March 3, 2009: “Day #14: Journey through Kamakura”

Today was an adventure filled day. We spent the day in Kamakura – my favorite city in Japan.

We visited the Hasadera Temple (the Children’s Temple). It was quite different from my previous visit in October. Each season brings a new beauty to each area of Japan. This time the crowds were minimal and without all the blooming undercover and trees I found statues I had missed last time. I read that Hasadera Temple actually is only reserved for miscarried, aborted, or stillborn children. Since each small statue represents a child’s life, they burn the statues on an annual basis. Sure enough, this visit brought about us realizing they must have recently had their yearly ritual disposing of the statues as there were many new statues on display (we could tell as they were not weathered). Oddly enough I missed the caves at the Hasadera Temple last time likely due to the high tourist season. This time I went in the caves which were quite fascinating. Within the walls of the small, dark cave different gods were carved in a recessed pattern. They were exceptionally old and incredible to see and touch. Connecting the two caves was a small short tunnel where I had to hunch over, carefully balance my purse, and walk through. You would think that claustrophobia would begin to consume you but remarkably enough with all the amazing architectural stimulation, the walls didn’t feel as though were closing it. It really was amazingly beautiful.

We also noticed a small group of middle school/junior high school students giggling and glancing at us nervously. It turned out that as part of the English curriculum in Japanese schools, they require students to visit local tourist areas – mainly shrines and temples – and ask Americans various questions. They were so cute and in awe of us as Americans. Lisa quietly told us to compliment them on their English, as this is something they take great pride in. They requested a group picture for their school “project” and we in turn asked them to use my camera to take a group photo as well.

We then visited the “very expensive Chinese restaurant” (literal translation) dumpling stand for a delicious pork dumpling.

Afterward we walked to the giant Diabatsu (The Great Buddha). My hubby and I asked a Japanese man to take our photo and since there were hardly any crowds he took a great picture of us in front of Buddha. We both agreed that you have to visit Buddha in person to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of this mammoth bronze sculpture.

After visiting Buddha, Hiroko, one of Lisa’s Japanese students (she’s in her 50’s) picked us up and brought us to her modern Japanese house. She prepared lunch for us but requested we help her make the gyoza filling and make the gyoza. The filling consisted of shredded green cabbage, shredded carrots, ground pork, salt, pepper, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and sake. She also showed us how to make the gyoza in a “four fan pattern.” It was so much fun and we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Hiroko is hilarious. She definitely doesn’t have the standard conformist Japanese attitude. Lisa and I agreed that Hiroko is so outspoken that she most definitely was born in the wrong country. Her meal was delicious – fried rice with freeze-dried sardines and seaweed (half the fried rice was sans these traditional Japanese toppings). She also made chicken yakitori and seasoned thinly sliced lotus root. The Japanese set so many small dishes – chopstick holders, sauce dishes, small plates, tiny water glasses (more like our large shot glasses), tea cups, etc.

March 3 is known as “Girl’s Day” in Japan. Hiroko bought Lisa and me special “girl’s day” candy and I asked Hiroko if her husband bought her anything to celebrate this special day. She said that Japanese men do not buy their wives gifts and I immediately asked her if he bought her flowers and she said Japanese men do not do this. Hiroko loved my hubby’s witty sarcasm and since she has a hilarious sense of humor, she kept coming back at him. At one point she told him that he used chopsticks like a three- or four-year-old, though both Lisa and I thought his chopstick skills were adequate. Hiroko could not resist teasing him. For dessert she proudly brought out a boxed cake someone gave her as a gift. She was proud because it was an American style dessert. Little did we realize it was a fruitcake! She thought the fruitcake looked odd so she decided that my hubby was the test subject. Fortunately he is the only person I know that actually likes fruitcake. Lisa and I kind of choked our fruitcake down and afterward, as Lisa is Hiroko’s English teacher, she explained the meaning of fruitcake to Americans. Hiroko seemed surprised and then I think she likely decided not to serve fruitcake again.

Hiroko dropped us off at the Kencho-ji Temple (the most important Zen temple in Kamakura) and agreed to meet us later at the honey store in Komachi-dori. The Kencho-ji Temple was quite beautiful. The grounds had giant juniper trees that were planted more than 700 years ago and the detailed Zen architecture was quite amazing. It was so cold outside that my hubby predicted snow and little did we know he would turn out to be accurate!

We then visited the Engaku-ji Temple which is the second most important Zen temple in Kamakura. This temple was, in my opinion, disappointing after seeing the Kencho-ji Temple. I mean, once you have seen the most important Zen temple, seeing the second most important is just digressing.

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We then met Hiroko at the honey store but prior to her arrival we stopped and bought her flowers as a thank you for a wonderful, delicious Japanese meal. Lisa and I decided to have my hubby give her the flowers since Hiroko had indicated earlier that men apparently do not buy their wives flowers in Japan. She was truly thrilled and seeing her excitement was nearly contagious. She had Lisa take a picture of her, my hubby, and the flowers. We then of course had to celebrate by eating a crazy crepe! This time I selected blueberries with fresh cream cheese. It was delicious. We then parted ways with Hiroko at the Kamakura Station.

We were on our way to meet Bill for dinner and upon exiting the train station realized it was snowing. It was rather funny considering earlier we had been teasing Hiroko about ordering a large “American snow shovel” because she wanted to be the only one in the neighborhood with one. Lisa c-mailed (the Japanese version of text-messaging) and joked with her about how she could finally use her shovel!

After dinner we had one last evening with Lisa and Bill. My arms were incredibly sore from my previous night of Wii boxing but I managed to get in a game of Wii bowling and a couple matches of Wii tennis.

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