Tuesday, May 16, 2006

First Day

Today, John and I visited Kamakura, a few JR train stops from Hayama. Kamakura is usually described as a good day-trip from Tokyo, but there’s enough to do that it would be better to spend the night. John and I have the luxury of spending three whole days only a few minutes away, so we’re not breaking our necks to see everything. John of course has seen most of this before, but he hasn’t photographed everything he wants to yet, so in a way it’s new to him, too.

We first went to the Hachimangu Shrine, which is at the end of a long, narrow, cherry-tree lined pedestrian walkway. Like all Shinto shrines, it has an enormous Torii gate (wooden, red, with a double crossbar) in front of it. It’s a popular spot for school trips, and it was hard to get photos without little yellow-hatted ducklings all over the place. A few tried out “hellos” on us, but it was refreshing to be in Asia and not feel like a Bigfoot sighting.

The next stop was the Hase Kannon temple, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the goddess of Mercy. The statue of her is 30 feet high and has 11 heads. And it’s 1200 years old. What really makes this temple interesting (I was going to say “unique,” but John says this is actually common) is that the grounds are covered with statues of Jizo. According to John’s partner, Jizo was originally considered a sort of patron saint of travelers, but somehow the concept got caught up in the idea of life being a journey, and now Jizo is known as the guardian of children. At this particular temple, however the statues are left in honor not just of any children, but specifically to remember miscarried or stillborn children. The atmosphere isn’t morbid, but it is solemn, and it’s just another reminder that I’m in a very different kind of place.

On a lighter note, we had lunch at a soba noodle restaurant in the hills overlooking Kamakura. The restaurant, called Raitei, is in a 400-year-old wooden building that used to be a private home in Yokahama (how they ever got it up the hill, which a bus could barely navigate, is beyond me). As if that wasn’t cool enough, the garden surrounding the building is great for walking. I’m not normally a garden kind of gal, but this garden is not centered around the foliage. It’s pretty overgrown, but it hides all sorts of sculptural surprises, and you feel like Indiana Jones when you explore and suddenly find a nest of stone bodhisattvas half reclaimed by vines.

SO far Jizo must be looking out for me, because it’s been a great first day, with no serious jet lag and a lot of really interesting sights.

Here's a link to some photos of the things I've been talking about.

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