Waking up to dreary skies, we desperately wanted to lay in bed and cuddle the whole day. It was the day after David arrived in Tokyo, and he was completely exhausted. However, with the limited time, we didn’t want to deviate from our itinerary and miss out on key places to visit in Japan. So early Monday morning, we were up and ready to go to the seaside city of Kamakura.
Warning: Photo-heavy Post
Despite being averse to self-portraits, David looks handsome in each one. Here he was waiting in Ikebukuro for the Shonan-Shinjuku line train to Kamakura. After which, we took bus 23 heading to Hokokuji temple. As soon as we got off the bus, I pulled out my phone to look at Google maps. I recall asking him why the other tourists were going the opposite direction. I was smugly thinking they were going to get lost. Little did I know, it would be me making the mistake leading us to a totally different temple!
It was a serendipitous incident as we got to experience a beautiful temple without any crowds. Jomyoji is one of the great Zen temples of Kamakura. Up on the hillside is the cemetery and just left of the temple is the restored tea house which is probably the best part of the whole complex. It’s cheaper than most temples as the admission fee is only 100 yen.
The tea house offers green tea with a little sweet. Don’t miss out! It’s only 500 yen and you get to relax by the beautiful zen garden.
We spent quite a bit of time in the garden as we were still tired from the long train ride from Tokyo. The server was explaining to us the different attributes of the garden. One of my favorite things was the musical bamboo stalk in which you can hear the sound of the ocean waves, akin to having a seashell to your ear. There were also water basins where small birds sometimes drink from.
After an excellent time in the tea house, we decided to head to Hokokuji, our original destination. This temple is famous for the bamboo garden, similar to Arashiyama bamboo grove albeit a little smaller. There is also a tea house amidst the grove but as we already had tea and there were a lot of people, we decided to pass on it.
The path was short but the tall, densely packed bamboo trees were quite the sight. My favorite part was looking up to the sky and seeing the sunlight filtered through the trees. Absolutely beautiful!
By this time, it was already lunch so we decided to head back to the station and visit the famous soba restaurant, Nakamura-an. It’s a small place that’s able to fit only around 15 people. I was scared that there would be a long line but I guess it wasn’t a busy day. We got to sit in front of the open kitchen and had a full view of the cooking process.
I chose the tempura set which came with miso soup, a huge serving of soba and a strip of crispy shrimp tempura.
The restaurant was located in the corner of this long strip of souvenir stores. Walking around, I noticed this huge Totoro sign and I just had to go in. They sell cute knick knacks from the Hayao Miyazaki animes.
After browsing a couple of stores around the strip, we decided to take the bus going to Kotoku-in where the big Buddha was. A couple of years has passed since I’ve been to the temple, and a lot has changed. Granted I was a tiny kid back then, but I don’t recall the bronze Buddha being that small. I was a bit disappointed myself as I was expecting a giant statue. Nonetheless, it was a good experience for David to see it as I don’t think there’s a Daibutsu statue in the states.
Our last destination was the Hasedera temple and Benten Kutsu cave. It’s walk able from Kotoku-in but you can also take the bus if you’re lazy. Hasedera is probably the most famous temple in Asakusa. Inside is the wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
Along the main hall, there are stone statues called “Jizo”. Before, parents set up a statue in the temple so that the gods would protect and watch over their children. Nowadays, the statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. Parents who lost children usually offer baby clothes to the statues in hopes that someone will guide their children in the netherworld.
The temple complex contains other halls, a restaurant as well as an observation deck overlooking the city.
One of the things you shouldn’t miss is the rotating Sutra bookrack. Spinning the octagonal wheel is said to allow the person to accumulate the knowledge from the sutras. It is supposedly equivalent to reading all of the sutras housed in the library. It’s a shame that you can only rotate it on certain days.
At the bottom of the temple complex is the Benten Kutsu cave.
There are a couple of statues around the cave for each areas of life. People come and light a candle and say a prayer or make a wish.
The cave can be small in some areas so it is difficult to get through for people with a taller stature.
With the day coming to a close, we decided to head back to Tokyo. Walking towards the bus stop, I noticed this ornate clock. It was in front of a nondescript store. In hopes of finding some souvenirs, I went in.
Located on the right side of the door are these music boxes! They have a bunch of songs from animes as well as popular artists. You can buy it as is or choose to place it inside an ornate box. Sadly, I did not get anything in the store. While they were all beautiful, I realized they were just going to gather dust in my house.
Kamakura is a great side trip if you’re visiting Tokyo on limited time. It only takes an hour to get there by train and with the various temples, it’s a great introduction to the Japanese culture. One of the activities I want to do when I visit Kamakura again is to go to their beaches. It is the seaside city after all!