Archive for the ‘Japan’ Tag

meigetsu-in: the temple of the clear moon (aka the hydrangea temple)   9 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.

 

asakusa: kappabashi-dori plastic foods & another buddhist temple {walking tour 8: part 3}   12 comments

Sunday, June 11: After leaving Senso-ji, I continue my walk toward Kappabashi-dori, a street full of shops supplying the restaurant trade. These shops sell everything from knives and other kitchen utensils to mass-produced crockery, restaurant furniture, ovens and decor, such as lanterns and signs. The street also has some shops that sell plastic display foods (sampuru, derived from English sample) found outside Japanese restaurants.

“Shop Planing & Antique” on Kappabashi-dori

I drop into one shop that actually sells the plastic food items to tourists.

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

desserts: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

ice cream: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

pizza: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

sushi: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

snacks: plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

plastic foods on Kappabashi-dori

I don’t buy any of these enticing but oddly unsatisfying plastic foods, although in retrospect, they might have made for some interesting gifts. 🙂

I continue my walk to the train station, stopping in briefly at Honzan Higashi Hongan-ji along the way.

Approximately 400 years ago, in 1651, the Tokyo Hongan-ji Temple was established in the city of Edo (modern Tokyo) under the patronage of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu by Kyonyo Shonin (1558-1614). It was then known as the Edo Gobo Kozuiji Temple. After a fire in 1657, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple was moved to its current site in Asakusa and was called Asakusa Hongan-ji Temple. Then in 1965, Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple changed its name again to Tokyo Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.

It is presently the headquarters of the Jodo Shinshu Higashi Honganji Sect with a following of some 400 temples.  The door to this living Buddhist temple is open to all races, nationalities and people of the world.

Higashi Hongan-ji

Higashi Hongan-ji

I continue my walk to the train station, admiring all the offerings of plates and crockery along the way.

dishes for sale

Total steps: 11,834 (5.02 miles) 🙂

tokyo’s oldest buddhist temple: sensō-ji {walking tour 8: part 2}   4 comments

Sunday, June 11:  After enjoying my conveyor belt sushi lunch, I head to Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple.

According to legend, in the year 628, two Hamanari brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari, fished a statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon, the goddess of mercy, out of the Sumida River, and even though they put the statue back into the river, it kept returning to them. Consequently, Sensō-ji was built nearby for the goddess of Kannon. The temple was completed in 645, although most of its main buildings were rebuilt with concrete after they were burned down in World War II.

The temple’s first gate, the vermillion Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate), boasts a huge paper lantern, or Chochin, which is illuminated at night.  Chochin are Japanese lanterns traditionally made with a bamboo frame covered in silk or paper;  that have been crafted in Japan since 1085.

Kaminarimon Gate

After the Kaminarimon Gate is a long shopping street called Nakamise-dori, the Inside Shops Street.  This shopping street is within the temple compound.  Lots of people come here dressed in yukata, mainly to take pictures of themselves on the temple grounds.

the yukata stroll

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Nakamise Dori

Every sort of thing can be bought in the 150 shops that line this 984-foot-long street: masks, fans, Buddhist scrolls, combs, traditional sweets, woodblock prints, kimono and other robes, sandal socks, mobile phone straps, traditional sweets and meals.

masks on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

fans on Nakamise Dori

what-nots on Nakamise Dori

socks on Nakamise Dori

Down one of the side streets, the Tokyo Sky Tree is visible, an ever-present reminder of a modern city encroaching on a traditional temple.

Nakamise Dori

painting at Senso-ji

At the far end of Nakamise-dori is the Hozomon Gate, the Treasury Gate, of the temple.  The upper level still stores some 14th century Chinese sutras (Buddhist scriptures).  A large paper lantern hangs in this impressive gate.

the Hozomon

the Hozomon & the crowds

To the Hozomon’s left is the five-story Asakusa Pagoda, which was rebuilt in 1973. The pagoda contains bits of Buddha’s bones, a gift from Sri Lanka.

the Goju no To five-storied pagoda and a corner of the Hozomon

the Hozomon

lantern in the Hozomon

I encounter a couple of monks playing tourist on the temple grounds.

monk at Senso-ji

lantern in the Hozomon

Between the Hozomon and the Hondo (Main Hall) is a large bronze incense burner.  People stand around the incense sticks burning in the burner and, with their hands, waft the smoke toward afflicted parts of their bodies.  The smoke from the incense is said to have curative powers.

