Another week come and gone, and this one saw a bounty of lush, green scenery as I made several expeditions to an array of temples, shrines, and gardens around the area.
Last Wednesday I did not have class until 2:30pm, so I decided to head of to Chiyoda area, and spend my morning exploring the Imperial Palace gardens while taking advantage of the sunny weather.
Although I have already been to this area on several other occasions, I had yet to get the full experience of the Imperial grounds.
The area was lush and green, although for the most part, the long concrete pathways made the heat a little much at times. I felt especially bad for the many gardeners who were hard at work in the hot sun.
Since I was in the area, I decided to go check out Yasukuni Shrine, which is know for being one of the most controversial shrines in all of Japan.
The shrine itself was extremely beautiful, however it draws its contention from the fact that it is dedicated to all the Japanese soldiers who lost their lives while fighting for Japan. Specifically, it lists among these people several known war criminals, which some people find offensive.
However, coming from an outside perspective, I thought that the shrine casts a very interesting light on the Japanese view of war and Soldiers. From what I could tell, the shrine placed more emphasis on respecting the suffering of the soldiers, nurses, and civilians who lost their lives during times of turmoil. In fact, it did not dwell on, or in any way seem to glorify, war crimes.
That evening I went grocery shopping and found a (relatively) large bag of mixed greens on sale. I took this as a sign from the vegetable gods and decided to buy enough ingredients to make myself a mega-salad – something I had been craving since my arrival here. With avocado, tofu, tomato, bell peppers, onion and a little bit of mozzarella; it certainly did not disappoint!
Salads are basically my staple back home, but here it can be pretty pricey making one that lives up to my typical standards. But I allowed myself this one luxury on such a hot day.
Speaking of luxury, this Saturday I decided to finally indulge my craving to get away from the crowds and noise of the big city. So around lunchtime, my friend and I hopped on a train and made the 2-hour trip to a town called Kamakura, which is known for it’s abundance of temples and shrines.
According to wikipedia, it was “the political center of medieval Japan” but is now mostly known as a resort town, sought for both its beaches and religious sites.
Upon arriving, we were required to make a choice: we could either go visit the giant bronze Buddha statue for which Kamakura is most famous, or we could spend our time seeing more of the minor temples. We opted for the latter, with the rationale being we can always come back another time and see the Buddha on its own.
We set out, and quickly found ourselves walking along a crowded market street, decorated with a bizarre assortment of statues, signs and advertisements.
It was easy enough to just follow the stream of people, who were all clearly headed in the same direction as us. We soon came across the telltale red tori gate, signifying a shinto shrine. In this case, we had arrived at Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, apparently the biggest and most important shrine in Kamakura.
The shrine did indeed have a fairly large layout, and it took us some time to fully explore the area and the many small nooks and crannies that were hidden away.
And maybe this is a little creepy of me, but I have this weird fondness of taking photos of other tourists who are taking selfies.
I don’t know why, I just find it hilarious. But anyways, moving on…
Leaving the shrine, we headed uphill towards an area on the map which seemed to have a large temple complex. As we walked we were able to appreciate the old-fashioned buildings and the lush greenery which surrounded us on all sides.
(Not to mention this super cool tunnel/skylight that covered part of the road)
On the way, we came across a small staircase which seemed to lead to some sort of sacred area.
It turned out to be a small Buddhist temple, dedicated to this awesome guy:
Unfortunately, photos were prohibited inside the temple itself, so you’ll just have to take my word that he was even cooler as a statue.
After that little detour, we found the temple area we had originally set out for, which really was quite expansive.
There were so many cool little areas, and it seemed to stretch on and on, transitioning from one temple into the next…
Finally we were forced to tear ourselves away from the many tantalizing pathways, as we realized the sun was going down and we should probably start heading back home.
On the way back, I couldn’t help but stop to purchase a “simple and classy” grapefruit drink. It was pretty cool, and I got to watch as the vendor took a fresh grapefruit and drilled a hole into it, turning the insides to pulp and juice.
Simple? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely! Classy?… Well, not so much.
After the long train ride home, we arrived back tired, our feet sore, but wholeheartedly content from a wonderful day.