Revisiting Kamakura

We’ve been having a recent string of fantastic weather during the weekends, so it’s been quite conducive to travel.  The lighting has also been lovely as well–the only problem is that once the sun begins to set it turns chilly very quickly.

A local favorite spot of ours is Kamakura, which is littered with shrines and temples.  During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), it was the former de facto capital of Japan, and the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency.  The center of the city is the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, but there are a smattering of other spiritual landmarks.  Plum blossom season is upon us here in Japan, but it’s still a bit early to see fully blossomed trees.  The buds are still in their early stages, but most likely within a few weeks we’ll see some beautiful pinks and reds filling the grounds of these complexes.

The first stop on our “Temple Tour” as we dubbed it (there was a senior citizen walking tour we inadvertently ended up joining at one point), was Egara Tenjin-sha.  One of Japan’s three famous shrines dedicated to the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, god of scholarship.  In 1104 legend has it that this shrine was built because a picture of the Tenjin god, or the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, fell to this place from the sky during a rain storm.  As a result, much like Yushima Tenjin in Tokyo, students from all around flock to pray for success on their school examinations, as hundreds of wooden ema hang with wishes inscribed on them.

Omikuji, “fortunes,” tied and offered up

 

I can’t wait until the trees are filled with these.  Following the Egara Tenjin-sha we made stop number two, at another small shrine, although I can not remember the name.  But pictures to follow:

We made our way towards Zuisen-ji Temple, which was the site we had ultimately been going to see.  Because it is so early, the plum blossoms were still just buds, so we need to come back in a few weeks, but a few flowers had already bloomed.

Our friend M. looking very thoughtful

Our final stop brought us to a temple up a considerable amount of stairs.  Again I will have to look up the name of the temple, but we had a clear view of Mount Fuji at the top.  This was yet another temple dedicated to the goddess Kannon.

The goddess, Kannon

Sensoji Temple + Asakasa

In Asakasa, Tokyo, looms an intimidating red gate; known as the “Kaminarimon,” or “Thunder Gate.”  It is the symbol for the city of Asakasa, and quite easily one of the most iconic places in Japan.

On the eastern side of the gate sits Fujin, the Shinto god of wind, and on the western side sits Raijin, the god of thunder.  Although Sensoji is a Buddhist temple, like most religious sites in Japan, it is its own unique blend of both Buddhism and Shinto  Once through the Kaminarimon, you come to the Nakamisedoori, which is a long straightaway stretch to the main hall.  The Nakamisedoori is lined with nearly 100 small shops, selling souvenirs, traditional sweets, toys, Buddhist mementos, you name it.

At the end of the Nakamisedoori, there is another gate; the Hozomon Gate, or “Treasure House Gate.”  Inside this gate are housed the temple’s most treasured sutras, including the lotus sutra.

The red chochin (collapsible lantern) above me weighs 400kg

Facing back toward the Hozomon Gate; cleansing incense visible rising.  Thousands of people flood this complex to pray for mercy from the Bodhisattva Guanyin, or in Japanese, pronounced “Kannon.”  Legend has it that in 628, two fishermen found a statue of Kannon in the Sumida River.  After returning to their village, the two fishermen brought it to their chief, and he, upon recognizing it immediately as the goddess, enshrined the statue.  The first temple was built in 645 by the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The temple is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people; the original was destroyed in an air raid during World War II.

Kannon painted on the ceiling of the main hall

Street vendors outside the temple.

 

And just for fun from Asakasa…

The Asahi Beer headquarters, known for its iconic “golden poo.”  It is supposedly meant to represent both the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’ and a frothy head.

Lanterns from the city.

Plum Blossom Festival + Ueno Park

Absolutely gorgeous day out today.  We headed up to Tokyo for the Plum Blossom viewing, which spans from January to March.  For travelers in the vicinity, there are a myriad of sites all over Japan to view the blossoms; we happened to pick Yuushima Tenjin shrine near Okachimachi Station.  Yushima Tenjin is dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a plum blossom aficionado and historical figure deified as a Shinto god of scholarship.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of wooden ema, or the wooden plates that people can write down their pleas to the gods.  Students come to ask for success on their high school or college entrance examinations, as evidenced by the myriad of plates crying, “GOKAKU KIGAN” or “Prayer for school success.”

Students looking at ema.

“Prayer for school success to Kitazono High School.”

Vendors at the shrine.

The first sighting of the blossoms.

Following our visit to Yuushima Tenjin, we made our way to Ueno Park.

Peonies with their snow-huts for protection.

Finally, we made our way back to Okachimachi Station, but not without first making a visit to Ameyoko or Ameya Yokocho (candy shop alley or, alternatively, America alley).  In the years following World War II, many American goods were sold here when the street was the site of a black market.  Now a plethora of things are available: candy, 100 yen store goods, clothing, fresh fish, fruit, street food, and much more.

A woman buying “giri chocolate.”  In Japan, it is customary for women to give men chocolate on Valentine’s Day.  If the man reciprocates, he will purchase chocolate for the woman on “White Day” (March 14th).  Quite a clever way for the Japanese companies to rake in more sales.  However, not such a pleasant experience for women, who do not only have to buy chocolate for the object of their affection, but the majority of male colleagues in the workplace.  “Giri” actually translates to “Obligatory.”  The same male colleagues will reciprocate a month later to those who gave them chocolate.

A. contemplating what to buy from a wall of okashi, or “snacks.”

The end to another successful day of sightseeing, until next time!

Yokohama Chuukagai (Chinatown)

Today I woke up to bright, clear blue skies and sunlight streaming in through the windows.  Compared to the last few weekends, which have been gray and rainy, it was a very pleasant change to behold.  Weather-wise, it was actually quite warm in the sun, and all in all a good day to be outside walking about.  We made our way up North to Yokohama, and being the Chinese New Year had recently taken place, we thought it fitting to visit Chuukagai (Chinatown).

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Instead of shops full of counterfeit designer watches and handbags, Yokohama Chinatown is largely comprised of restaurants (Chinese food with a Japanese twist) and souvenir shops.  Today was quite crowded–as evidenced by the above photograph–so making our way through the streets was a bit challenging.  We did, however, manage to make our way over to the Mazu temple, which is dedicated to the goddess Mazu, who gives protection for safe transit on the high seas.  Image

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After visiting and paying respects to Mazu, we continued on to the Kwan Temple, dedicated to Guan Yu, a famous general who played a significant role in the collapse of the Han Dynasty.  He was elevated to the status of deity under the Sui Dynasty, and is worshipped as a saint who blesses those who observe the code of brotherhood and righteousness (with respect mainly to warriors).

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Once we had our fill of Chinatown we made our way back to Minatomirai, the Yokohama cosmopolitan zenith.  Our friend had been very adamant earlier in the day that he was on a mission to find the fabled Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop; lo and behold, after much searching it was found, and the day ended successfully, donuts and all.

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