Kamakura–Ikou!Tokyo, Summer 2009

On Saturday, I went on the first of two field trips—both of which will be mostly of no cost to me thanks to the generosity of IES (not a plug, really). We went to Kamakura for the day! Kamakura is the origin city of the Shogunate (also known as the Genji family). Hence, it is an ancient city, and there are a lot of shrines/temples and other tourist sites to see. Most of the students went, but separated into prearranged groups for the day.

My group first went to Hase Temple where the giant Buddha sits. First, as with most temples, you must cleanse yourself—use the ladle to first dump water into each hand, then cup some water into your mouth. Most Japanese people actually, upon first entrance into the home, wash their hands and gargle three times. It’s a custom similar to removing your shoes in order to maintain the balance between the outside and the inside. So, this Buddha is made of copper and old age has turned him green. His life-size zouri sandals—nearly four feet long—wait beside him in case he ever decided to journey once again. You can also venture inside this magnanimous statue.

After that, we ventured as a three man cell to see Kan-non, which is an eleven-headed statue. This woman has one head for every earthly sin. Christianity believes there are seven deadly sins, apparently in Japanese religion, there are four more. This temple was truly magnificent—pools of clear water, the famous ajisai (hydrangea) blossoms, designed pathways, waterfalls, etcetera. There are stairs that lead up from these gardens to the actual temple—sloped roofs, red columns, and the enshrined goddess. As you proceed back down the stairs, you pass shelves containing hundreds of little Buddha idols all in a row. You can, as a blessing in reverence as well as for good luck, pour water from a ladle over one Buddha’s head. From there, around a quiet bend, is a cave. Head carefully ducked down, bent over at the waist, the cave is alight with candles. The shadows lazily flash over the soft cheeks of Buddhas in niches carved out of the wall. There is also a dedication room that, for a small sum, you can place a small wooden carving in a sea of other little people.

Both of these two places were extremely gorgeous with a cheap entrance fee—they are totally worth it. My group then stopped for lunch at a Gyoza shop. Gyoza is similar to a Chinese pork dumpling except that it is more flat and sea shell shaped. I recommend trying them—even in the States at a Japanese restaurant; they are a fairly standard item. We then did some shopping. I bought a handkerchief, which has a texture more akin to a washcloth, and was entirely necessary on such a hot, humid day. Atsui, itsumo atsui! I also bought a wooden doll with tanpopo (dandelion) designs on her pink dress along with a small change purse. Since Japanese money is mainly comprised of coins, this purchase was also out of necessity—it just took me awhile to find one I liked. For my friend back home, I got a handmade Lucky Cat doll—a well known icon in Japan.

Finally, we sauntered out to the sea. The sand is really dark—I suppose its color is derived from a volcanic source. Kids making sandcastles appear dirty simply due to the sand’s ebony-like hue. The air close to the water is so humid, my bare skin seemed sticky. The temperature of the water matched that of the air though—bath water.

Over all, I was exhausted upon returning to NYC in Tokyo. Next weekend, Sunday to Monday, we are off to Nikko for an overnight adventure. So, until then, ja ne.

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