The Hondo (Main Hall of Senso-ji

Bronze incense burner with curative powers

I even do some wafting of the incense smoke, even though I don’t have any ailing parts to my body. 🙂

The Hondo

lantern in the Hondo

The temple is also known as the Kinryusan Senso-ji, the Golden Dragon Mountain Asakusa Temple, due to the legend of the dragon’s descent on the finding of the small golden Kannon.  Because of this, a dragon has been painted on the ceiling of the Hondo, the work of Kawabata Ryushi, while the angels and lotus flowers surrounding it are by Domoto Insho.

Dragon painting by Kawabata Ryushi

Angels and lotus flowers on the ceiling of Senso-ji, by Domoto Insho

The Hondo (Main Hall) of Senso-ji

Honda of Senso-ji

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

Hozomon Gate

the yukata stroll

On the backside of the Hozomon Gate are two oversized straw sandals, a gift from a provincial village to the temple.

giant straw sandals made to fit Deva Kings

monks in front of the pagoda

the Hondo

It’s fun to watch all the Japanese men and women here who are wearing the yukata, a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.  Yukata are worn by both men and women.

beautiful yukata in front of a food vendor

Yogodo Hall is where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Bosatsu are enshrined.

grounds of Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Yogodo Hall at Senso-ji

Little shrine

Inside Yogodo Hall

Yakushido Hall, built in 1649, is dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai, a Buddhist divinity of medicine.

Yakushido Hall

Awashima-do is the shrine of the guardian deity of women; this deity attends to female ailments.  Women often bring dolls to shrines such as this, which have proliferated all over Japan, so their dolls can serve as substitutes, taking on the donor’s ailment.  Eventually the dolls are burned in a religious ceremony in order to offer up prayers for relief from the ailment that has been transferred to the doll (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

another small shrine

a yukata gathering

colorful yukata

Tokyo Sky Tree

the five-story Asakusa Pagoda

The Asakusa Shrine is dedicated to the two fishermen brothers, Hinokuma and Takenari Hamanari, and their master, Hajo-no-Nakatomo.  The Honden, or Spirit Hall, is said to hold the spirits of the two brothers who found the Kannon image and their master, who enshrined the image.

Asakusa Shrine

ema at Senso-ji

Shafu are seen dashing down roadways pulling large carts behind them, usually with a tourist or two along for the ride. These rickshaw-pullers in Japan, usually slim muscular men who have to run long distances each day with passengers in tow, are considered appealing by many young Japanese women, according to the Japanator: Japanese ladies love them some rickshaw-pullers.

Shafu, rickshaw pullers in Japan

In front of Asakusa Shrine, a young lady in a hat and yukata is selling some fruity gelato bars.  I help myself to one of them and sit on a bench to enjoy.

ice cream for sale near Asakusa Shrine

the Hondo of Senso-ji

the Hozomon at Senso-ji

Two large bronze images of Bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who postpone entering nirvana so as to help those still living) sit on the temple grounds near the end of the Nakamise shops.  They were a gift from a rice merchant in honor of his deceased master in 1687.

Two Bodhisattvas

I am in awe of this shrine and the people who have flocked here to visit. Though it is one of Tokyo’s major tourist sites, it also seems to be a place of active worship and a symbol of tradition.

I leave the temple to explore a bit more of Asakusa, stopping at Kappabashi-dori and the street’s purveyors of plastic foods. 🙂

asakusa & a conveyor belt sushi lunch {walking tour 8: part 1}   6 comments

Sunday, June 11:  On this dreary Sunday, after my long Saturday at Enojima and Hasedera, I have just enough energy to attempt Walking Tour 8: Asakusa, Kappabashi and Minowa from my much-used book: Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City. The main sight to see in this area is the ancient Buddhist temple Senso-ji; other than that the walk doesn’t cover much territory.  I don’t intend to cover the Minowa part of the walk.  I figure I can handle a limited stroll today, especially as it’s cloudy and not too hot.

As soon as I take exit #1 from Asakusa Station onto Kaminarimon-dori, I see a typical Tokyo street scene.

first view of Asakusa

I walk toward the Sumida River and onto the bridge, where I can see two of Tokyo’s iconic landmarks: The Asahi Beer Hall and the Tokyo Sky Tree.  I’m glad to see the Asahi Breweries offices, as Asahi has become my go-to beer while in Japan.  I love it!

