This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

He's Big, He's Bronze, He's Buddha

Thursday morning after breakfast Mika and I head out with our host, Rina, to see some sights. We hop on a trolley not far from the house for our first stop. There are temples all over the place in Kamakura. People use the trolley to temple and shrine hop. Our first stop of the day is at Jyojin temple. It is an outdoor stairwell that is lined with blossomed hydrangea. It is rainy season now so it is very green, the flowers are at full bloom and everyone knows about it. Today is Thursday and it feels busy. Rina assures us that the weekends are much worse. I hate extremely crowded events in Japan (and everywhere else really). When I lived here in 2006 whether it was fireworks, Christmas lights, or cherry blossoms the events are so packed with people all trying to view the same thing that even walking becomes a challenge. The Japanese seem to be used to it. I am not and probably never will be. In order to prevent a nervous breakdown in front of hundreds of strangers, I concentrate less on the beautiful thing we are all supposed to witness and use the event to closely observe my fellow humans.

We follow the small crowd on a narrow sidewalk and arrive at stairs leading up a hill. There are a few hydrangea bushes, and I am not sure what the fuss is about. At the landing there is a perpendicular set of steps leading up to the temple. We unanimously agree not to go into the temple and continue on about 20 feet when we hit a wall of people. Now I understand the fuss. There is a stairwell heading down the other side of the hill and walls of hydrangea are lining both sides. The purple, blue and white flowers are popping out of their green leafy base. From afar there is a view of the town and a small piece of ocean.
We make our way down the steps. There are many people snapping away with cameras and cell phones. On our way to the next destination we weave past people on narrow sidewalks browsing in stores and popping into an ice cream shop for some freshly made gelato.

The next place, and first on my list is Kamakura Daibutsu, The Great Buddha. I am not sure why, but I really enjoy visiting giant Buddha statues. Is it the fact that hundreds of years ago someone made such an enormous effort to display their devotion to their beliefs? Or is it that to my western perspective there is a definite kitsch to Buddha statues that I find endearing, and this warm feeling is grossly magnified in a 121 ton statue?
Rina leaves us to go run errands, and we enter the temple area. From over the main wall, we can see Daibutsu’s head in the distance. We pass the ticket booth and follow the pave stone path to the large statue that was completed in 1262. This is not a real holy place. It is more like an enjoyable break from the other more solemn temple and shrine visits. Very few people give coins and pray to Diabutsu. There are many school groups. Kids are running around everywhere. For only ¥20 (US 0.20) we can go inside the Buddha statue. Inside his bowels we see how the metal was welded together in a 30-part casting process. There is also some information about the construction and recent renovation. It is very hot inside a giant Buddha.
We leave Diabutsu and start thinking about our next stop. We check the map, but it is confusing. Throughout Kamakura there are large maps showing the locations of all the temples and shrines. The problem is that the map orientations are different everywhere. I do not see arrows indicating North. I let Mika navigate. It is lunchtime and we are debating the meal plan. Mika wants to sit and have lunch. I want to keep moving and eat near the next place. Usually when Mika is hungry her stomach takes control of the situation. I have much better camel reserves and will forge ahead with little nourishment. This is a reoccurring theme in our travels. I veto her first restaurant choice only 30 ft. from the Great Buddha entrance. She is starting to get cranky and luckily spots a small shop selling very large pork buns. Mika loves dim sum. Her stomach is happy, and a crisis has been avoided. It is now after 2 PM and most restaurants have closed for lunch. Now I am really hungry. We are near the next shrine. We go to a convenience store to rehydrate, and I get a bowl of cold udon (noodles) for lunch.
We arrive at the main road of Kamakura which will lead us to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, Kamakura‘s main shrine. The sidewalks are large and the street is busy with shoppers and tourists. We elect to walk on the raised pathway in the middle of the street that is lined with cherry trees. I am sure during cherry blossom viewing season this pathway is extremely packed, but right now there are very few pedestrians. We pass under the large red shrine gate and a long pathway leads to a plaza. For ¥100 ($1.10) Mika buys her fortune at the stand selling religious items. We walk up the steep steps to the shrine.
We come down on a more peaceful side trail that curves away from the main steps and passes through a wooded area. Mika spots a 4GB memory card on the ground. Now we have a big dilemma should we keep it, or do we give it to the lost and found. Since we are at an important shrine we ask the only pertinent question. What would Buddha do? It ends up that there is no lost and found, so Mika gives it to the girl at the stand selling religious doodads in case someone is looking for their lost photo memories from Kamakura. The girl seems very happy to have a new 4GB memory card.
The next day, Friday, we have only one temple on our agenda. We do not leave the house until 1 PM. Hōkokuji Temple is around a half hour walk from the train station. The first part of the walk is a part we had done the day before. The new part is uphill on, not necessarily a sidewalk, but a narrow part of the street blocked by a metal barrier. Cars and buses are whizzing closely by.
The entrance way to the temple is very green and mossy with a few statues. The main reason we came to Hōkokuji Temple is for its bamboo forest. We pay ¥200 ($2.40) each to enter. There is a stone path leading through the bamboo forest. For having such a narrow trunk bamboo stretches quite high. They also provide a lot of shade. There are several small, moss-covered, stone lanterns amongst the bamboo. It is a very peaceful and relaxing place.
Mika, tired from the uphill walk to the temple and not sleeping well, decides she wants to stop for an ice coffee on the way back to the train station. My body concurs that cold caffeine would hit the spot. We pass several small cafes, but Mika does not want to pay the more than $4 asking price for what is probably a very small drink. Half way back I guzzle a bottle of cold coffee from a convenient store. Mika holds out for better things. We trudge back to the station and finally find an air conditioned place where all travelers are welcome to rest their weary bones for as little as ¥100 ($1). McDonalds. Mika finally gets her ice coffee. I get a yogurt-ice cream. We have our treats and are just $2 poorer. We write a postcard, linger a bit and go out to buy groceries. We then take the trolley back to the house.

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