Wednesday 21 September 2016

Another trip to Kamakura - Hokokuji (the bamboo temple) and Hase Dera - Part 2

This is part 2 of a blog post about a recent day-trip down to Kamakura.  You can find part 1 here

We left Hokokuji temple and waited at the bus stop on the main road nearby and within 5 minutes a bus pulled up and we caught it back to the station.  (most buses in areas popular with tourists will have English as well as Japanese showing where the bus is going to).

Once back at Kamakura station we jumped on the quaint streetcar style train affectionately known as the Enoden (Enoshima dentetsu).

In about 10 minutes we had arrived at Hase station and after getting our bearings from a map outside of the station (in both Japanese and English) we set off on the 10 minute walk to Hase dera (temple).

When exactly Hase dera was established is a little unclear, but the story goes as follows.  In about 721 a Buddhist monk found a fallen camphor tree in the mountains near the town of Hase, near Nara.  It was so large that he decided to carve two statues of the Goddess Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy.  One statue was enshrined in Hase dera near Nara while the second was launched into the ocean with the belief that it would find its rightful home by divine navigation.  In 736 it washed up on a beach not too far from Kamakura and it was brought to its current location and Hase dera was built to enshrine it.  It is thus one of the oldest temples in Kamakura pre-dated (I think) by only Sugimoto dera.  It is very popular in the early months of June and July when the multitude of hydrangea plants that exist in a special garden bloom.  I am lucky enough that I can stay away from the crowds at that time as the train line that I live along has sections lined with hydrangea plants so I get to enjoy them every day!

Walking up the quiet street towards Hase dera, the temple looms large in front of you as it exists on the side of a hill and thus reaches up the side of the hill in multiple levels.

Pausing to buy a ticket (300 yen) we made our way inside.  The first area that you come to is a beautiful garden with numerous water features.

Moving away from the garden area we came across these little guys.

These are Buddhist deities and these one in particular you pray to for a successful marriage or relationship.  Being that I am single, I took a photo and continued walking...  How cute are they though!

Halfway up the steps we came to a section where there was a small hall.  Surrounding the hall are one thousand statues......yes, that's right, one thousand!

They are placed here by mothers in memory of their children who were miscarried, stillborn or aborted.  Each year, the statues are removed and replaced with a fresh set.  It is estimated that since the end of World War II, 50,000 statues have been placed here!

Continuing on up the steps we arrived at the main temple hall, and it was indeed grand!

The dark brown and the white of the buildings contrasted beautifully against each other and at the top of the roof there was some intricate gold work.

The scary looking guy in that last photo is an onigawara, or a demon tile.  They are placed at the ends of the main roof ridges of a lot of temples.  Their purpose is two-fold.  The practical function of the onigawara is to help prevent weathering of the roof.  The other spiritual function is to keep evil away.  Whenever you visit a temple, keep an eye out for these guys as they can differ from temple to temple.

I noticed a sign which pointed the way to another path

and decided that the ocean view road was definitely worth checking out.  The path started up a series of steps that climbed their way up the side of the hill.  Reaching the top I was presented with this view!

Now that was definitely well worth the effort of climbing up all of those steps!  After pausing for a good 5 minutes to take in the view, I started back down the steps and came across these three.

Similar to the earlier ones, although of a different colour and standing in different positions, I can only imagine that they serve a similar purpose to the previous ones.

Halfway back down the steps I spotted this waiting for me at the bottom.

More statues!  These ones were much older than the others that we had seen today and some of them were quite visibly weathered.

I met up again with Tetsuya and Yoshie and we headed back to the main gate to make our way out when I saw this......

Now that seriously could not be ignored!!  Following the arrow we came to this.

Inside opened up into a chamber with a multitude of statues of Gods carved into the walls of the cave.  I would not have wanted to be the Temple's junior Monk at the time as this must have been an excruciatingly time consuming job!!  (Guess what Jason, we've got a special job for you....)

Winding through the cave past all of the statues, a tunnel appeared in front of me.

Crouching down (if you are claustrophobic, this place may not be for you) I shuffled my way along the tunnel and momentarily caught a glimpse of another couple who disappeared before I knew it

(either that or was it a pack of velociraptors stalking me through the tunnels...).  The tunnels opened out into another couple of rooms

before winding its way back out into the sun.

Now that was fun!  I was dying to go back in and around again, but my stomach (and Tetsuya and Yoshie) had other ideas, so we left the temple and headed back towards Kamakura for a bite to eat at Kamakura's best burger place, Rooftops Burger,, right near Kamakura station.

