Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tokyo Day 2: Hiking, Kenchoji Temple and Sky Tree

After seeing the Great Buddha it was time to move to another part of the city. About 300 meters behind the Great Buddha was a hiking trail I had been looking forward to trekking for at least a month. It wouldn't be a tough hike, it was just over  2 kilometers (approx. 1.3 miles for you American folk) with only one upward part. Luckily I started on the upward part. I say luckily due to the fact that it was scorching hot and it was better to get it over at the beginning and enjoy the breeze laden trail the rest of the way. Nearly every Japanese person I past said "Konichiwa" (good afternoon) as we passed. I found it rather interesting that the American foreigners I crossed paths with acted as if I wasn't even there even when I said "good afternoon" to them. So much for a common bond among countrymen!

     ^trail of destiny^

     ^view of Kamakura from the trail^

Now Japan is a relatively safe place to travel with the exception of one creature. This creature, to put it simply, is the asshole of the wild. It's powerful, it always sounds angry (though it's not particularly aggressive), and will send grown men running in the opposite direction. What is it you ask? The Japanese Hornet. It can grown up to 4 cm (1.6 in) long and kills more people (due to anaphylactic shock after its venom has entered the body) than both bears and snakes combined. Many points throughout my hike I happened upon these devilish creatures and quickly strode past them. At one point I was surrounded by the buzzing of 6 wings and decided to run to get away from them. I laughed at how silly I must have appeared and then I heard the scream of a young woman. "AHHHHHHHH!" accompanied by the tromping of feet in a full sprint. Suddenly a young British woman came around a bend in the trail flailing her arms and screaming. Then she saw me and regained what appeared to be her normal composure with the exception of a bright red face. I asked if she was okay and then she went on a rant about the wasps and how they were chasing her. We quickly parted ways but I enjoyed a good laugh after she was out of earshot.

The hike began next to the road, traveled through a thin forest which gradually became deeper until I was surrounded by trees. Then the trail led up a stairway and into a residential neighborhood. From there the trail branched off in several directions. I took the trail leading toward Ugafukujin Shrine. The next photo describes what this shrine is for if you're interested:


Inside the shrine many people were washing money in hopes that it would come back doubly to them. I'm not quite sure where these legends originate or how people substantiate them but they do appear to be wildly popular superstitions. Who knows maybe if you believe in something enough it will appear to come true?

      ^people washing money^

newly weds entering  Ugafukujin Shrine

After leaving the shrine I made my way down a hill back into  residential Kamakura. On the hill I passed a group of young college age guys who gave me an emphatic, "Hello!" and muttered something about me being a foreigner. I said hello back and they all burst out in excitement giving me the thumbs up and telling me to have a great day. I wish I would have snapped a picture of this Motley crew but alas I didn't and they will only live on in this blog and in memory. It's random moments such as these that make traveling exciting. Even sharing just a momentary connection with people helps to make the world a smaller and more beautiful place for both parties.

 Ugafukujin Shrine

neighborhood below the shrine
The path I took winded through a neighborhood and I decided to head toward my final destination Kenchoji Temple. It was another 2 kilometers winding through residential areas until I would reach the temple. I decided to take a back road up a hill to save some time. Along the way I found Jokomyoji a small but beautiful temple in the middle of a neighborhood. This temple features statues of the Amida trinity. Behind the temple lies a hill lies the grave of Reizei Tamesuki the founder of the Noble Reizei Family of Poets.

Jokomyoji Temple

From there I took a path which during the Kamakura period was an important trade road essentially cutting the journey through the city in half. In modern times it is nothing more than a one way road traversed by bikers, walkers and scooters. Along the way I followed an old woman who could hike like a mountain goat. She never broke her stride even when the hill was tough. On the opposite side I passed the entrance to a house that was rather impressive. It made me consider how I would like the gate to my future house to be in my future castle.

Finally I arrived at Kenchoji Temple. As I walked up to the gate I had the sudden realization  that I might be too late to the party. The gates were closed and only two young women sat outside of them looking at their cell phones and chatting away hysterically. On the sign next to them the operating hours were posted. I had missed the time by just ten minutes.

 It was then I noticed a side gate had been left open. I casually strolled in with my camera in hand and began shooting pictures. One person I passed by gave me an odd look but decided I must be there for a reason and simply said hello as she passed. I was in!

Kenchoji Temple is rated as the greatest of five Zen temples in Kamakura. It was founded in 1252 and finished in 1253. It was originally headed by a Chinese Zen master by the name of Renkei Doryu* who had come to Japan in 1246 and had spent some time in other areas before settling in Kamakura.

