Despite an, ehem, last start the following day, I decided to take a solo day trip to the highly recommended Kamakura. It was off an on raining but clear enough to brave. It’s the rainy season right now and if I let rain stop me from exploring I’d have to wait about another month and that’s not happening. By local train it took about an hour and a half with only a few transfers. This was quite the achievement for me since it was the first time traveling by train completely on my own without any precise explanations from others. Both Google Maps and an app called HYPERDIA make train travel elementary. I didn’t screw up at all either there or back and that’s a huge win for me. On the way back I found a route that only required one transfer and that was down right awesome.
So Kamakura is temple and shrine happy. They are everywhere. I went there having no idea where I’d be going or what I’d be doing. I looked up some of the larger sites on my phone on the train ride and asked some friends recommendations - then I just sort of hoofed it. My first target was the giant Buddhist Temple known as Hase-dera. This is where a giant Golden Buddha exists. This thing was beyond awe inspiring. I respected the signs and didn’t take a photo but I really wanted to. I just stared at it for a few minutes. Truly remarkable. This location also had a cave that I had to duck to travel through. It was filled with tiny Buddha statues and dim light, you know, something that seems like it would only exist in like an Indiana Jones flick.
I happened to visit Kamakura and especially Hase-dera during hydrangea blooming season. I was quick to learn that this is quite the big deal. While I imagine the place is normally covered with tourists, it was especially busy this day. Loooots and lots of people. There was even a Hydrangea Viewing Path that had a roped off waiting line. The moral of the story is that hydrandeas are serious business and shouldn’t be taken lightly by any means. I mean, sure, they are pretty and all, but hot damn the people.
Even getting my fill of Buddha, I needed some Shinto action. On Google Maps I saw what appeared to be a huge shrine near the station. That would be my next destination. First though, food. I walked for a bit waiting for something to speak to me - then is spoke. Of all things, a burrito restaurant. Before you roll your eyes you have no idea how few Mexican style restaurants I have seen since I’ve been living in Japan. The second I walked through the door a Japanese woman in perfect English greeted me. I chose correctly. The burrito was like a burrito / wrap hybrid but very delicious. I chatted with her a bit and then head back off.
Google Maps was correct, this shrine was massive. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine. There are archways on the street that lead to it. Apparently during cherry blossom season the place is absolutely beautiful - not that I was complaining when I went. I visited some of the side shrines before going to the main area. Here I noticed a bunch of money just laying on the ground. I looked around and saw a man and an elderly woman looking over the ponds. I slow English and my limited mixed Japanese I asked if it was theres. The woman checked for sometime and realized it was hers. They were both super thankful and it felt really good. Since it occurred right in front of a shrine, I donated to it and prayed for a spell.
The two main building were quite impressive. This place had full time shrine maidens working - the real deal. Just exploring all the areas I was permitted to go was pretty amazing. I kept finding side shrines in strange locations which was awesome to me. The main building was on top of a hill that you have to climb a tall flight of stairs to reach. From there you can see much of Kamakura and especially all the street arches which lead to it. I can’t even imagine how busy this place must be come New Year.
At this point it was getting late but I was still an hour and a half from home so I marched on. Unfortunately the larger shrines close down around 4:00 pm thus my window had long ended. It was sprinkling and I was definitely getting exercise at least. I passed by a place claiming it had award winning glazed pork bellies over rice so I had to try of course. I’ll admit, it was pretty damn good. It came with a side of udon - really good stuff. With that though, it was time to call it a day. I was pretty damn exhausted. The night before slowed me down a bit, I got to a late start, it rained, but I regret nothing. I’ll return to Kamakura - the place is beautiful. I’d love to see it with the cherry blossoms instead of the hydrangeas.