a hopeful trip to hasedera (attempt #1): too late for the hydrangea walk :-(   2 comments

Saturday, June 10: After leaving Enoshima at 3:30, I debate whether I should try to go to Kamakura’s Hasedera Temple to see the hydrangea.  I’m so close, or so I think, that I should be able to squeeze it in while I’m here in the south of Kamakura.  I’m already tired from my walk all around Enoshima, but, in a foolhardy last-minute decision, I decide I’ll “hop” on the Enoden Line and go for it.

The Enoden, or Enoshima Electric Railway, is a 10km long private railway that connects Kamakura Station in Kamakura with Fujisawa Station.  The line is single-track; however, five of the route’s fifteen stations are equipped with passing loops, allowing for bi-directional traffic. Stations en route include Hase, the stop closest to Kōtoku-in (高徳院), the temple with the Great Buddha, or the Daibutsu (大仏).  It’s also very close to Hasedera Temple, known for its eleven-headed Hase Kannon Buddhist statue and its abundance of hydrangea in June.

Enoshima Station on the Enoden Line

Little do I know how much of a hassle it will be taking the Enoden Line.  Though it is considered a charming mode of transportation, it is not so charming when hordes of people are trying to take it. The trains run infrequently, have a small number of cars, and run on a single track line.  All of these factors, combined with huge crowds attempting to visit the hydrangea in Kamakura, make it frustrating and claustrophobic.  Crowds are packed on the platform and when the train comes, people pack into the trains so tightly, it is difficult to move or breathe. I am the last to squeeze onto the train and my nose is almost caught by the closing doors!  The people standing behind me are left on the platform to wait for another train. Only a smattering of those people will be able to get on the next train.

I arrive at Hasedera after 4:15, which is rather short-sighted as most Buddhist temples close at 4:30 or 5:00.  I don’t know when I first enter the temple grounds that there is a special ticket one has to get to do the “hydrangea walk.” I meander around the grounds, admiring the few hydrangea near the bottom of the hill, along with the pretty ponds and gardens.

water garden at hasedera

water garden at hasedera

hasedera gardens

a stone lantern and pond at Hasedera

Hydrangea at Hasedera

figures at Hasedera

iris blooming at Hasedera

After wandering around the ground level gardens for a while, I follow some people up the steps to the small Jizo-do Hall. This small building enshrines Fukujyu Jizo. Here, visitors can pray for easy childbirth and prosperity.  Surrounding the hall are thousands of little Jizo statues standing in long rows.  The statues are there to comfort the souls of miscarried and deceased children. Jizo is a Buddhist saint who saves people and is believed to protect children.

little shrine

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

small Jizō statues at Hasedera

incense burner at Hasedera

After admiring all the Jizo, I continue up the steps until I come to the Kannon-do Hall. The statue of Hase Kannon is housed here.  It is 9.18 meters (30.1 ft.) tall and is one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.  It has eleven heads in addition to its main one: three on the front, the right, the left, one at the top and another on the back.  Each face has a different expression, signifying that the Kannon listens to the wishes of all types of people and leads them away from distress.

According to legend, in 721 AD, the pious monk Tokudo Shonin discovered a sacred large camphor tree near the village of Hase in the Nara region. He commissioned two sculptors to carve two eleven-headed Kannon statues. The statue carved from the lower part of the trunk was enshrined in Hasedera Temple in Nara, and the statue from the upper half was thrown into the sea with a prayer that it would reappear to save the people.

Fifteen years later, on the night of 18 June 736, it washed ashore at the Nagai Beach on the Miura Peninsula not far from Kamakura, sending out rays of light in the process. The statue was then brought to Kamakura and a temple was constructed to honor it.

Kannon-dō (Main hall) at Hasedera

Although Kannon is usually described in English as “the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,” strictly speaking it is neither masculine or feminine.  Kannon is a future Buddha, destined for enlightenment, who has vowed to save all sensitive beings and represents compassion, mercy and love.  Sadly, no photography is allowed inside the hall.

Next to Kannon-do is Amida-do Hall, where the golden seated statue of Amida Nyorai, one of Kamakura’s six principal statues of Amida Buddha is enshrined.

Amida-do Hall

The Amida statue is 2.8 meters (9.2 feet) in height, not including its large halo.  According to legend, in 1194, Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, commissioned the statue for warding off evil.  In later years, people came to believe it would expel evil spirits and offer protection against misfortune.

Amida Nyorai

To the right of Amida-do, there is a massive bronze bell.  The Shoro Belfry was constructed in 1955 and the current bell was cast in 1984.  The original bell, which was cast in 1264 (currently exhibited in the museum), is the oldest artifact where the title of Hasedera can be recognized.  It is the third oldest bell among Kamakura’s temples.

Following the Buddhist tradition, the bell is rung 108 times around midnight on New Year’s Eve to dispel the 108 sufferings of humanity.  This ritual is called Joya no Kane.

bell tower

The enshrined deity at Inari-Sha (Kakigara Inari) was initially dedicated to “Kojin” (god of the cooking stove and fire). The shrine was rebranded as Inari-sha in later years.  According to the legend surrounding the history of the Kannon statue, it appeared floating on the sea, drifting ashore with the guidance of “kakigara” (oyster shells) attached to the statue. This Inari-sha was established to enshrine the Kakigara and to receive the divine guidance of Kannon.

