か is for Kamakura-gu

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Kamakura-gu is one of Kamakura’s newer shrines, having been founded in 1869 by Emperor Meiji. The spirit of the shrine goes back much further, however, as it was established in memory of Prince Morinaga, who was imprisoned in a cave on the property for seven or eight months before being beheaded in 1335.

While the main shrine grounds are free to wander, the area behind the main shrine building — where the cavern entrance is — requires a small payment. There’s also a garden area; and a glass-walled building containing paintings, a huge statue of Prince Morinaga on a horse, and other knickknacks and oddities, in the paid area.

Kamakura-gu’s Setsubun ceremony in early February is a great one to visit with kids, as it has a special area where they can join the scramble for beans without worrying about being knocked down by bigger kids and adults. The shrine also has a bon festival in August.

Kids’ Play Between Kamakura and Hakone: Odawara Wanpaku Land

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The oft-visited Kamakura-Hakone stretch isn’t terribly child-friendly outside of the summer beach season. Kids get bored with temples and shrines, and wandering the omiyage streets of hot-spring towns gets pretty old, pretty fast. Luckily, there are a few spots that provide ample opportunity to play, and that will, with any luck, fill kids’ “play tanks” full enough to let the mums and dads enjoy what they came for without too many complaints from pint-sized companions.

Located between Hakone and Kamakura in the castle town (and Shinkansen station) of Odawara, Kodomo no Mori Koen Wanpaku Land is easily accessible by both car and Hakone Tozan bus. This expansive park isn’t too far from downtown Odawara (which is worth a visit for its castle and castle grounds — beautiful cherry blossoms in early spring, hydrangeas during the rainy season, and if memory serves, irises in May), though don’t expect to be able to walk.

Wanpaku Land is on the side of a hill, so be prepared for some steep inclines in the playing area, but for those lacking the ability or inclination to walk from spot to spot, there’s a road train, as well as a proper mini train, that make the rounds (though thanks to the park’s geography, they don’t visit each and every mini-park within the park).

The day we visited — a chilly, windy Sunday in February, a handful of food trucks were parked at various parks-within-the-park, serving a variety of hot and cold food. Vending machines with both snacks and drinks were on hand in rest areas.

The park also has some ponies, goats, sheep and pigs, with several pony-ride times open during the day. A taiken/workshop or two teach kids to make little knickknacks. At the entrance, a collection of kiddie rides offers some electronic fun for wee-er ones.

Our six-year-old had a blast, and judging by the expressions of sheer delight on the faces of the other kids, every other non-adult was also having the time of his or her life.

Please note that though entrance to the park is free, the train, road train, pony rides, kiddie rides and parking all require payment, though prices aren’t steep.

**Closed Mondays (unless Monday is a national holiday, in which case the park is open), the weekday after national holidays, and the end-of-year/new-year period**

**Information is accurate as of February 7, 2018. Please refer to the website (Japanese) for updated information before visiting.**

お is for Onari Shotengai

 

Onari Shotengai, out the west side of Kamakura Station, doesn’t get much press, being overshadowed by Komachi Dori, the shopping street out the east side. But it has a lot going for it.

The past year or so has seen quite a few new shops open along the shopping street, including cafes, jewellery shops (with a taiken/workshop option — there’s even the option to make your engagement and wedding bands as a couple. Squeee!), and fanciest of all, Chocolate Bank (located in an old bank, natch), purveyor of fine chocolates, pastries and other chocolate-related goods. Pricey but yummy — and there’s a giant gorilla on the communal table, which my six-year-old daughter assures me is made of solid chocolate (…), sweetening the deal even further. (Non-communal seating is also available.)

Craft shops, a cat-related goods shop, a basket shop, vintage kimono shops (more than one!), bakeries, cake shops, coffee beans, a crêperie, clothing boutiques, a shoe store, flower shops, a Pinterest-worthy interior decor shop (one of my faves!), a liquor shop, a yaoya (greengrocer), a place to get your nails done, your hair done, your photos printed… the list goes on.

And if you’re dreaming of owning a house in the area, there are two real estate agencies with lovely photos in the windows, too. The one even charts the seasons with the help of Anpan Man.

Anpan Man dressed for Setsubun
It’s Setsubun! 

One of the best parts is that it’s not nearly as crowded as Komachi Dori, which is wonderful, especially on hot summer days.

お is for Ofuna Kannon

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We’re finally leaving え, though I’m guessing we’ll be back again eventually. So many え…

But onto お we go.

Ofuna is a funny city, half of it being in Yokohama-shi and half being in Kamakura-shi. Luckily for us and our kana series, the Ofuna Kannon is on the Kamakura side.

Kannon-sama is the goddess of mercy and lord of compassion (depending on whether s/he is being depicted as a female deity or male deity), and she comes in many forms, like the 11-headed Kannon, and horse-headed Kannon. The Kannon in Ofuna is a Byakushozon Kannon, or white-robed Kannon.

The Ofuna Kannon is a newer monument — construction started in 1929. Unfortunately, the lead-up to the war meant that construction was put on pause in 1934. After the war, construction recommenced, and the Ofuna Kannon was completed in 1960. The monument stands 25 metres tall and 19 metres wide, and you can even go inside, where there are several small alcoves containing various figurines, origami cranes, and drawings by children. There is also a small altar to Kannon-sama.

The grounds are home to a flame from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, housed in a stone lantern, as well as stones from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The stones are in memory of those who died during the bombings.

On the 18th day of each month (except for May 18), the temple celebrates Kannon Day by offering a one-day Zen school. For more information, please see the website.

Festival: May 18 (観音五月大祭)  and September (Yume Kannon Asia Festival)

 

え is for Enoden

 

Or, to use its full name, Enoshima Dentetsu.

