During our first full week in Japan, the Sailor and I were required to attend area training. Basically, the first 2 days were basics on the base and the amenities here. The 3rd day was history and culture of Japan. Day 4 was field trip day. This was a day where our we got to take buses around Yokosuka to get to one of the 3 train stations within walking distance. Upon our arrival at the train station, we had to then buy a ticket, get on the correct train and get off at the correct station for our final destination. All this was done under the watchful eyes of 4 or 5 guides that joined us from class. They’d give us a quick walk to possible lunch spots then turn us loose for a couple hours to wander. After lunch we had the choice to join for a guided tour of a shrine. Once those tours were over, we were cut loose to find our own way back to the base. No worries though, we all had little cards that said, “I’m lost! Please help me find my way back to Naval Base Yokosuka. Thank you,” in Japanese. Kyle assured me that the trains were easy to navigate from what he remembered when he was in Japan back in the early 2000’s.
So on that third day, we diligently boarded 3 busses and headed out to Blue street in Yokosuka with a quick “tour” of the area directly around the base ending at the Yokosuka train station. Kyle opted to get us refillable transportation cards. We plan to use the trains as often as possible to go out and about and the transportation cards are universal for almost any form of getting around Japan; trains, buses, even some taxis.
Riding the train in the midmorning on a Wednesday was easy. No real crowds, plenty of seats and it was quiet. We were going to Kamakura which is only about a 20 minute train ride from Yokosuka. I read my book mostly when there wasn’t anything interesting to see.
When we arrived in Kamakura our leads walked us to Komachi Dori, a street filled with with small shops selling everything; clothes, chopsticks, coin purses and candies. There were little walk up food vendors selling street food that you could sit on a bench and eat as well as small sit down restaurants. Kyle and I decided to venture on our own to figure out what to eat. We walked the length of the street and back… twice and couldn’t figure out what we wanted to try. I finally pulled the trigger and suggested we just get steamed buns. Kyle shrugged. He struggles with weird foods so he wasn’t making the choice. So, I bravely approached the young man at the walk up counter and asked if he spoke any English. He smiled and said very little. I asked “What meat is in this?” as I pointed to the bun. With his relief clear that he understood me, he said, “Pork!” So I ordered 2 and Kyle forked over the Yen. We sat quietly on little stools next o the counter to try out what hopefully was actually Pork buns. Kyle called them mystery rolls. They were warm, chewy and delicious. Mystery or not, I enjoyed mine and I didn’t die (assuming there wasn’t any squid or shrimp mixed in) so win win.
We spent a a bit more wandering up and down Komachi Dori. I got brave and stopped in a little cafe called Hachi to get a vanilla latte and a “Cheese in the Baum” pastry that turned out to be a light cheese cake pastry with a thick cake like crust. Was not disappointed. I even was able to pick out the right amount of Yen to pay myself. GO ME! By this time is was about time to meet back up with our group to go on the guided tour so, we headed back.
We had a large group, 100 people give or take. Not everyone opted for the tour. We were broken up into 4 groups with each group getting a local volunteer guide to walk us to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine. It’s reached by a long wide walkway on Dankazura Street lined with hundreds of lanterns (electric) and cherry trees from the waterfront down the center of the main street. The walk begins with a red tori (gate) flanked by 2 guardian shishi (lion dogs).
This is not the actual entrance to the shrine but rather the beginning of the approach. At the end of the walk, you approach a main intersection for the heart of the city as well as the San no torii that is the third torii and main entrance to the shrine. It is at this torii that you are expected to stop briefly and bow to show respect and acknowledge you are entering a scared place.
Upon entering you will see an arched stone bridge, called Taikobashi. This literally means “Drum Bridge” and spans a channel that connects two ponds. The main shrine can be seen straight ahead on the hillside.
Before you reach the main shrine structure you first see Maiden Hall. This is the location of ceremonies and commemorative dances in April as well as various musicians during the summer festivals. I could go into detail about how the ceremonies and dance in April are commemorating the mistress of an important warrior and her being forced to preform for the warriors brother who happened to be the first Shogun of Kamakura… I think I was the only one really intrigued by this part of the tour but, if you’re intrigued google Dancing Maiden Shizuka and read all about the Lower Worship Hall known as Maiden Hall and how it came to be.
Just beyond the Maiden Hall perched up on the hillside is the main hall of the shrine, Hongu.
Before climbing the stairs to ender the Main Hall you first approach the Chozuya. The red structure is where worshippers wash their hands and rinse their mouths to purify themselves before approaching the main shrine. The basin is carved out of a huge rock from the Bizen region of western Japan and was presented by the wife of Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd Tokugawa shogun, in the 17th century, after she saw a dream telling her to do so. It is one of the few officially designated cultural treasures that the public are allowed to touch.
There is a specific order and way of performing this cleansing ritual. First you pick up a ladle with your right hand and scoop water to pour over your left hand washing it. Then transfer the ladle l to the clean hand and do the same for your right. Transfer the ladle back to your right hand and scoop water with it and pour it into your left hand making sure to leave most of the water int he ladle. Take a mouth full of water from your left hand and swish it around. Cover your mouth with your left hand and spit the water our beside the basin (not into it!). Finally tip the ladle forward and let the water wash down one the handle and your hand to cleanse it finally retiring it to the basin where it was resting.
When you approach the deity in the main hall you should gently toss your monetary offering gently into the front trough (if you have one). Bow twice respectfully then clap your hands at chest level. At this time you can pray or silently show your respect. When finished with your hands still at chest level, bow once more. We didn’t take pictures at this main hall other than from the outside.
To the left of this hall is the Treasure Hall. For 2 Yen each you can walk though the hall to view various priceless sacred treasures, portable shrines and military equipment. Even the walk into the hall is beautiful; intricate carvings and lacquered designs.
Once out of the Treasure hall of the Main Hall, to the left is the Maruyama Inari Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to the god of business prosperity.
After our visit to the Maruyama Inari Shrine, we wandered a bit along the path which led us to this little bridge over one of the 2 ponds. This little guy didn’t seem to be afraid of us. Then some kids came along and as usual kids ruin everything. (JK don’t lose you’re minds, I like some kids)
On our walk we came to a gold and black lacquered structure. Shirahata Jinja is the guardian shrine of the Genji clan. Apparently, shrines by this name can be found all over Japan.
This one took me a little searching to figure out it’s significance. Apparently this spot was well known for its weeping willow trees. An old poem tells of the young leaves of the willow, which used to announce the coming of spring.
There are two ponds on the property. In the Genji Pond the lotus flowers are white, in honor of the Genji. The lotus in the Heike Pond on the left are red, the color of the Heike-the Taira clan. The Genji Pond has three islands which represent prosperity, while the Heike Pond has four islands, which represent death and destruction. At the time I didn’t know any of this at the time. I had to do a little digging into the significance. All I knew at the time was that they were beautiful full of large koi and carp that for 200 yen you could get a little bag of pellets to feed them. Apparently the turtles that share the pond with the fish know this as well and came right up to the rock shore happily to smile and pose for photos. And if you actually buy the pellets, the pigeons will also have no problem approaching you when they spot that little white bag… or landing on your shoulder…. or head… all at once.
After a day of walking in the heat and drizzle we found our way back to the train station, caught the correct train back AND got off at the correct station. We were even smart enough to get back to the base from the station.
Special thanks to Kyle for being the official photographer. I didn’t have any pockets to keep my phone handy walking around in the rain. Besides, we all know he’s the professional cellphone photographer.