David Chart's Japan Diary

February 8th 2004

It's been a busy week. I got internet in my flat, although it isn't totally reliable -- it isn't working at the moment, for example -- , I wrote two Japanese speeches, one for class and one for the Yamasa speech contest, and I caught up on a lot of sleep -- I slept for more than twelve hours last night. So now, finally, I have chance to write up my trip to Kamakura.

Tokyo and Kamakura

Shinjuku A representative view of Shinjuku. The building at the end of the street is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building.

I headed for Tokyo after school last Friday. After checking into Sawanoya, I headed over to Shinjuku. I wanted to go to Yellow Submarine, which stocks RPGs, and the original plan was to do my shopping by 7:30 and then meet Yuriko. That proved hopelessly optimistic, and after quite some time spent wandering around Shinjuku station trying to get to the right exit, I finally met up with Yuriko jst after eight. Then we wandered around Shinjuku, which was absolutely heaving with people, looking for the shop. We did find it, and I did the shopping I had planned, so I now have quite a few Japanese RPG books that I can't really read. After that, we had a very nice dinner, with Hana as well, at a new restaurant in Shinjuku. That was quite busy, as well.

Saturday was the trip to Kamakura. Kamakura was the effective capital of Japan for a couple of hundred years in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, so as a result it has a number of important temples and shrines. However, because power moved away from it hundreds of years ago, it's still quite a small town, which means that the temples have a rather nicer setting than they do in, say, Tokyo.

The Buddha statue The Kamakura Daibutsu.

The train from Tokyo was easy enough to handle, and I bought the tourist guide at the station, because it had a decent map in it. The first thing to see was the Kamakura Daibutsu, a big bronze statue of Buddha. This is the second largest in Japan (the one is Nara is actually the largest), but it is rather more inspiring, because the wooden building housing it was swept away by a tidal wave several hundred years ago, leaving the statue outside, exposed to the elements. This means that, instead of disappearing inside a building barely large enough to contain it, it is set against a background of wooded hills.

After that, I walked down to the Hase Kannon Dera. This is a temple built to house an enormous wooden statue of Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy. The statue is one of a pair, the other of which is in Hasedera. The one at Kamakura was thrown into a river, and finally housed when it reached a place where it didn't curse everyone.

The temple complex is quite large, with shrines to various Shinto deities and Buddhist figures. It's also on a hill, so I was able to eat lunch with a great view out over the Pacific Ocean (Kamakura is on the coast). The first sub-shrine I visited was a cave shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, a Shinto figure (I think) This was carved out of the rock, and had signs warning Japanese people to mind their heads - so I was almost bent double at some points. It's still an active shrine, which seemed a little strange. For some reason, I think of places of worship carved out of the rock as purely historical.

Jizo statues A small section of the ranks of Jizo statues around the shrine.

The main temple was up on the hillside, so there were a lot of steps to climb. Some way up, there was a shrine to Jizo. Jizo is the Buddhist protector of children, and it has long been the custom to dedicate small statues of him in memory of children who miscarried or were stillborn. Recently, it has become common for women who have had abortions to dedicate statues as well. Knowing the reason for the dedications makes the sight of row upon rown upon row of these statues slightly chilling. A few are dressed, and even have toys. The offerings at the main shrine are also of things that are suitable for children, from sweets to toys.

The main statue is very impressive, being carved from a single piece of camphor wood and still being very tall indeed. Unfortunately, you aren't allowed to take photographs. Another interesting thing in the main area is the rotating library. This is a complete set of Buddhist scriptures mounted in a set of shelves that can be rotated. Apparently, the belief is that rotating the library once is karmically equivalent to reading all of the scriptures there, as well as being a lot quicker and easier.

After lunch I headed down to the coast and, after getting slightly lost, made my way up the main road to the Hachiman shrine. This is the main Shinto structure in Kamakura, and it is quite spectacular. The central shrine building is reached up a steep flight of steps, and the grounds are a very pleasant garden.

The shrine was my last visit in Kamakura, and I headed back to Tokyo. I went back to Shinjuku for an other look around, and found that Yellow Submarine did have three of my books in stock. I was able to use this as an example in class this week, which rather surprised my teacher. Obviously, the teachers don't talk quite as much as they might -- I'm sure my teachers from last term knew that I'm a writer.

On Sunday, I spent the morning doing my guidebook's walking tour of the area around Sawanoya. This was very good. One of the highlights was the Asakura Choso museum, which is a conversion of the house where a Japanese sculptor lived and worked in the first half of the last century. The house itself is wonderful; I want one like that. His sculptures were also good, and there's a room upstairs filled entirely with sculptures of cats.

Nezu Jinja The main building at Nezu Jinja.

The other highlight was Nezu Jinja, which is really close to Sawanoya. It's a Shinto shrine, and famous for its manicured azalea bushes. Of course, they weren't in bloom when I was there, but I could see that they will be specatcular when they are. There weren't very many people in the shrine, despite its fairly central location, and the same was true of the museum, so it seems that it's actually fairly easy to get away from the crowds, even in the heart of Tokyo. It just means staying away from, say, Shinjuku.

At lunchtime, I met up with Yuriko and one of her friends, and a Canadian friend of Yuriko's friend. We met at Sensoji, and then had a very nice sushi lunch. One of my bits of sushi had rather more wasabi on it than I was expecting, so after that I checked under the fish before eating, to see if my mouth was about to be set on fire again.

The trip back to Okazaki was uneventful, and I did manage to write a bit of diary before going to bed.

Back to Okazaki

As mentioned, this week has been quite busy. I think I've finally shaken my cold off, and my skin does seem to be getting better, albeit very slowly. I'm in two minds about whether to go back to the doctor. On the one hand, it still isn't right. On the other, it's clearly better -- I'm sleeping properly, and some of the redness is fading --, and he did say that it would take time to clear up. So, I've not been back yet, and I'm hoping that it will finish clearing up quickly enough for me to not need to.

Japanese has also been progressing. Thanks to being ill and going away for the weekend, I've fallen a bit behind, so I'm still in the process of catching up. Having two speeches to write has not helped with that process, but they are now done, so I can move on to catching up.

I had an interview with Sakai-sensei on Friday. This is the standard quarterly interview where the teacher finds out what you want to do with Japanese, and makes suggestions for your study. She agrees with me about my current weaknesses, and suggested that I write more example sentences for the new bits of grammar, study beginning intermediate grammar by myself (I kind of skipped that stage between self-study and Yamasa), and practice reading quickly so that I can do better on the reading comprehension sections of the test. I'm not sure where I'm going to find time for all of that, but we'll see.

I'm still a little concerned about finding time to do everything I need to, but we'll see how this week goes. Since I'm not really ill any more, and have done the speeches, things should go a bit more easily.