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

oyster shell wishes

holy place

ema at Hasedera

I see a sign for Ajisai, which means hydrangea in English, to the left side of Kannon-do.  The sign tells something in Japanese about the Ajisai Garden, which has around 2,500 hydrangea of 40 different species planted on its grounds. On the steps of Kannon-do, I see people lounging around on the steps. It’s surprising, as this is rarely seen at Buddhist temples. In a small courtyard, a large crowd stands in a cordoned queue.

I try to walk into the entrance to join the queue, but the man there asks for my numbered ticket.  I don’t have a numbered ticket.  He says if I entered Hasedera after 4:00, it was too late to get a numbered ticket, and thus it is impossible to go on the hydrangea walk today.

Later, I realize that those people lounging on the steps were waiting for their number to be called for the Ajisai.

I have come all this way to be met with disappointment, as far as the hydrangea are concerned.  Still, Hasedera is a magnificent temple, so I try to make the best of it despite being tired from walking all around Enoshima earlier today.  At this point, I determine that I will come back another day; after all, I still have yet to see the Daibutsu, the Big Buddha, just a 5-minute walk from Hasedera.  I will have to arrive here earlier in order to get in the queue for the hydrangea walk.

This is the problem with being a foreigner in Japan, or in any country for that matter.  Since we don’t know the language, we’re often out of the loop in matters such as these.  For example, I came all this way without knowing that I had to get a timed ticket for the hydrangea walk.  I thought I could just go to Hasedera and walk around the grounds and see the hydrangea.

Kannon-dō (Main hall) at Hasedera

Near the courtyard are some adorable Bussokuseki, footprints of the Gautama Buddha. There are two forms: natural, as found in stone or rock, and those made artificially.  These are floating in a stone bowl.

Buddha’s footprints

garden of delight

Buddha’s footprints

Hasedera

In the Kyozo (space for storing Buddhist scriptures), there is a rotary bookshelf called a Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you will receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures. There are also eighteen prayer wheels called Mani-guruma which you can turn to receive virtue such as that from the Rinzo.

Kyozo

For people like me who can’t walk up the hill for the hydrangea walk, we can observe the people walking up the hill from a bamboo grove near the Kyozo.

bamboo grove at Hasedera

mini garden at Hasedera

From below, we can see the people who were fortunate enough to go on the hydrangea walk today.  It seems the hydrangea have some blooming ahead, so I’m sure I will see them one of the weekends in June.

the hill of hydrangeas – off limits today 😦

stone lantern

On the far side of the upper level is an observation platform overlooking the Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches as well as Sagami Bay with the Sushi Marina and the Miura Peninsula in the distance. Luckily it’s a clear day today, so I have a fantastic view.

view of Sagami Bay from Hasedera

view from Hasedera

Kannon-dō (Main hall)

I head back down the steps and walk back through the pretty gardens to get to the exit.

carp pond

pathway

pond at Hasedera

pond at Hasedera

Before I leave, I take a slight detour to visit the Benten-kutsu Cave, where Benzaiten, the Goddess of water and wealth, and her followers of Sixteen Children are chiseled out of the rock walls. Benzaiten is the only female among the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune.

little Buddha

torii leading to the cave, called benten kutsu (Benzaiten Grotto)

Benzaiten Grotto

ema at Benzaiten Grotto

pond at Hasedera

gardens at Hasedera

small shrine at Hasedera

By the time I leave Hasedera, it’s 5:20. As I wander down the main street, I find a small temple tucked into a short path off the street.  Here, I find some gorgeous hydrangea.

hydrangeas

rich blooms

hydrangeas

pretty in pink

white blooms

leafy wonders

hydrangea heaven

 

The main street where Hasedera sits also leads to the Big Buddha, but I know the temple will be closed by this time, so I don’t bother.  I have a plan to walk the Daibutsu hiking trail from Kita-Kamakura one day soon, ending up at the Big Buddha.  I will try to do the whole hike one day in June: the Daibutsu trail leading to the Big Buddha and then a return to Hasedera for the hydrangea walk.

On the street back to Hase Station, I stop in at some souvenir shops with some interesting flip-flops and seashell wind chimes.

fish flip flops

Japanese themed flip flops

sea shells wind chimes

Finally, I’m back at the Enoden Line, where the trains are so packed, I can’t even make it on to the first train that stops and I have to wait another 10 minutes or so for the next train.  At that time, I pack onto the train with hundreds of mainly Japanese, and some foreign, tourists. It’s amazing to me how the Japanese never seem to be flustered by anything. Despite frustrations and inconveniences, long queues, crowds, heat and humidity, they simply soldier through.  My students tell me most Japanese people don’t have any religion, yet I see Japanese people actively worshipping at every Buddhist temple and I see it in their acceptance of life as it is; as this is a core Buddhist teaching, I find it hard to believe they don’t have any religion or faith.

the Enoden Line

All information about Hasedera is from an English brochure created by Hasedera Temple (Hase Kannon).

Total steps today: 21,082 (8.93 miles).  Thank goodness the weather wasn’t too hot and there was a nice strong wind!

2 responses to “a hopeful trip to hasedera (attempt #1): too late for the hydrangea walk :-(

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  1. Even though you missed the hydrangea, the rest of the afternoon was delightful. Except for the train rides – they wouldn’t have been pleasant.

  2. The train journey to get to this beautiful spot sounds dreadful, but worth doing for the lovely sights you saw. I hope you manage to get back another time and go on the hydrangea walk.

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