Triathlons, Temples, Typhoons, Oh-my!

Kamakura

Today the winds have been continuously howling from a typhoon that is offshore, and luckily for me, that translated into an extra–much-needed –day off from work.

Recently a work colleague asked if I wanted to participate in a local triathlon, and since I am training for the Fuji Marathon in November, I decided to take him up on the offer.  I am a distance runner, swimmer, but I don’t have my own road bike at the moment and so that was the one portion of the race I wasn’t sure about.  I actually have never ridden a road bike…well….ever.  Needless to say it was going to be an interesting experience!  There is actually a lot more that goes into doing a multi-event race than just a run, because there is all this extra gear and the placement of the gear.  Some people really take the time to arrange things just perfectly.  Let me tell you how that goes in reality: “Oh my god, oh my god gotta move–going so slow–oh crap is the shirt inside-out?  WHY CAN’T I GET THESE BIKE SHORTS ON?!  Okay getting on the bike…crap, wait I have to walk the bike to the course entrance point…ok run the bike there–ok on the bike.  HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN RIDING??  HOW MUCH LONGER??”  And then my personal favorite is the transition from the bike to the run, because YOUR LEGS FEEL LIKE JELLO.  I ended up hitting all the times I was aiming for, so for a first race it was successful.

Yesterday we headed up to Kamakura because a friend was visiting and we wanted to show him some of the local heritage sites.  We took the enoden from Kamakura station to Hase station and made our way to Kotoku-in, which is the temple housing the Dai-Butsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura.

Buddha

The structure that stands today may or may not be the original, which dates back to 1252, during the Kamakura Period.  Originally, the Buddha was enclosed in a hall, but a tsunami in 1498 washed it away, and the Buddha has stood in the open air since.  The structure was also orignally gilded, but having been exposed to the elements, it has all but faded entirely.  A notice on the entrance to the grounds reads:

“Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”

Our next stop was Hasedera, a temple dedicated to Kannon.  The temple is on the side of a hill and offers some impressive views of the Kamakura shoreline.  The main structure on the grounds houses a giant wooden statue of Kannon.  The legend goes, a monk once carved two statues of Kannon from great tree.  One was enshrined in Nara, the other set adrift to find the place it had a connection with.  It washed ashore in Kamakura and was enshrined there.

ShintoYoung woman in a kimono partakes in purification before ascending the mountain to the main complex.

Hase-dera

 

jizo

 

Jizo

 

Jizo

 

Statues offered by parents mourning miscarried, stillborn, or aborted foetuses to the Buddhist deity Ksitigarbha, or “Jizo” as he is known in Japanese.

Hase-Dera

 

Kamakura

 

 

 

Advertisements

Kamakura Again and Return to Shizuoka

599763_576012175629_1005143168_n

These past two weeks have been quite busy at work, but definitely not busy enough to stop us from enjoying the good weather and traveling a bit.  To catch up, last weekend we traveled to Kita-Kamakura to visit some famous Zen sites.  We started the day at Engaku-ji, one of the most important Zen Buddhist complexes in Japan, and ranked 2nd among Kamakura’s “Five Mountains,” or state-sponsored Zen complexes.

601433_576011372239_1684704715_n

This temple was founded in 1282 by a Zen priest at the request of the Regent Tokimune Hojo.  It was built to honor those killed in battles against the Mongolian Invasion between 1274 and 1281, obviously as well as to spread Zen thought.  There are 18 temples on the complex, and it is home to 2 national treasures: the Shari-den (the Reliquary Hall built in the sixteenth century Chinese style, said to house the tooth of Buddha), and the Great Bell (said to be the largest in Kamakura).  You can read more about Engaku-ji here.

544486_576011387209_1910663420_n

486112_576011357269_226395908_n

295663_576011302379_763967259_n

After walking around Engaku-ji we made our way over to Tokei-ji, founded in 1285 by the wife of Hojo Tokimune, who then became a nun after his death.  In memory of her husband’s death, she opened the temple, also making it a place for battered women to take refuge.  If a women stayed at Tokei-ji for 3 years, the state recognized her as officially divorced.  It is estimated that 2000 women took refuge there.

562217_576012140699_983390089_n-1

486143_576012125729_1302571751_n

This weekend I visited my favorite place in Japan: Shizuoka.  A few weeks ago my friend S. came up from Shizuoka to visit me.  We were classmates in Shizuoka Johoku Girls High School (now co-ed).  We met up with a few of our other friends and went to Muse Cafe, which is full of stuffed pandas, chandeliers, and American pop music playing in the background.  For 3000 yen per person you can do free time, with quite a good deal of food and unlimited drinks.  The only caveat: sorry, gentlemen, men are not allowed to enter.  I’m not completely sure why; I think it’s to provide women with an atmosphere to chat and eat together in without the noisiness of men.  In Japan, genders are more segregated than in the United States, so it isn’t that unusual.

