Day Three and Four of the 13 Day Japan Trip
TR Robertson… Day Three in Tokyo brought more adventures, this time mostly outside of the city. I should mention, before continuing, one unusual feature we found, in our hotel room at the Grand Nikko Tokyo Hotel, was a most amazing bathroom toilet. The sci-fi looking toilet had a side panel with various buttons to control water flow, deodorizer, spray and most importantly, a heated toilet seat. We would find this in several other hotels along the way as well.
Back to the daily adventure. Day three found us taking a series of public transportation trains. The first one we caught was just outside of our hotel, an automated people mover that took us across Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge to an East Japan Railway company main line. This much larger train line would take us for a 2 hour trip, covering some 31 miles, to the coastal city town of Kamakura. Kamakura is a popular local and tourist destination, specifically as a resort town and a town with a number of iconic Shinto and Buddhist temples and shrines. The train was rather crowded, but nothing compared to what we would encounter later in the day. Kamakura has had people living in this area for thousands of years, but the name does not appear in the records until 712.
Photos will follow in a separate article
Our first venture was down the narrow, crowded Komachi shopping street. Vendors and small stores were selling anything and everything imaginable. A large number of ice cream and waffle shops were popular stops for many. This street is 1.1 miles long and parallels an adjacent street that runs directly to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shinto shrine. This large shrine sits high on a hill above the complex. We were at this spot on a Sunday, the crowds were large as a festival was going to take place later in the day featuring Samurai warriors demonstrating a variety of skills. After a short visit at the shrine, our group met back up and headed back towards the train depot, where we would next get on a smaller train system, this time headed to another temple in the Kamakura area. This would be something we will never forget, the train ride beyond belief. I have seen images of this on television, but never experienced what was to happen.
As I said, the crowds were quite large. As the small, three car train pulled in, our group and others, noticed that the train was already completely full. No matter. The train stopped, the doors opened, no one got off the train and the crowd on the platform moved toward the train cars and basically jammed the group inside. It was a scene never to be forgotten. The cars were packed like sardines for a three stop journey of about 20 minutes to the Kotoku-in Temple, home of the Great Buddha (Kamakura Daibutsu). The large bronze statue of Buddha is the second biggest statue of Buddha in Japan. We would see the first later in the tour. The statue is hollow, built in 6 sections and stands 43 feet tall. It was started in 1252, took about ten years to complete and at one time was gilded. The statue sits on a large base surrounded by the Kotoku-in Temple complex.
After a short period of time here our group walked a short distance to the final stop in the Kamakura area, the Hasedera Temple. This temple has quite a legend attached to it. Supposedly, a monk discovered a large camphor tree in the nearby mountains. He carved two statues from the tree, one of Buddha from the lower part of the tree, placed in the Hasedera Temple in Nara. The other statue of Buddha was carved and thrown into the ocean with a prayer that said the statue would return to save the people at a later date. Fifteen years later the statue washed up, on June 18, 736, on the shores of Kamakura, was brought to this area and a temple was constructed to honor the statue. Since this time the Hasedera Temple has been known as the 4th station among the 33 holy places in the Kanto area. The 30 foot tall wooden statue is housed in a large temple at this site. This is the largest wooden statue of Buddha in Japan. Surrounding the temple are numerous other holy sites featuring a variety of images, statues of Buddha. The Hasedera Temple complex winds around the hills connected by pathways and stairs. One of the sites is the Benten-kutsu Cave complex. Toward the top of the hill is a pleasant eating area and viewing area which overlooks the Kamakura coastal town and out toward the open sea. As the day in Kamakura drew to a close, our group moved back to the Japan Railway Station to catch a train back to Kamakura, this time not as crowded as the first time, then catch a larger commuter train back to Tokyo.
Day 4 in Tokyo would be our last day here. We checked out of the beautiful Grand Nikko hotel, boarded a bus for one final set of stops in the city. Our first stop would be at the Imperial Palace plaza. We began with a stop at a large statue of Kusunoki Masashige, a 14th century Samurai warrior whose military skill and loyalty to his Emperor demonstrated the ideal Samurai ideals. A short walk led us to the main gate and the bridge leading to the Imperial Palace, the residence of the Emperor of Japan and his Imperial family. The current Emperor is Emperor Akihito. He is in declining health and many feel his oldest son will soon be taking the throne. The Imperial Palace is surrounded by a huge stone wall and a large moat. On the small island there is, 1.32 square miles of forest, a main palace, private residences and administrative offices. This is also the site of the old Edo Castle, from the time Tokyo became the capital of Japan. We next drove to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building #1 and took an elevator ride to the 45th floor and the observation deck for a 360 degree look at the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo.
We said good bye to Tokyo, boarded our bus and began a 2+ hour drive to Mt. Fuji, some 60 miles SW of Tokyo, and our next stop. Mt. Fuji is on the World Heritage site list. Along the way we took a short break at a large food/gift store that served a multitude of food items and every kind of gift you might want to buy. I noticed there was a Starbucks selling a new item, American Cherry Pie Frappuccino, and of course I had to try this. I think this might be Starbucks honor to Japan and the cherry blossom season. It was very sweet and amazingly good. Continuing on, the geography of the land changed as thick forest began to appear. Winding through mountains, the holy mountain of Mt. Fuji begin to appear. Mt. Fuji is 12,387 feet tall and is an active stratovolcano. The last eruption of Mt. Fuji was in 1707. There are still eruptions in various locations in Japan. Last year a volcano erupted killing some 60 climbers. Japan sits on one of the edges of the Ring of Fire. Our bus would take us to an over look some 8,000 feet up the mountain. There were bits of remaining snow on the ground. Mt. Fuji is the most climbed mountain in the world with some 100,000 people climbing the mountain each year. Numerous festivals are held for the opening of the climbing season and the closing of the climbing season. We also took in the Fuji Information Center and saw an informative video on this area. One amazing site we passed by was an area known as the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara, and also called Suicide Forest. This 12 square miles of dense trees surviving on hardened lava also has numerous ice caves. It is believed the forest is the home of yurei, ghosts of the dead. The area has developed a reputation as a popular destination for people committing suicide and there are numerous signs about suicide prevention and assistance at the trail heads. The forest has been used for several horror movies.
The group also stopped by the Sengen-jeinja Shinto shrine, built in the 16th century. This shrine is used by the Fuji-ko religion as well. Our guide also took the group, by bus, around Lake Kawaguchiko, which sits at the base of Mt. Fuji, to get a better picture of the mountain. This is one of 5 lakes that are around the base of the mountain. We then continued south for about an hour arriving at the relaxing Hotel Palace Spa in Hakone, known for their hot springs, and beautiful views of the valley below. Along we way we watched a video on the life of one of the historic customs of Japan, that of geishas and maikos. More on this subject in the next update.
Next update will cover the Hakone area, an incredible art museum with a huge Picasso collection, Japan’s bullet train and arriving in Kyoto.