Having left Hakone by train, we arrived at Kamakura station in the early evening. We were having a fast paced trip and while I am perfectly capable of navigating by myself around Japan (I did so for nearly a month once many moons ago) it takes me at least three times as long to buy a ticket, and find the right train or station or exit if I am on my own. K makes it happen much more smoothly, though that puts the burden of reading all the signs and timetables and so forth on her shoulders. I am sure that sometimes she must wonder whether she is my 'SO' (significant other) or my volunteer tour guide. "Better keep carrying the bags", I tell myself, "lest I lose my usefulness".
While my long narratives may make it seem otherwise, we were only near the end of the second day of the trip. We walked from the station over to Wakamiya-oji, a wide avenue with raised pedestrian walk down the center that is lined with cherry trees, and headed toward our lodgings for the night - a sort of condo/hotel. After a brief respite in the room, we started thinking about what everyone does on such a vacation. Hey! Not that. I am referring of course to DINNER.
We discussed some options and K lead us toward a Japanese restaurant on Komachi Dori, the next street over. We looked at other places we saw along the way, just in case. When we arrived, it appeared the restaurant had either closed or changed from what she expected (there was a mild disturbance in the "east-west communication continuum" that evening so I'm not sure which), so we circled back and kept looking. We came upon a French restaurant -"Habitue" - for the second time and took a look at the chalkboard on the sidewalk which had a couple of specials that were of interest. The price was more than we usually fork out for dinner, but not huge, and we were in a mood to have something special. Up the stairs to the restaurant on the second floor we were greeted by the owner/chef, and a totally empty restaurant. Well, there were only 16 or so seats, but it was all ours. The owner was working alone for whatever reason and what ensued was most unique experience.
Very cool jazz piano music was coming over the speakers at just the right volume - enough to enjoy it, but without interfering with our conversation. We started with a delicious wholegrain sourdough French bread. Next was a Mozzarella cheese salad with cherry tomatoes and a vinegar and apple jelly dressing. Then came a cold pumpkin soup. Between each dish I could see the chef working through the kitchen door. We each had a glass of Chardonnay with the main dish, which was sea bream, oyster on the half shell, and okra in a wonderful sauce. Dessert was a very light coconut parfait with plum, kiwi, and peaches. We finished with a cup of herbal tea blend - there was a choice of four - that came from Sweden - I forgot to write down the name. Other people showed up while we were dining, but as there was a lack of help, they were told to come back later. We felt very special. And the food? - délicieuse.
If you recall, the French dinner at Fujiya Hotel in Hakone that we passed on was 30,000 yen for two. The total bill for this evening came to about 8200 yen ($71.00). If you are ever in Kamakura, try this restaurant. Map is HERE.
The next morning, we ate another "convenience store breakfast", checked out and headed for the train station to store our bags. (This was a top priority for me as I was very tired of schlepping our bags around, especially as I have a rotator cuff injury). We had a hard time finding lockers outside Kamakura Station that our luggage would fit into, and were lucky that an older man who works in the tourist industry (bus driver perhaps?) saw us and offered his assistance (Japan is full of helpful souls). Using his uniform, he took us past the gate monitor into the station where we otherwise would have needed a ticket to enter and showed us exactly where the lockers that we needed were located and didn't leave us until we had secured our luggage and answered any questions.
Then we were off, back up Wakamiya-oji avenue to the historic shrine that marked the beginning of the Kamakura Period - Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
The first Shogun in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199), built Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in 1180 in honor of the guardian diety of the Minamoto clan, Hachiman, and to mark his ascension to supreme Shogun following his defeat of the rival Taira Clan, making Kamakura the defacto capital of Japan for the next 150 years.
The buildings were consumed by fire in 1191 and rebuilt in its present configuration, though some buildings were rebuilt during Tokugawa Shogunate. Originally, the shrine also had Buddhist temples on its 20 acres. At that time, Shinto was seen as a Japanese manifestation of Buddhism and the two religions were practiced together.
The entrance to the shrine is flanked by lotus ponds (made by Yoritomo's wife) but there were few blossoms to enjoy at this time of year. The ponds are of different size and are called "Genpei". The larger (Gen) represents the the Minamoto clan, the smaller (Pei) represents the Taira clan. The Gen pond has 3 islands. Three in Japanese is "san", which can also mean creativity. The Pei pond has 4 islands. Four in Japanese is "shi", which can also mean death. So the ponds represent creativity to the Minamotos and death to the Tairas!
Buddhism and Shinto would later begin to be separated under the Tokugawa Shogunate and Shinto emphasized. Later still, the radicals who overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 took Fukko (revived) Shinto as their ideology, and this became the new government's state creed. Shinto and Buddhism were separated by decree in 1868 and Buddhist effigies were ordered to be removed from Shinto shrines. So today, there are no Buddhist temples on Shinto shrine grounds.
The cherry tree lined path leading to the shrine was also built for Minamoto no Yoritomo, or rather his wife, Masako. Yoritomo had two daughters and wanted a son. They made frequent trips to the shrine to pray for a boy, so when Masako became pregnant with their third child in 1182, he had the path constructed to make her walk easier. They did have a son by the way, who became the 2nd Shogun, and the name of the street, Wakamiya-oji means "Young Prince Avenue".
The beautiful vermilion lacquer finish of the building offered a pleasing contrast with the green forests surrounding them.
We exited through a side path and headed up a slope toward our next stop - perhaps the most significant of Kamakura's five great Zen Buddhist temples.
つづく (to be continued)....with "Katsu! How to Make a Zen Vacuum Cleaner"