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

 

 

 

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.