The Asahi Beer Hall, one of the buildings of the Asahi Breweries, is also known as Super Dry Hall or Flame d’Or.  Designed by French designer Philippe Starck, it was completed in 1989.  The shape of the building is that of a beer glass, designed to complement the neighboring golden beer mug-shaped building housing the Asahi Breweries offices.  It is noted for the Asahi Flame, an enormous golden structure at the top, said to represent both the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

The Asahi Flame is often colloquially referred to as “the golden turd” (kin no unko). Kin no unko (金のうんこ) or “golden poo” is a symbol of good luck, as the name is a pun meaning “golden poo” and “good luck” in Japanese (Wikipedia: kin no unko).

The Asahi Beer Hall itself is fondly known as “poo building” (unko-biru, うんこビル) by many Tokyo residents (Wikipedia: Asahi Beer Hall).

Asahi Breweries, Ltd. is a leading brewery and soft drink company in Tokyo. As of January 2014, Asahi, with a 38% market share, was the largest of the four major beer producers in Japan followed by Kirin Beer with 35% and Suntory with 15% (Wikipedia: Asahi Breweries).

view across the Sumida River to the 1989 Super Dry Hall, aka the Asahi Brewery Building and the Tokyo Sky Tree

The Sumida River

boat on the Sumida River

I’d have to get on the train again to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree, which looks closer than it is. Its observation deck is also quite expensive and it’s too cloudy to get a decent view today anyway.  So I’ll have to admire it from afar.

parting shot of two Tokyo landmarks

On the corner near the bridge, I find this Sushi go-round restaurant, where sushi is served on a conveyor belt.  No one speaks English so it takes me a while to figure out the system and the cost, but when I do, I enjoy a great lunch before going on my way to Senso-ji.

a conveyor belt sushi restaurant

inside the conveyor belt sushi restaurant

P6110776

street in Asakusa

Below is my route to Asakusa this morning. As you can see, it’s always quite convoluted to get anywhere in Tokyo, since I live on the outskirts.

I’m now on my way to Senso-ji.

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!

a june day on the tiny island of enoshima   2 comments

Saturday, June 10: Enoshima (江の島) is a small offshore island, about 4km in circumference, at the mouth of the Katase River, which flows into the Sagami Bay of Kanagawa Prefecture.  I take a trip down to the island this Saturday morning and end up at the bright red Enoshima Station.

Enoshima Station

Katase, the gateway city to Enoshima, is linked to the island by the 600-meter-long Enoshima Benten-bashi Bridge.  On another bridge, I get a view inland to Katase.

Inland waterway at Enoshima

After stopping by Tourist Information, I walk across the Enoshima Benten-bashi Bridge to the busy island.  The first wooden bridge to Enoshima was built in 1891.  Before then, when the tide was high, visitors rode on tiny boats or piggybacked on someone’s shoulders to travel between Katase Beach and Enoshima Island.  The vehicle bridge was built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

A lot of water activities are going on from jet skiing to sailing to windsurfing.

Enoshima Shrine Memorial

Enoshima Benten-bashi

The Enoshima Island Spa looks a bit like an Italian villa.  A show-off guy on a jet ski roars around doing figure-eights around the anchored jet skis.

jet skis and Enoshima Island Spa

I don’t know how this has happened, but I have arrived here with hardly any money, so I ask someone at Tourist Information on this side of the bridge about a Japan Post ATM; he directs me under the Bronze Torii Gate and up the main pedestrian walkway. I find the ATM and get some money.  Now I can look for something to eat. 🙂

The Bronze Torii Gate at the entrance to Enoshima was rebuilt in 1821;  it is a cultural asset of Fujisawa City.  The plaque atop the gate has the name of the main deity: “Enoshima Daimyojin.” After passing through the torii gate, the bustling approach to the shrine is packed with marine product shops, souvenir shops, inns, and traditional restaurants. The width of the street has not changed over the years.

Bronze Torii Gate

I see people walking around nibbling on giant sheets, made of what looks like heavy-duty cardboard, with some kind of fish baked into them. They’re bizarre looking, and I wonder what on earth they are.  Later I find they are a type of rice cracker, Maruyaki Takosenbei, made using an entire octopus.

