Monday, 3 August 2009

The (inadvertent) intrepid explorer

It was pouring with rain when I got up on Sunday, so I decided to properly escape Tokyo this time and head for the countryside to try to get away from the bad weather. So I got the train to Kamakura - a rural town about 50 miles south-west, down the coast from Tokyo.

I got there just in time for lunch and hopped into a wee place near the station as the food looked good.

I ordered a set with tempura (prawn and assorted veggies), udon noodles in broth, rice and assorted pickles. Everything was great, and as expected, apart from the rice. I thought I'd ordered a set that came with plain rice but it turned up covered in tiny wee white fish - there were a lot of little eyes staring at me from my bowl...

After polishing my baby fish off, I got the wee electric train further into Kamakura to start my epic temple-hopping. I started of at Hasedera, which is famous for having beautiful grounds and thousands of tiny statues of Jizo.

There is a system of small caves in the hillside, where statues of various gods have been carved out of the walls:

And even smaller statues are placed next to one of them:

It was all absolutely stunning but very sad too - Jizo is the patron of departed children and all the statues have been left by women who have lost children through miscarriage or abortion. The main temple was huge and housed a 9m tall, gilded Buddha (of the standing, skinny variety), but I wasn't allowed to take photos inside :( So here's one of the outside for you.

After wandering around the temple grounds for a while, I headed off to Daibutsu, which is famous for its giant bronze Buddha (this time sitting down and chubby).

I also climbed inside it (from under his bum) to see what he looked like from the inside. Unsurprisingly, it looked like an inside-out, bronze Buddha. It was here that I tried to join the 'Daibutsu Hiking Course'. Now I thought that this would be a nice woodland path that meandered through the hillside forest, connecting the temples and shrines. How wrong I was.

The 'Daibutsu Hiking Course' is aptly named - it should definitely not be attempted at 3 in the afternoon, when it has been raining, while wearing plimsoles and carrying a rather large handbag. Oh, and when it's hot as hell and approximately 100% humidty. The part of the hike from Daibutsu to the nearest temple was supposed to take 20 minutes - it took me the best part of a hour. The path (if you can even call it that...) went steeply up and even more steeply down, was covered in inch-thick, very slippery mud and pretty much felt like I was trekking through a tropical jungle. And the signposts were only in Japanese. The jungle was beautiful but I was so hot and grumpy that I didn't take any pictures until I reached the closest temple. Sasuke-inari jinja has lots of red torii leading up the steps towards the main temple and also has hundreds of statues and figurines of foxes.

I then headed, on the road this time, to Zeniarai-benten. I entered this shrine complex through a tunnel in the hillside which opened out into a gorgeous clearing. This shrine is famous for its natural springs, which run out through caves under the hillside.

I collected some candles insense and a basket from the main building and headed towards the cave - I lit my candles off others, then lit my insense off them, popped my loose change into the basket and made my way to the caves. It's believed that if you wash your money in the springs and then spend it, it will return to you many times over.

So I spent a little at the shrine, praying for financial success and spent the rest on food! I got the food at a wee town fete sort of affair that I stumbled across on my way back to the train station. I got some fried noodles and yakitori from this massive charcoal grill:

My timing was perfect - as soon as I had finished my food and made it onto the platform, the weather caught up with me and it started to pour.

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