Even today it is an important monastery for monks in training. A casual stroll through the grounds will reveal a treasure trove of buildings, statues, gardens and other things of interest. The main temple buildings and the observatory were my favorite places at this site.

Overall I was more impressed by this temple than the Great Buddha. It is hard to imagine the countless people who have strolled through these grounds. And even harder still to see the impressions it had left upon them. All I know is that Kenchoji Temple is one place I wont easily forget.

There's one piece of advice I feel I should share before moving on. If you plan to see these places I would recommend coming really early or really late (preferably before closing time). You will get to see them without the chaos tourists tend to bring with them. Especially in the case of Kenchoji the lack of people gave it an inspiring and tranquil atmosphere. Throughout my entire time there I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to be able to enjoy that space in peace. It also gave me ample time to reflect on how limited our time is here and how we should enjoy it and pursue what we love with unabashed tenacity.

After venturing to the observatory of Kenchoji it was time to head back toward the train station and Tokyo.

Along the way I decided to pass through what appeared to be a park. Its name is Tsuruoka Hachiman Gu. I wish I could give you more information but at this point I was pretty drained and just wanted to take in one last site before the train. It had a wonderful temple like thing a lotus patch and even a gentleman practicing martial arts. Overall it was a lovely park that I wish I had spent even just a few more moments at.

From there my feet lead me through Kamakura's shopping street. Souvenirs and typical Japanese goodies were for sale throughout the entire area. I casually walked through a few and then saw a beautiful site. A woman was helping her incredibly aged mother walk down the street inch by inch. The patience that this woman had really struck me in a deep way. As they inched forward the woman's face remained free from irritation as her hands gently guided her along the side of the busy street. This was to be my last impression of Kamakura.

On the return trip to Tokyo I was much more tired than I had expected to be. Luckily I was able to find a seat where leaning my head back and catching a quick snooze was possible. This ride offered just as many interesting characters as the morning trip had.
First there was a group of college age guys next to me. One of them passed out in a rather funny way and his buddy and I caught each other trying to snap a quick picture of him. His friend laughed and laughed and laughed. Later on we were both able to snap a quick picture.

The next notable character was a middle aged man who got on the train halfway through my journey back to the city. He seemed common enough until he pulled out a paper from his bag. Needless to say this wasn't your typical newspaper. Plastered on the back was a couple in the midst of the horizontal mambo. Take a close look for yourself:

After nightfall I finally arrived at Tokyo Station. It is a much more beautiful sight at night! From there I made the final leg of my trip to my hotel The Agora Place. It`s a nice place with decent rates. The highlight for me was that I was able to see Sky Tree from my room!

After a 20 minute nap in a cloud of a bed it was time to grub. Kitty corner to the hotel was a sushi place. This is was exactly the treat I was looking for. I went in and was greeted by a middle aged woman named Keiko. She was thrilled after she learned I could speak a little broken Japanese and asked me all the typical questions: "where are you from? How old are you? Do you live in Japan etc." Luckily I was able to answer them (to some degree) and she was polite and friendly for the remainder of my stay there.

Yes, I know my hair is sexy

The sushi chef was also incredibly kind. He asked the same questions and allowed me to take a few photo's of a master at work.

It was getting late but there was one last place I wanted to see, Skytree.

Well it is a lot bigger than I imagined and I realized that as I walked there. I could see it from my hotel so I had guessed it wasn't that far away. Well I was wrong. It was exactly 2 kilometers (once again for you American Folk (1.24 miles). Which wouldn't be so bad if my poor feet hadn't traversed all of Kamakura... but now I'm just whining so I'll stop.

After I had reached there it was already closed (for future reference it closes at (8:30 pm). Now, usually this would be a major bummer but it is a beautiful sight at night and I was also able to meet a few people along the way. Two of whom were young skateboarders who were trying to photobomb a picture of mine. I asked them if I could take a picture and they were overjoyed at the prospect. One of them spoke amazing English. We shared a few moments chatting and then they rolled back into the night.

From there I took another route back to the hotel taking in all this area of Tokyo had to offer. It was a nice stroll and I happened upon a site that brought a smile to my face. Apparently police officers wear helmets inside their cars. One step closer to being real Robo Cops.

I finally arrived at my hotel and drifted into the land of Morpheus.

Stay tuned to day 3 of Tokyo up next!Some of the highlights include Ueno, a reunion with some friends from the UK and Shinjuku nightlife .

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