Green, purple, blue — both sky and dark, occasionally hawking Coca Cola, with wooden floors if you’re lucky, the Enoden line is Kamakura’s cute little engine that can, ever so slowly, take you from Kamakura to Fujisawa.

Slow, yes — the trip from start to finish takes about 30 minutes, but the view is better than the alternative. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji rises high in the distance, and can be seen between roughly Shichirigahama Station and Kamakura Koko-Mae Station. So, not for long, but still, it’s worth it ambling pace (and cost — it is not a cheap train line).

え is also for Eisho-ji

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Eisho-ji, a nunnery, is one of the newer temples in Kamakura, having been founded during the Edo period. It has ties to both the Tokugawa Shogunate, and to Edo Castle, as the founding nun, Eisho-In-Ni, was a descendent of the founder of Edo Castle, as well as a concubine of Tokugawa Ieyasu, first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

Eisho-ji is surrounded by a wall, and it’s easy to walk by and think nothing much of it, but ducking through the low door in the wall and stepping inside reveals fairly extensive (for Kamakura) grounds, and several interesting structures, such as the bell tower shaped like hakama (traditional Japanese wide-legged trousers), and the butsuden, which, though double-roofed, is a single story. The butsuden also has carvings of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac carved into it.

Also within the walls of Eisho-ji is a small but beautiful bamboo grove through which a path winds. If you wander through the grounds in the suggested direction, you’ll end up in the grove at the end of your walk, finishing things off in a peaceful, impossibly green way.

Founded: 1638

え is for Egara Tenjinsha

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Another え…

Egara Tenjinsha is in eastern Kamakura, just a few minutes from the larger and better-known Kamakura-gu. I had never been until January 2018, and had always thought it to be a rather small, minor shrine. You can imagine my surprise when I reached the top of the stairway to discover shrine grounds fairly overflowing with New Year’s visitors. The lineup to reach the main hall wrapped around the small plateau, and the lineup to receive… whatever it was everyone was filling out applications for, was equally as long.

Though the sando is pretty average now, once upon a time, it was quite extraordinary. In her book, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu writes that “a long and imposing avenue of ancient pines forms the approach, spanned by a large stone torii.”

Egara Tenjinsha’s main shrine building is a beautiful orange, reminiscent of the buildings of Heian Jingu in Kyoto. According to Guide to Kamakura, by Akemi Ohno, the main sanctuary — a National Important Cultural Property — was originally part of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Ohno writes that it is the only wooden building from the Kamakura period still in Kamakura.

う is for Windsurfing (trust me)

Say what?! You’re probably thinking along the same lines as the English teacher I had during a home stay in France: poor girl has forgotten her English. (Truth: I hadn’t then, and haven’t now.)

In Japanese, “windsurfing” is indeed spelled with a “う”, but with katakana—> ウインドサーフィン, and if romanized, would look like this: uindo saーfu(tiny “i”)n.

Kamakura is a great place to come to enjoy water sports. Year round, you’ll see surfers (regardless of whether the waves are any good), SUP-ers, kayakers, boaters, and windsurfers; and during warmer months, swimmers, and people enjoying personal water crafts like Sea-Doos. A handful or so of rental shops are within walking distance of Yuigahama beach, from the Zaimokuza side to the Sakanoshita side and beyond towards Shichirigahama and Enoshima, and offer lessons.

If you’ve got the time and inclination, Kamakura offers visitors the chance to experience more than just history. Make your trip an overnighter (or more!), and enjoy a wide variety of activities.

え is for Engaku-ji

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I almost chose “Enoshima”, but that would have been cheating, since Enoshima isn’t actually in Kamakura (though it’s a major destination for visitors to the city). That would also have been selling Kamakura short, since one of its most important temples begins with an え: 円覚寺 (Engaku-ji). Actually, I might have to revisit this kana, as there are plenty more え places and things connected to the city.

Located in Kita-Kamakura, right by the station there, Engaku-ji is a Zen temple, and the second of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples. It’s one of the larger temples in the area, and deserves a nice, slow stroll rather than a dash through.

The temple is notable for its Great Bell (a National Treasure), and for the zazen sessions it holds. It also has a good bon festival in mid-August.

Founded: 1282

Festival: Bon Odori is late August. Other events can be found on the Engaku-ji event calendar (Japanese only).

い is for Inari

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Inari, or O-Inari-san, is the Shinto god of rice. He’s often depicted with a few foxes — his messengers — so it’s not surprising that shrines dedicated to O-Inari-san overflow with fox statues and trinkets. Sasuke Inari Shrine, Kamakura’s shrine dedicated to O-Inari-san, is no different, with foxes here, there and everywhere; in every nook and cranny of the forested hillside shrine.

One of Kyoto’s best-known shrines — Fushimi Inari Taisha — is the head Inari shrine, famous for its many (many, many, many) vermillion torii leading to the main shrine grounds. While Sasuke Inari Shrine’s torii aren’t as numerous (according to An English Guide to Kamakura’s Temples and Shrines, there are “as many as 40”), they’re still quite something to behold.

As for its origins, Iso Mutsu wrote in Kamakura: Fact and Legend, “Legend relates that during the early days of the first shogun, while he was still in seclusion at Hirugashima (Izu) the fox messenger of Inari appeared to Yoritomo, predicting that the scene of his future glory lay at Kamakura; hence the erection of this shrine.”

Founded: ~1195

Festivals: Hatsu Uma Matsuri ・ 初午祭 (First Horse Zodiac Festival), to pray for a good harvest in the coming year, celebrated on the first horse day of February (2018 will be Feb 7)