Bronze Torii Gate

Hydrangea season is upon us now that it’s June, so I’m happy to find a couple of the beautiful blooms here on Enoshima.

hydrangea

Anywhere you go in Japan, you can find a little shrine of some kind tucked away into a small alcove.

small shrine

I’m always drawn to wind chimes, especially colorful ones.

wind chimes

There are three different shrines on Enoshima that are collectively known as Enoshima Shrine. They are all dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten, the island’s patron goddess all things that flow: words, eloquence, good fortune, wealth, music, and knowledge.  In the popular imagination she is the goddess of love.

According to Japanese mythology, Benzaiten created Enoshima Island as part of her battle with a troublesome sea dragon.

Zuishinmon

ceiling

part of Enoshima Shrine

Enoshima Shrine (Hetsunomiya) actually consists of three separate shrine pavilions: Hetsunomiya, Nakatsunomiya, and Okutsunomiya.  Each one is dedicated to a different goddess of the sea.  The main pavilion, Hetsunomiya, enshrines Tagitsuhimenomikoto.  The majestic worship hall was moved to the island by the Buddhist monk Ryoshin in 1206.  The present building was remodeled in 1976.

Enoshima Shrine (Hetsunomiya)

The Enoshima Benzaiten is one of three major Benzaiten shrines in Japan; the others are Hiroshima’s Miyajima, and Chikubushima in Shiga. Benzaiten is also popular as the only female among the Shichifukujin (Seven Gods of Good Fortune).  People in the Kamakura period (1192-1333) enshrined the eight-armed Benzaiten to pray for victims in battle. The character of Benzaiten worship later changed, and Edo era believers sought the two-armed (naked) Benzaiten’s help to improve their artistic and musical skills.

I pay an admission fee to go in to the Hoanden, or Octagonal Hall for the Statues: Hadaka (Naked) Benzaiten and Happi Benzaiten (Eight-armed Benzaiten). However, I’m not allowed to take pictures of the sacred statues, so I’ve included the sign with pictures below.

Hoanden (Octagonal Hall for the Statues)

Happi Benzaiten (Eight-armed Benzaiten) & Hakada (Naked) Benzaiten

Hoanden (Octagonal Hall for the Statues)

Enoshima Shrine offers pink ema with hearts on them, popular among couples.

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

Ema at Enoshima Shrine

View of Enoshima Benten-bashi from Enoshima Shrine

artistic rendering of Enoshima

As I climb up the rocky outcrop that is Enoshima, I catch a fabulous view to the north of Enoshima Yacht Harbor and the Enoshima Shonan Yacht Club House, along with the mainland of Katase across Shonan Harbor.

view of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

view of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya) was built by Jikaku Daishi in 853 to worship the deity Ichikishimahimenomikoto.  The present shrine pavilion was rebuilt in 1689 and then remodeled again in September 1996. In 2011, new items enhancing “the shrine’s magnificence” were added: the carved transom fences on both sides of the hall which depict the four seasons, and the “Suikinkutsu” which makes a mysterious sound when water drips into it.

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya)

Enoshima Shrine (Nakatsunomiya)

hydrangea heaven

hydrangea

The Enoshima Sea Candle is 60 meters (196.2 ft) high and 119.6 meters above sea level.  I don’t go up into the lighthouse observation tower today because it’s hazy and partly cloudy so I doubt I’d be able to the see the views of Mt. Fuji to the west, the Miura Peninsula to the east, or Oshima Island to the south.

Onetime Sea Candle (Lighthouse Observation Tower)

Looking out over the harbor from Enoshima Island, I can see a sailing regatta. Apparently, Enoshima will be the sailing and surfing venue for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

view from Enoshima

The branch temple of Enoshima Daishi was established by the Shingon Buddhist temple Saifukuji in Kagoshima in 1993.  A pair of red-faced Akafudo statues stand fiercely at the entrance.

red character at Enoshima Daishi

Enoshima Daishi

Figure at Enoshima Daishi

flowers at Enoshima Daishi

Statue at Enoshima Daishi

I am inspired by my Japanese Instagram friend Yukie, who adores Portugal and is always posting pictures of laundry throughout that country, to take photos of this laundry blowing in the strong wind near Enoshima Daishi.

laundry on the balcony

Yama Futatsu (Ridge between the Island’s two highlands)

Looking down over the south coast of the island, I can see sailboats in the distance.

Yama Futatsu with sailing regatta in the distance

Shrine along the way

stone lantern and hydrangea

Atop a “dragon cave” on Enoshima is a fierce-looking dragon.  The dragon is the stuff of legend on Enoshima.

