Saturday 25 May 2019

Extended Golden Week: Zushi, Enoshima, and Kamakura (Part 2)

In the last post, I introduced Zushi, a small sea-side city a couple of hours from Tokyo just to the east of Kamakura. While it is widely known that Kyoto, where the emperor resided, was the old capital of Japan until it moved to Tokyo in 1868, fewer people know that Kamakura was the other 'old capital', one that was home to Japan's first military government or shogunate (bakufu =幕府) which ruled from 1192 to 1333. Friction between Kyoto (where the emperor resided) and Kamakura (home to the shogunate) saw frequent conflict - effectively civil war - until the overthrow of the shogunate in 1333 though conflict continued between two competitors to the imperial throne until 1392.

Today, Kamakura is a bustling tourist-packed city full of shrines and temples reflecting its historical importance. The city may be smaller than either Kyoto or Nara but it has a long history that goes back to even before the shogunate; Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in the center of the city was built in the year 1063. This "shrine" has both Buddhist and Shinto features reflecting the fact that until the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order (神仏判然令) of 1868 the two religions were mixed. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shows plenty of traces of its shrine-temple (jingū-ji =神宮寺) history in its layout and architecture. Starting from the coast, there is a long straight 1.8km road that climbs up to the Shrine at the top of the hill. When I was there I was lucky enough to see a Shinto wedding taking place: in the video at the bottom you can see the bride with her tsuno-kakushi headwear (introduced here) serenaded by traditional court musicians playing gagaku (雅楽) classical music on flutes and pipes (the vertical panpipes-like instrument is called shō or ).

Walking back from Tsurugaoka Hachimangu you can take the famous  Komachi-dori Street a narrow street packed with souvenir shops and some 60,000 visitors a day. It has become so crowded with foreign tourists that authorities have had to crack-down on eating while walking - seen as bad manners in Japan - following complaints from businesses (somewhat ironic given that these businesses are the ones selling the food in the first place!). One of the best-selling snacks is the Buddha soft cream (pictured) which is presumably acceptable to eat while heading towards the famous Big Buddha. There are actually quite a few Big Buddhas (daibutsu =大仏) in Japan, with the most famous being the one in Nara. The Big Buddha here is neither the oldest nor the tallest (13m) but the fact that it sits in the open air and can be viewed inside is pretty unique - not to mention that it is also the subject of a poem by Rudyard Kipling!

Sunday 12 May 2019

Extended Golden Week: Zushi, Enoshima, and Kamakura (Part 1)

Zushi Marina, Kanagawa
Japan recently enjoyed an extended "Golden Week" holiday to mark the abdication of the old emperor and the succession of the new (discussed in an earlier post). May 1st, the first day of the new emperor's reign known as the Reiwa era, became the additional holiday which worked out as ten consecutive days off (April 27th to May 6th) for many - but not all - people. Golden Week is probably the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese and with the extra day many did take advantage of this to travel inside and outside Japan (despite the crowds and higher prices). I enjoyed a trip to nearby Zushi, Kanagawa, a small sea-side city sandwiched between Kamakura and Yokosuka (home to the US naval base) only a couple of hours from the capital.
The weather wasn't especially kind during our stay, but we did have some blue skies (as the picture shows) and the beach was rather lovely (our dog, Jaz, especially enjoyed digging holes!). The beach was actually the setting for former Tokyo mayor's debut novel Taiyō no Kisetsu (太陽の季節)which translates as Season of the Sun but became Season of Violence in the English translation, better reflecting the content which was about the rebellious post-war taiyōzoku youth culture. Interestingly, the Sunshine Party was also the name of Ishihara's short-lived nationalist political party.
In the evenings, the Zushi Beach Film Festival was in full swing and despite the rain quite a few people turned up to enjoy the huge screen and state of the art sound system. The booming speakers are a rarity on the beach - in 2014 the city banned loud music, tattoos, drinking, and barbecues after complaints by local residents. The crackdown on rowdy party goers and yakuza (two gangsters were  stabbed to death on the beach in 2013) saw a 50% drop in the number of visitors in 2015.

In the next post, I'll introduce Kamakura, the old capital of Japan and its wonderful temples and shrines. But for now I'll finish with a picture of Enoshima, a small offshore island a little further on from Kamakura introduced in an earlier post. Driving towards Enoshima along the coastal road the rolling storm clouds - completely hiding any view of Mount Fuji - contrasted vividly with the blue sky and crashing white foam. Breathtaking.