Now, as I mentioned last time I was here, they were going to be working on a full English menu.  Well, I am happy to say that it is now finished and looking good (and very helpful!).

10-15 minutes later, our food had arrived.

Superb, the meat is seasoned nicely, the vegetables are crisp and fresh and the rings and wings are good too.  They also always seem to be playing good music when I go there!

Finally fully satisfied and satiated we staggered (both due to tiredness and fullness!) back to the station and got on our train to return to Tokyo.

As I have said before, Kamakura is a fantastic place to come for a day trip (or more) from Tokyo.  There are so many places to check out in this historical little town that you could quite possibly never visit enough.

Anyway, that brings me to the end of another post.  Thanks for reading and coming along on this ride with me.  I truly do appreciate the fact that you are interested in Japan and what I have to say about it.  Please leave a comment and feel free to share the blog if you know someone who would enjoy it.

Until next time, bye.

Friday 16 September 2016

Another trip to Kamakura - Hokokuji (the bamboo temple) and Hase Dera - Part 1

We've been having a few typhoons here in Japan recently, averaging one a week, but finally a weekend came around with fine weather so a trip down to nearby Kamakura was hastily planned.  Good friend Tetsuya and another friend Yoshie both said they wanted to come so we met up in Shibuya and jumped on the train for the quick 45 minute ride down south.
We had met up late morning so by the time we arrived it was around 1pm.  Feeling a little hungry we set off along Komachi Dori (you can read more about this great shopping street here).  Yoshie came across a dango (sweet dumplings made from rice flour) stall and stopped to get some mitarashi dango, a dango covered with a sweet soy sauce glaze.

We started walking along with Yoshie enjoying her dango when I heard the shrill call of a kite (the bird variety) screech out above us.  I looked around trying to spot it, well aware that they can, will and have been known to (with painful effects) swoop down and snatch food from people's hands as they walk along.  I found him and mentioned the danger to Yoshie who ate the rest of her dango under cover.

A little further along we found a manju (steamed bun) shop.  I ordered a steamed pork bun which hit the spot nicely.

I always say that people need to constantly keep their eyes open in Japan as you never quite know what you will see.  The following are just a few random scenes that we passed on the way to our first destination of the day.

Pretty soon (a nice 40 minute walk from Kamakura station) we arrived at our first stop, Hokokuji temple.

Hokokuji temple is a little unassuming temple hidden away in the foothills on the east side of Kamakura.  It was built in 1334 and existed through to 1923 when many of its structures were damaged in the devastating 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that ripped through Tokyo and the surrounding areas.  It was subsequently rebuilt during the rest of the 1920's.  Hokokuji temple would be just like any other temple that exists (a beautiful old temple with lovely traditional architecture and an exquisitely manicured garden) but for one thing.  Hidden behind the main structure and accessible via an entrance to the left of the main hall is an enchanting and beautifully maintained bamboo grove made up of 2,000 bamboo trees.  It is this feature that attracts most of its visitors and was one of the reasons I have, for a long time, been wanting to come along and check it out.

The first thing we came across after walking through the Temple Mon (gate) was one of the things I love about Japanese temples.  Their beautifully and painstakingly maintained gardens.

Absolutely peaceful, serenity at it's best!  Moving off the the left, we headed up some steps

and arrived at the main temple hall.

Just off to the right was the bell tower with it's beautiful thatched roof.

Also nearby were these.

Now, from what I can gather, these are Gorinto, or 5 tier grave marker.  They are grave markers, or memorials for those who have passed away. (If I am wrong about this, could one of my Japanese readers please correct me!)

We went to the ticket gate and bought our tickets to get into the bamboo grove area (200 yen, or 500 yen if you want to enjoy some green tea in the tea house located in the grove) and headed in.

Absolutely incredible.  The silence was only broken by the rustling of the bamboo trees in the breeze.  As you can see, there were other people there, but it was not a problem as everyone was there doing the same thing, taking in the stillness and quietude of the place.  It was one of the more beautiful and peaceful places that I have been to in 7 years of living in Japan.

Unfortunately we had to leave though as we still had another place to check out, so reluctantly we made our way out of the bamboo

and headed for the exit.

Now the temple does have a few rules, so please take note of these so as not to spoil this wonderful experience for others (especially the part about the selfie sticks....).

I'm going to finish this post here and then start working on part 2 within the next couple of days.  I hope my photos are able to do justice to the beauty of Hokokuji.  I highly recommend getting there if you visit Kamakura (a weekday is better so as to avoid the crowds).

Thanks again for reading.  Please leave a comment below (especially if I am wrong about the Gorinto) and please share the blog with anyone who you know would be interested.

See you next time.