Kamakura Field Trip

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.

 

Tipsy on a Tuesday Afternoon

When the Sailor sent me an email from Puerto Rico where he was for over 2 months for relief work after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria saying, “WE GOT ORDERS TO JAPAN,” I was ecstatic. WE were ecstatic. What an adventure! A tropical island, completely different culture with a long complex and interesting history and we would be right on Tokyo Bay. We both immediately talked about climbing Mount Fuji, seeing the historic cities with their shrines and temples and listing all the surround countries that suddenly became long weekend trips. We were like little kids talking about summer camp. But no one really warns you about the process of moving over seas and what it entails so let me enlighten you. IT FUCKING SUCKS!

It sucks if you don’t have a perfect health history (check) and if you have pets that you can’t (or in my case re-home – check) and I can not even imagine it with children. It gets infinitely more frustrating and draining with each seemingly mundane aspect of your life. You think you have an idea of packers coming into your house and wrapping up all your stuff and taking it away… for 2+ months and living out of duffle bags. Eating on paper plates and plastic flatware with dollar store pots and pans in an empty house. Going to work and coming home to an air mattress and 2 lawn chairs. Then it happens and you realize, “Ummmm, this feels shitty,” because suddenly your home is empty and doesn’t really feel like home.

You think you understand that you’ll have so many days to relax, travel and visit your family and friends before boarding a very long flight but, suddenly 30 days of leave to do all that blows by and your standing at an airport waving goodbye. Funny, though no one ever really talks about flights getting delayed or canceled and having t frantically call your ride back at 3am to come lug you, your 4 giant duffle bags and 2 yowling scared shitless cats BACK to your family’s house again. Yeah, that happens. More frequently than I was aware. Then 24 hours later you do the same choked tearful goodbyes to the same family.

Then suddenly you’re watching a stranger wheel your two pets away to be loaded into the belly of a plane where they will be for the next 12+ hours and you cry some more because, they don’t friggen know. You know they don’t know and there isn’t anyway to tell an animal, “It’s fine. You’ll be fine. It will be over in no time.” You can barely explain that to a small child. You just see their sad little furry faces wide-eyed from the back of their cage looking at you like, “So this is how it ends” and your heart breaks because you haven’t slept in almost 36 hours because your original flight yesterday was delayed for 24 hours and you’re stressed and nervous. And the little girl whose dog is riding on the same cart with your cats is crying saying, “It’s ok boy. You’ll be OK. I love you. I’ll be waiting for you Japan.” And it’s just too much so, you cry too. Yeah, that was me.

No one warns you that as soon as you get here, all you’re going to do is run all over the damn base; apply for housing, immediately choose from a list of houses sight unseen or immediately know you want to live off base, then you’re on your own, 72 hours to report your pets entry onto base because they are under temporary quarantine, schedule a quarantine appointment to have the 12 hour quarantine lifted, get a Japanese phone, get a mail box, go to a week long area briefing, make an appointment to have your household goods delivered, make an appointment for a pre-move in inspection of your new home… It’s constant. It’s unrelenting. And you walk everywhere because you don’t have a car and it’s hotter than than Hades and more humid than his balls. Even if you did have a car, you couldn’t drive it because they drive on the left side of the road here (or if your egocentric, the “wrong side”) and all the traffic signs are in Japanese.

So you get your house. For us, since it was our first time in Japan and our first time living abroad, we chose base housing. Well, Kyle chose our house. Without me. I was salty for about 30 seconds. Then I didn’t give a shit because I just didn’t want to have to live in the Navy Lodge (aka Hotel on base) for months. When he went to the housing office early one morning to see what he had to do to request housing, they directed him to a house brief. After they told him he had to choose base housing or off base housing. Off base housing had another briefing. If he chose base housing then they had a list of base homes available right now for him to choose from. If he didn’t choose right then, the next guy from the briefing in rank got a choice and when he brought me back with him the list would be shorter. The next guy in line that the Sailor just happened to out rank smiled. He knew what he was choosing if the Sailor passed to come ask me. So he chose and a high-rise called Satsuki Heights became our new home for 3 years. Sight. Un. Seen.

Then you have a choice, pay to continue to stay in the hotel until your household goods are delivered, pay to rent furniture and shit to live in your new place until your stuff is delivered or move into an empty home and rough it on the floor until your shit arrives. One guess what we chose.

So you’ve made it this far. All your appointments are made, and you’ve begun attending the week long area briefing classes that basically spends the first 3 days telling you about the base, and reminding you that you’re living on a military installation so, ya know, don’t do stupid shit like talk about ships and what they are doing  and when. Oh and don’t get in fights at the bars or drive at all if you’ve had even one drink because the Japanese blood alcohol limit is .03% which is the rough equivalent of smelling a decent beer. During this time, they give you a sweet photocopy booklet to study for a written driving exam. Yes. It’s a booklet with all the new laws of how to drive on the left side of the road and what all the traffic signs mean. The translation is a little sketchy so the descriptions are… well, I was really glad for the pictures that accompanied the descriptions. On your final day of briefing you take the written exam if you want to get your SOFA license. BTW, SOFA is just a fancy acronym for status of forces agreement. Basically it’s just a host country (in our case Japan) agreeing that us foreigner living here for military purposes can get a quick license if we already have a US license, pass a set of simple tests proving we can handle the subtle differences (among maaaaany other things). There are 50 questions on the written and you need an 80% to pass. Here at Yokosuka they gave an incentive to really study. If you got 100% you get first choice of schedule availability for the driving exam. The Sailor assured me that he’d get a 100%. Needless to say, I was one of 6 that got 100% and he didn’t. HA! I haven’t taken the driving exam yet. I’m sure that will be complete fuckery. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you’ve made it thus far without losing your shit, bravo. Sadly, thats about to change. Because now comes the delivery of your household goods. The Japanese movers are polite, nice, patient and effective as fuck. No matter how awesome they are thought, they can’t fix what the US packers and movers drop kicked across the country and on to a container ship. Some of your shit will get broken. If you’re lucky it will be a cheap clothes drying rack or small bowl that had seen better days anyway. If you’re unlucky your grandfather clock will be jacked up bad enough you don’t know how to fix it and the corner of your flat screen 3D TV will be broken off among other things. Yeah, it will make you mad. You will silently rage and if you’re like me you’ll shut down and take a nap on the couch surrounded by chaos. Then when the movers are done and you look around at all your stuff and wonder how in the hell you fit this much crap into a one bedroom apartment back home, you’ll crack open a delicious Coca Cola, chug a few swallows then tip in a shot or two of Sailor Jerry straight into the can and sit down to spew your woes of the last several weeks out online.

And that’s how I ended up tipsy on a Tuesday afternoon.