After a crazy first day of traveling in Tokyo, Evan and I woke up the next morning well-rested and ready to sight see with Mary and her family. The seven of us (Mary, her mother, her brother Nate, her brother John, baby Annika and us) stepped out into a sprinkle of rain and headed for the Kamakura Daibutsu, or the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
A few train rides later, we arrived to the touristy town of Kamakura. It was breathtaking. Ma n’ pop stores lined the street, full of kitschy gifts and authentic Japanese treasures. The yen burned in my pocket, but I was on a strict budget so I ignored its fire… for the most part (I bought a silver fan for our apartment in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist)!
Mary turned out to be the ultimate tour guide! Having lived in Japan since January with her husband Mason Fox (one of Evan’s best friends who is on tour with the Navy) and daughter Annika, she knew lots about our first trip around the city.
Before entering the site with the Buddha, Evan and I were sure to cleanse ourselves.
The Buddha itself was a staggering monument, made entirely of bronze in 1252. It is the second largest Buddha in Japan. The site wasn’t too full of tourists because of the rain, which was nice.
One person put out a watermelon as an offering to the giant diety.
Around the temple, there were various incense burners where you could sweep smoke upon yourself for good luck. There were also small statues of kami, or spirits, housed in small statues around Buddha.
Mary explained that kami were a part of the Shinto religion, which is based on nature. Many Japanese people practice a combination of Shinto and Buddhism — their birth and marriage rituals are Shinto, but funeral processions are Buddhist.
Mt. Fuji, which we weren’t lucky enough to see during the trip (thanks a lot overcast skies) is the ultimate kami.
After poking around at souvenir shops around the Buddha, we headed up the hill in Kamakura to visit the Shinto Hasedera, or Hase Temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It was built in the 8th century. I didn’t take any pictures of the shrine of Kannon inside of the temple, out of respect for the religious area and the people praying inside.
The temple was surrounded by a picturesque garden, filled with running water and exotic plants. We even saw a lotus flower blooming, which was really special.
The lotus is sacred, because it is a representation of the stages of enlightenment. It starts dirty, and then grows until it is beautiful and in full bloom.
The temple also had a small shrine dedicated to foxes, behind a red gate (a sign of a sacred Shinto place). It was fun seeing that when we were with the Fox family!
After climbing a windy path alongside the temple, we were met with a breathtaking view of the Pacific ocean. Before leaving, we popped into the Bentenkutsu cave, which had candles and statues of dieties everywhere that gave its surroundings a mysterious aura.
The rain picked up, so we quickly found a Chinese restaurant and slurped down hot soup with noodles and dumplings, the warmness a comfort as the rain and wind howled outside.
That evening, we enjoyed our first Sushi-go-round dinner at a restaurant that Mary said was popular with Navy families when they first arrived in Japan. The fish was fresh, cheap and delicious!
The restaurant was nestled in a large supermarket, which had a 1oo yen (a little over $1) section. I scoured the aisles before finding what I was looking for — BENTO SUPPLIES! I had done it!
It took a good 20 minutes before I was able to whittle everything I wanted down to a reasonable 1,000 yen. Much to everyone’s amusement, I majorly geeked out at all of the little hokey items made special for the lunch boxes. I was lucky I was able to maintain some semblance of self-control, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the room to take everything home! I ended up with egg molders, specialty toothpicks (animals, for fun presentation), silicone cups to separate food, mini animal-shaped bottles to hold liquids in, a pair of chopsticks for both me and Evan, and tiny cookie-cutter type tools to shape my veggies with.
We ended the night with one of my favorite pastimes — a board game! As I’ve gotten older, I have appreciated the social aspects of games with friends so much more. Plus, if you pick the wordy ones (the games English nerds such as me swoon over) you just might learn something too.
We played Banana Grams, which quickly became a new favorite of mine. It is a sort of “speed Scrabble” game. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that one reason I liked it so much is that I performed pretty well (won 3 out of 4 games, NBD). It is a game that my family would adore, so if you’re reading this you should buy it on Amazon immediately.