According to Wikipedia:

The Enoshima Engi (江嶋縁起) is a history of the temples and shrines on the island.  It was written in Chinese, the scholarly language of the time, by the Japanese Buddhist monk Kōkei in 1047 AD.  The Enoshima Engi consists of two parts. The first tells the story of the tribulations of prehistoric villagers who lived in the vicinity of  Enoshima. The villagers were plagued for a period of a thousand-some years by a destructive, five-headed dragon in a nearby lake. Aware of their suffering, on May 31, 552 AD, the Goddess Benzaiten caused the island of Enoshima to arise from the bottom of the bay to serve as her abode. She then descended onto the island amidst a series of spectacular terrestrial and aerial phenomena. The dragon fell in love with the beautiful goddess and asked her to be his consort. Benzaiten, who was widely known for her persuasive eloquence, rejected the dragon’s proposal and made it understand that it had been doing wrong by plaguing the villagers. Ashamed, the dragon promised to cease its wrongdoing. It then faced south (devotedly facing the island where Benzaiten lived) and changed into a hill. To this day, the hill is known as Dragon’s-Mouth Hill.

fierce dragon

inner shrine

shrine at Enoshima

manhole cover at Enoshima

The wind is blowing fiercely today and, as I’m walking up a sandy path, I’m pelleted by stinging sand.  I feel like I’m in the midst of a desert sandstorm.  When I come to a high clearing, I find Koibito no Oka, the Love Bell, sitting pretty with a good view of Sagami Bay. It is customary for couples to ring the bell together for good luck in romance. It’s also a tradition for couples to write a message on a lock and leave it hanging at the site.

locks overlooking the sea

I stop at a restaurant overlooking the south side of the island. I’d like to sit at a window seat in open air, but the wind is blowing so fiercely that the restaurant has closed all the windows on the balcony and is not seating anyone out there.  So I sit inside and order my favorite go-to meal of shrimp tempura with some accompaniments.

a tempura lunch

While going down the stairs to the southern coast, there are some stone monuments on the landing overlooking the Chigogafuchi Abyss.  The second one from the right has a haiku poem by the famous poet Matsuo Basho (Edo period).  Hattori Nankaku is famous for his verses.  He was born in Kyoto and studied under Ogyu Sorai in Edo.

Monuments overlooking Chigogafuchi Abyss

walking down to the sea

The name “Chigogafuchi Abyss” comes from the tragic tale of a chigo (a young Buddhist page) at the Sojoin Temple in Kamakura.  His name was Shiragiku and he killed himself by jumping into the deep water here.

The wind is so headstrong here that the waves are hurling themselves over the rocks and a man is shouting things I don’t understand through a megaphone.  The path shown in the photo below is closed off; I’m disappointed as I hoped to walk along the rocky coast here.  It turns out the man is trying to round-up all the people on the rocks and have them move to higher ground.  When he finally succeeds, he cordons off the area and we have no choice but to stand observe the unruly sea from above.

the restless sea

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

I love watching the roiling sea while the wind whips my hair all about.  I love windy days!!

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

the sea at Enoshima

After enjoying the crazy antics of the waves against the rocks, I climb the steep stairs back to the top of the island.

climbing the long steps up again

hydrangeas at Enoshima

all abloom

On the way down from the top, I catch another view of the Enoshima Yacht Harbor and the Enoshima Shonan Yacht Club House.

View of Enoshima Yacht Harbor

Enoshima Yacht Harbor

another shrine on Enoshima

Olympic Memorial Fountain

Sagami Bay from the beach at Enoshima

I finish my walk around Enoshima and though it’s been a long day, I decide I should take the Enoden train to visit Hasadera, a temple that is known for its fabulous hydrangea walk.  As it’s the season for hydrangea, I figure I should go since the temple is not that far away.  Little do I know the hassles I will encounter, and that I will have to visit Hasadera three times to finally be able to do the hydrangea walk!

Most of the information in this blog post, unless otherwise indicated, is from an excellent tourist brochure, the “Enoshima Illustrated Map,” created by the Fujisawa City Tourist Center: Katase Enoshima Tourist Information Center.

 

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   5 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.

IMG_4996

my students from I class on yukata day

IMG_5001

my students from I class on yukata day

IMG_5003

my students from I class on yukata day

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. 🙂

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