Quite a few of our classmates are getting married; we made a video for our friend, wishing her luck and happiness.  Mostly everyone is busy working, buying apartments, and the like.  Some of our teachers are still at Johoku; we reminisced about our English teacher’s class, having to memorize idioms (they memorized the English, I memorized the Japanese).  Everyone seems to be doing well, and it was lovely being able to see them all.  I love Shizuoka City, too, walking down all the old familiar streets I used to ride my bicycle to school on.  Things have changed but somehow still remain the same.

426393_576376071379_1840985480_n

 

Just a few shots

The days have been incredibly long at my job, so I can not express just how relaxing it is to come home, listen to Edith Piaf, and have a cup of tea before bed.  Especially when the hours you are working look something like wake up at 5 AM and don’t return home until around 9 PM.  Staying focused has been difficult recently; we’ve been working 7 day weeks and it’s not certain when we will stop.  I’ve dug up a few shots I took awhile back that I’ve always liked, so I’ll go ahead and post them tonight.

So on a completely random note, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to listen to more music, and now that I have a big-girl-job I can actually afford to download pretty much all the music that I want on itunes.  Recently I’ve been listening to The Who’s Tommy, which I was introduced to through my all-time favorite, Almost Famous.  It’s pretty wild, and if you’re into concept albums like myself, it’s worth a listen.  Totally bizarre.  And on the topic of music, I can’t wait for Mumford and Sons’ new album to be released.  Definitely looking forward to that one.

Hisashiburi! (It’s been awhile!)

It has been quite some time since I’ve written.  I’ve been busy traveling for work (not in any way glamorous) , so it’s been a bit difficult to update.  The weather has also been repeatedly bad on the weekends, but we  finally got two nice days this weekend.  Today I went up to Enoshima Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge which you can drive or walk over.

Enoshima Bridge

Before I go, I should note that this week is “Golden Week,” which is essentially a week full of holidays.  It’s like spring break for the entire nation.  What this means for the rest of us is that transiting becomes more difficult as the volume of people traveling drastically increases; malls flood out.  It’s insane–I forgot all this as I made my way to the Enoden line out of Kamakura and was greeted by a massive crowd on the platform.

Somehow I finally get on the train, and it is by far the most packed train ride I have ever experienced while living in Japan.  The Enoden line is an older railway, and it’s electric.  On days when not packed in the three cars like sardines, travelers can enjoy the scenic ride down to Enoshima along the coast.  I reached Enoshima station and started my trek to the island, along with a throng of people.

Enoshima torii

The island is entirely dedicated to Benzaiten, also known as Saraswati in Hindu mythology.  She is goddess of knowledge and arts, representing the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.

Benzaiten

Enoshima

540610_549146878899_411612528_n

Ring

The straw ring is called a chinowa, and shrine-goers walk through it as an act of purification.

Enoshima

People offer prayers and wishes to Benzaiten to strengthen their love and relationships.  This ema has spots for literally, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

Love ema

Omikuji (fortunes) offered to Benzaiten.

Omikuji

man feeding cat

Enoshima view

Enoshima also hosts botanical gardens brimming with vibrant florals.

Flowers

Flowers

Wandering around, I came upon a young man performing tricks with a yo-yo and caught this shot as he caught it behind his head.

yo-yo

Monkey

sunshine

Enoshima is a fantastic spot to visit for those traveling in the Kanagawa area, though without a doubt, spring and summer are the best months to go.

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

Night photography in Kamakura and Kurihama

Just a few more days before I am off on holiday back to the states for a week and a half.  Tonight we decided to ride the train into Kamakura looking for last minute goodies for the families; naturally we made our way over to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (鶴岡八幡宮).  This is a large Shinto shrine (note: shrines are Shinto, temples are Buddhist), and arguably Kamakura’s most important shrine.  However, this shrine is notable because it was ORIGINALLY started as a Buddhist temple and stayed as such until 1868 when it was converted to a shrine.  In Japan Buddhism and Shinto have a very unique way of mixing together, such that if one were to visit either temple or shrine there would be elements of both in each.  There is a saying in Japan, “Born Shinto, die Buddhist,” and it truly embodies just how intertwined both are in the lives of the Japanese.  Unlike in the West, religion is not inflexible; rather, is it fluid, flowing with the harmony of society.

 

Afterwards we headed back for a well-deserved meal of hot udon, considering we couldn’t feel our hands at one point.

We made one final stop in Kurihama before heading into our nice, warm apartment.  There is a small shrine dedicated to safe birth for expecting mothers, and it has lanterns leading all the way up.