dignitaries and hydrangeas

Buddhist figures

In the back of Meigetsu-in’s lush temple grounds stands the main hall (Hojo). The building features a nice circular window, which frames the scenery of the inner garden behind it. Sadly there is a huge crowd around the hall and a long queue to take a photo of the circular window.  Maybe if I have time, I can come back when hydrangea season is over and get a photo of this.

The Main Hall

The inner garden is known for its irises and is open to visitors only during two periods of about two weeks per year: in June when the irises are in bloom, and in late November/early December when the autumn colors are at their best (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin)

raked sand in the inner garden

pond in the inner garden

the inner garden

iris in the inner garden

irises

irises

I enjoy walking around the iris garden; I find a little waterfall on an adjacent path.

waterfall in the inner garden

From the inner garden, where the crowds are not so thick because of the additional entrance fee, I can see the round window of the Main Hall from the back side.  The round shape of the window means to be complete or perfect in Buddhist terminology.

the round window in the Main Hall – view from inner garden

the inner garden

Back in the main temple grounds, I make my way slowly to the entrance of the temple.  It’s slow going with the crowds and the many times I must stop to take photos. 🙂

There’s also a pretty bamboo grove at Meigetsu-in that towers overhead and glows in the sunlight.

bamboo forest at Meigetsu-in

bamboo looming

Oh, the hydrangeas at Meigetsu-in!  They’re so beautiful; I guess it’s no wonder Tokyo residents come out in droves to see them.

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

hydrangeas

When I’m finally able to get a photo of a shrine at Meigetsu-in, there are no hydrangeas in sight!

shrine at Meigetsu-in

Due to the temple’s name’s connection to the moon (Meigetsu literally means “bright moon”; and phonetically can also mean “harvest moon”), rabbits are associated with it in relation to the Japanese folklore of a rabbit pounding a rice cake on the moon. Accordingly, rabbit designs are found on some of the temple’s decorations, while a few real rabbits are kept in cages on the temple grounds (JapanGuide.com: Meigetsuin).

rabbit at Meigetsu-in

rabbits at Meigetsu-in

At long last, I’m released from the crowds at Meigetsu-in.  Now I need to find the beginning of the Daibutsu Hiking Course, a 3km wooded trail that connects Kita-Kamakura with the Daibutsu in Hase, and passes several small, quiet temples and shrines.

 

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