Beach bums

One of the things I’ve really learned being here is the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Since arriving in Japan, I’ve made it my goal to seek out as many events and places to visit as I can with what little time I have. However, I’ve discovered it’s equally important to be open to spur-of-the-moment decisions, which quite often result in some of the best experiences and memories.

Just such an occurrence happened to arise this past Monday, when I discovered my only class of the day was canceled. Knowing that the weather was supposed to be quite nice, I woke up that morning with the plan in mind to head to Enoshima – a beach island off the coast of Japan (about an hour away from Tokyo) that I had been meaning to visit for quite some time.

After sending a quick message to my friend Nat (who also accompanied me on my previous trip to Mt. Takao), we met up and headed out – bathing suits and cameras in hand – for a day of adventures.

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We arrived at Enoshima station – the last stop on the line – and quickly found the bridge that connects the island to the mainland of Japan.

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Almost immediately we came across the first of many monuments dedicated to the island’s creation myth which involves a famous dragon.

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Basically, the story is best explained by this plaque we came across while touring the island.

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However, if that’s difficult to read, or if you simply want the abridged version, the story goes like this: Once upon a time there was a five-headed dragon who terrorized the area of Kamakura and its surrounding inhabitants. Eventually a sea goddess named Benten rose from the depths of the ocean, bring Enoshima with her. Upon seeing the goddess, the dragon fell in love with her, and sought her hand in marriage. However, the goddess refused to marry the dragon until he agreed to forgo his evil tendencies.

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For this reason, almost everywhere we went around the island there were references to the mythical characters.

Furthermore, because of the myth, Enoshim is known as a rather romantic location, and many couples visit the island for the sole purpose of invoking the love myth as a source of luck and prosperity in their relationships.

However, it actually would have been quite possible to tour the entire island without ever realizing that there was any sort of amorous overtones associated with the area. Indeed, it didn’t seem to be very prevalent except in certain designated areas, such as a gate where couples sign their names and/or romantic messages on padlocks and then leave them chained there as a symbol of their “ever-lasting” love.

Anyways, despite the island’s small size, there was plenty to see, starting with the Enoshima Shrine complex, which we arrived at almost as soon as we crossed the bridge.

 

Leading up to the shrine gates were many stalls and vendors selling seashells, straw hats, and an assortment of other cliché beach-themed souvenirs.

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Basically Enoshima is covered by one or two main paths which loop around the entire island. So although this made it easy for us to tour almost the entire island with relative ease, it also meant that the touristy stalls followed us along our entire trek.

Nonetheless, there were several interesting variations, such as some unique food vendors, like this one selling cucumbers on sticks.

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I was even able to get my fortune told by a machine…

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And we had the opportunity to have our feet nibbled by fish at a foot spa, though we decided against it.

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The island itself is shaped like a small mountain, which meant that we climbed up and then down as we made our way across the route, taking in the various views of the surrounding ocean scenes.

(The top right picture is the view from the look-off at the top where we had our lunch)

One of the most surprising things was the many hawks that inhabited the island – just about as common, (and as comfortable around people) as seagulls are back in the Maritimes. They definitely enjoyed showing off anyways, and we certainly appreciated watching.

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Even more reminiscent of my Nova Scotian upbringing was the rocky outcropping that covered the far side of Enoshima island. In particular I was struck by how similar the area was to Peggy’s Cove – minus the iconic lighthouse, of course.

 

Nat and I had some fun exploring the many tidal pool that were filled with crabs, fish and other marine life.

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The main trail only did not actually extend to the rocks, but rather, lead along the high cliff walls. At one point, the path came to the entrance of a cave where you could pay a small admission fee in order to explore the inside.

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Although the caves themselves are actually very ancient formations, they have been redeveloped by the city as a tourism spot, and therefore has sadly lost a lot of its original authenticity.

Lights, framed photographs, information panels, and plastic models decorated much the inner space. Meanwhile, the walls of the caves were lined with many stone buddha statues displayed behind plexiglass. All of this combined to make the whole area feel more like a museum than anything else.

One pretty cool aspect was that they gave us individual candles to carry around with us as we explored. They didn’t exactly provide a huge source of light, but I definitely considered it a nice touch to add to the atmosphere.

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And despite how manufactured the whole cave felt, the natural formations remain in tact. Although the extremely low ceilings made it a little uncomfortable for some (poor Nat who’s 6’5″ was basically bent in half the whole time!), I enjoyed the fact that  there was still some aspect that had not undergone human reconstruction.

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After touring the caves, we had basically reached the end of the path, and since it was late afternoon anyways, we decided to head back to the beach and cool off in the water.

 

 

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Unfortunately, Japanese beaches are notorious for being polluted and also quite crowded in the Summer. I guess we were lucky that it wasn’t quite summer yet, so at least we had the beach basically to ourselves. And all the garbage that went with it…

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I guess more than anything I feel blessed to have grown up in an area of the world that has a surplus of beautiful, clean and secluded beaches.

However it was a nice change to be dipping my toes in the Pacific rather than the bone-chilling Atlantic. I hadn’t been swimming once since arriving in Japan so I was not about to be discouraged by a few plastic bags and cigarette butts in the water. Nat and I both spent quite a while just savouring the sensation of floating in the water and playing in the waves like kids.

Unfortunately there was no shower or rinsing station for us to wash off all the salt and sand, so the train ride home was a little bit grimy. But honestly, that in itself was kind of a nice sensation after having gone so long away from the water.  And despite the crowds and the tourist-oriented feel of the island, it was certainly a day well spent!

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