Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Japan: Kamakura

(Written Wednesday night, posted Thursday morning.)

It rained today in Kamakura.

Good things about walking arouond Kamakura in the rain in August:

1. Not appallingly hot.

2. Still warm enough that hypothermia unlikely.

3. Crowds greatly reduced.

4. Mosquitoes somewhat reduced (judging by my relatively few and small bites, even though I had all my repellent washed off).

Anyway, it rained rather hard until after lunch. I'll only mention it again when relevant (it will be, trust me).

We actually started in Kita-Kamakura, which is very close, and went to Engaku-ji, which was established for the dead of the failed second Mongol invasion. It has a gorgeous pond framed with trees and flowers, and a nice set of grounds to wander around. Also a big bell, but we'd picked the wrong set of stairs initially and I wasn't walking up *another* set just to see a bell.

(Ever since Himeiji, I am taking great care in what steps I choose to climb.)

Then we went to Tokei-ji, a.k.a. the Divorce Temple, where women could get a divorce after spending three years--from its founding in 1285 until 1873, that was the only way. It or something very like it appears in _Samurai Champloo_, but if it's the same one, it is not actually across a body of water.

The grounds are peaceful and pleasant, but unfortunately the museum (treasure house) is only open weekends, and I think that would be its distinguishing feature. (One of the guidebooks says that it contains a cartoon illustrating the Zen saying that even a vegetable can attain enlightenment, which I would _really_ have liked to see.)

We also stopped in Jochi-ji, which is an important temple but not a visually remarkable one. It has a set of three Buddhas which represent past, present, and future.

Then we headed for Zeniarai Benten, a shrine with a famous spring: if you wash money in it and then spend it, it is supposed to return to you many times over. It's a bit out of the way, but one of the guidebooks said that there was a ridge path leading to it and to another Inari shrine.

Agreeing to walk a ridge path in the woods during a steady rain was *not* one of the smarter things I've ever done.

Admittedly, at first it was a flat paved gently sloping road, and then paved steps, and then bamboo steps . . . and then mud, tree roots, and rocks, and more mud, tree roots, and rocks, and by the time it was clear how *much* mud, tree roots, and rocks we were facing, we'd gone so far that turning back would have hardly made a diffference.

Also, I'd hoped from the description as a "ridge path" that it would be mostly horizontal after a fair bit of climbing. In fact, it was mostly *not* horizontal, which made the mud, tree roots, and rocks even more interesting. (At one point, there was what looked like a cliff until we got really close and saw that there were shallow indentations in the rock face leading down. I seriously contemplated bursting into tears.)

Eventually we made it, though, and without falling even once. I think it would be great when it's not wet--even through the rain we could see that it was pretty. And Zeniarai Benten is neat--you reach it by going through a rock tunnel and then a tunnel of torii, and the spring itself is inside another cave. And they don't charge admission, either.

Then we went to Sasuke Inari, which is up steep stone stairs with no side water channels--highly relevant because it was *pouring* at this point and all the water was rushing down the stairs. The shrine seems to be in some financial difficulties: a number of the torii were broken and lying on the side of the path, and some of the stone foxes were broken--one was held together with, I kid you not, *duct tape*. It does, however, have an interesting set of carvings at the top, large tangled ones with foxes prowling out of them. Those kept me from saying to myself, as I picked my way carefully down the gushing steps, "You've *seen* Fushimi Inari, which is the Inari shrine to end all Inari shrines, why did you bother with this one?" No more Inari shrines for me, though, unless I don't have to climb a single step to see them.

After lunch, we went to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gû--at which it stopped raining, hooray. (It rained lightly later in the afternoon, but nothing compared to the morning.) This was founded by the Minamoto clan and is thus tied up with with a bunch of history in the first few centuries of the last millenium. The shrine buildings are impressive, with a lot of varied carvings picked up in well-maintained paint. There is also a set of ponds filled with lotuses that are apparently deeply symbolic of the Minamoto's defeat of the Taira, which are haunted by a set of white (albino?) pigeons. I don't know if Japanese people actually like pigeons more than American people or if I just notice the people trying to get the pigeons to *perch on them* more here.

Oh, and there's an enormous ginko tree, but it's next to a big set of stairs and I was, umm, looking at the stairs. And a museum with basically no English labels.

Then we went to Hase.

The temple of Hase-dera has a great origin story. Two statues of eleven-headed Kannon were carved from the same tree. One was enshrined in Nara and one was thrown into the sea with, according to the brochure, "a prayer that it would reappear to save the people." It did fifteen years later, and Hase-dera was established to house it.

The statue is enormous and impressive. There's an attached museum with a set of statues showing the 33 manifestations or transformations of Kannon; unfortunately, though the 33 are listed by number, the statues themselves aren't numbered, so I wasn't able to identify most of them.

The grounds of the temple are beautiful. They also have the *most* demanding koi we've seen so far, which is saying something--Chad took a picture of maybe a dozen at a bridge corner, all pressed together with mouths open above-water for food.

Also of note are Jizo-do Hall, or rather the area around it, which is filled with *thousands* of small Jizo stone statues, lined up row on row. They comfort unborn children; there were offerings of children's toys to the main Jizo statue.

On a happier note, there is a sutra archive containing bookracks that can be turned by hand. Turning them is supposed to earn the same merit as reading all the sutras in the rack--which, since the racks were quite large, must be quite a lot.

(Hase-dera also has an excellent brochure, complete with helpful map.)

Then we went to the Great Buddha, which is 13.35 meters tall and sits in open air against the hills, after an enclosing building was destroyed several times. This is actually much more interesting than the other Great Buddha at Tôdai-ji in Nara. Being outside really gives you a better appreciation of its entirety, but it's also a more harmonious and artistically successful work. Plus, you can go inside (it's bronze and hollow), which is just too cool.

(Chad made a really terrible comment about that, which I see he's posted, saving me from having to decide whether to paraphrase it here.)

There is a terrific sign about entering the grounds with respect. The gift shop is carefully placed *before* this sign, as it contains some amazingly tacky Great Buddha merchandise.

And then we came back, registered for Worldcon, peeled off our flithy socks, and took really long hot showers.

ETA: Chad's full Flickr set for this day at http://www.flickr.com/photos/11070535@N08/sets/72157602209578796/

Worldcon runs until Monday. I intend to do panel reports, but my Palm keyboard is being a bit flaky lately. So reports may have some gaps in, or may not appear at all if the keyboard is too much trouble--there's no way that I can manage to post paper notes from home later. Anything that does get taken, though, I will try to post quickly.
Tags: japan 2007, trips

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