3 Weeks Japan – Day 2May 28, 2010
A trip to the sea 23/03
Today we take a trip away from Tokyo to the coastal Kamakura. Once capital of the entire nation, Kamakura is now a peaceful and quiet town enclosed by mountain slopes and the sea. It’s a picture perfect slow-paced small japanese town. On arrival we first have breakfast: a bread selection from the bakery at the station. I recognise the melonpan and the anpan (thanks to Shana and Yakitate Japan!) and my third pick proves to be.. well nothing special, another sweet soft bun. Japanese bread is ok for a snack, but breakfastwise it’s not all that. I’m disappointed both the “french” and “german” bakeries only serve sweet snack breads and no real french or german bread. I guess Japanese people will be equally put off by the lousy rice we use in Belgium.
The most famous tourist spot in Kamakura is the Daibutsu, an outside bronze statue of a sitting Buddha, about 13 meters high. The Buddha has 4 little fairy wings on its back where they made holes to bring in light and air to the insides (which you can enter). Yes, for enlightment. Around the Buddha, flocks of tourist are circling with brief stops at the best photo angles, the small altar and the one sakura tree which started to bloom early. This is so very Japan, small people, big cameras, buddha and sakura.
After visiting the Hasedera temple, a nice place with a beautiful garden, a cave (!!!) and a panoramic view on Kamakura Bay, we decide to take the walking trail to the north part of town. A rash decision. The path follows one of the mountain arms encompassing the west of Kamakura. A total of 4 kilometers we climb and descend along the path through the woods, a constant fight with our overestimated jetlag legs. Luckily the weather is soothing and we can practise the right intonation of “konnichiwa” on innocent passersby with walking sticks and fisherman’s hats (the official Japanese uniform for middle aged women on a trip).
On our arrival in north Kamakura we walk past the train station, however tempting it is to give our legs a rest with train seat salvation. Instead we drag our feet to the Zenbuddhist temple complex Engakuji with extensive grounds to walk and steep stairs to climb to a giant bell on a lookout mountain. We could have skipped the stairs, particularly in our sorry physical state, but there is something about stairs and wanting to climb them. You never know what greatness lies on top..
The Shonan-Shinjuku train line between Kamakura and Tokyo, a paradise for tired tourists, passes through Yokohama, Japan’s 2nd largest city. For a city with 3.6 million inhabitants it has painfully few things to offer. Still, we can’t let the opportunity slip and we get off the train for an evening visit of Central Yokohama and the world’s biggest Chinatown.
The entrances to Chinatown are not only indicated by the huge Chinese gates, but also by the sudden change in atmosphere. The streets in Chinatown are sparkling and alive. A little bit messy and dirty, but that is part of its charm. Offcourse we have diner in one of the many small restaurants, a varia of chinese dishes which we empty with eager and pleasure. The after-diner drop of energy is almost fatal at this part of our trip. With no good places to sleep in the restaurant we return to the streets where it gently started raining. We stumble and stroll through the seaside Yamashita Park and get revigorated at the sight of the Osanbashi Pier. This pier, a project by Foreign Office Architects, can be described as a big wooden landscape park with curving decks and entwined surfaces. Within, like a belly of a giant whale, is a huge departure lounge for passenger ferries. It’s a shame it’s dark and raining, but it’s a fine piece of architecture with an appropriate impressive background: the Yokohama skyline.
After a tiring day we stumble upon the worst train scenario. Two of the main train lines are having technical difficulties (I always imagin the cause to be suicide jumpers) so everyone is forced to take the Keihin-Tohoku trains. The platform is crawling with people, so we figure it might take a few trains before we can board ourselves. However, in no time the whole crowd disappears entirely in the train, packed like sardines. We are standing there speechless, watching the people become a dense mass of bodies. Everytime I think the limit is reached, another 2 or 3 accustomed rush hour travelers push themselves on board. Maybe the next train will be better. Or not. Such naive thinking is crushed immediately by the new wave of people swarming in on the “perron”. By the time the next train arrives, the scenario looks completely identical, except this time we are part of the anonymous body mass. 4 stops and 30 minutes later we squeeze out of the train and swear to never do that again. At least it’s not summer.