...and walk we did! We did the Kamakura walking tour today. "Walking" turned out not to be an exaggeration: it feels like we walked through all of Kamakura. We wanted to visit Kamakura mostly based on the scenery we saw of Hitomi's home town in Escaflowne: she is of Kamakura. We wanted to see the waterfront and ride in the streetcars.
We did the pick-up thing again, and we were introduced to our guide: a small woman with a pink sweater on... She turned out to be very sweet and with a better walking condition than the both of us combined (but I guess that is to be expected, if you have to walk a group through Kamakura regularly -- for us it's just a day tour, for her it's a job). We went to the train station (conventiently located a few escalators down from the bus station) and after one change we were on the train to Kamakura. It took us about an hour to get there, during which the tour guide went to each group individually to explain where we would go on the tour. When we got to Kamakura, we went into the streetcars and went to the Daibutsu (Big Buddha) of Kamakura, the main attraction.
The Kamakura Daibutsu
And indeed, big it was. 12 meters high, made of bronze. Apparently there had been a lot of temples built around it, but every time the temple had been destroyed, either by a tidal wave or an earthquake. Now the Daibutsu stood out in the open. It was pretty impressive, as were the two sandals made of rice-straw that the local farmers had made for the Daibutsu, in hopes of a good rice-harvest. For a small fee, you could get inside the statue, which was pretty neat. The neck had been reinforced in recent years, which was clearly visible from the inside. And the windows in the back of the statue had been opened. The guid told us that those windows were original, and served no other purpose than ventilation. I should ask my father (he is a metallurgic engineer after all) but I guess you don't want the difference in temperature on the inside and outside to get too big to prevent warping of the metal.
Other than that, there was little to see: the usual souvenir shop, a host of pigeons and a trio of squirrels that begged for food morsels.
Next was another temple, the temple to Kannon. (Yes, the same goddess of mercy they have a temple for at Tokyo Asukasa -- apparently she/he/it (Kannon has no gender) serves the same purpose as Mary does in the Catholic church.) The temple complex was set in a beautiful, well-tended garden. The guide took us for a quick tour of the complex, after which we were free to explore to our heart's content. It was a pity they didn't want any photos taken of the images of Kannon and Buddha in the temple ("The Buddhist gods are very camera-shy!"), because they were very impressive. There were also various shrines devoted to Jizo (a monk and protector of children -- there were many little statuettes of Jizo, put there by grieving mothers for aborted or still-born children), the god for success in worldly matters and the god for success in artistic matters. We sacrificed a little statuette to that one god, we'll see how it turns out.
The temple gardens
The guide also showed us that the huge butterflies we had been seeing everywhere were in fact not butterflies, but cicadas. They made all the noise. Apparently they live underground for four years, and live one week above ground during the summer. They must be in a hurry to attract a partner, hence all of the noise, I guess. We wandered some more through the gardens and then it was time for lunch.
We had hoped for a Japanese lunch, but alas, lunch was in a Spanish restaurant. Well, Spanish... More like the Japanese interpretation of Spanish, just like all the Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands are more like a Dutch interpretation of the Chinese cuisine. It wasn't bad, but we've had better.
The Kamakura shrine
After lunch, we walked to the Tsurugaokahachiman-gu shrine. It's a Shinto shrine dedicated to the founder of the Kamakura shogunate. It was your typical shinto shrine: lots of people, lots of photograph-taking, lots of fortune-selling. We did get to see a shinto ceremony, it looked pretty relaxed on the part of the worshippers: the priests did all the work. That's what you want in a religion: just pay the priests your fee, and let them do the work for you. What else do you have priests for anyway!?
After that, we walked back to the station through a shopping street. Lewt: a weekend bag (which we needed for our trip to Nikko, because we had to leave our baggage back in the hotel in Tokyo) and at the very end we encountered another shop selling Ghibli merchandise (lewt: a set of Laputa pendants).
We crossed a few streets that were guarded by pedestrian lights. To our horror, they played the same electronic melody you hear in Boogiepop Phantom. Ingeborg told me she thought the producers of that series had made it unmelodious to give a surreal feel to it, but apparently they used the unmodified melody... Granted, it's not everything to be signalled by a rattling sound that it is safe to cross (like happens in the Netherlands), but it's better than an electronic melody composed by a tone-deaf person!
Then the tour was over. We went back on the train. This time, there was no delivery back to the pick-up hotels, so our guide directed us to the subway. Of course we knew how it worked, so she didn't need to worry. I did want to give her a thank-you gift, but of course we had forgotten to taken them with us on the tour...
In the evening, we wanted to go to the conveyor-belt sushi place we had seen before, near the Meiji shrine, but when we found it it was completely packed. We ducked into one of the many side streets in search of a place that had displays of its food outside. We did find a few but they didn't look very promising. We did find the hairdresser's quarter though: imagine a street full of salons... Finally, we found a place: it was a cellar with little tables, one waitress and one cook. It was a find of tempura-place: everything was coated in breadcrumbs and fried for you. I had the sirloin and cheese, Ingeborg the seafood platter. We also got a bowl of rice (amongst other things), and it turned out it wasn't too much of a problem to eat the rice with chopsticks, because Japanese rice is pretty sticky (unlike Indian rice, which is the kind of rice you get in the Netherlands).
We packed our bags which gave us a bit of stress. We were fretting over what to do with our luggage when we had to travel on our own (from Hakone to Tsumago and from Tsumago to Kyoto). The information Tozai provided us said that it was really inconvenient to bring your luggage on train or bus, which are the modi of transport we were going to use... There is some kind of courier service which can bring your luggage anywhere, but it can take up to two days for the smaller places (which we figured Tsumago would be). In the end, we decided to send our luggage to Kyoto from Hakone, which would mean we had to pack stuff for three days in our newly acquired weekend bag. We'll manage.