か is for Kakuon-ji

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In her book, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu calls Kakuon-ji a “venerable temple of unimposing exterior.” It is indeed quite simple on the outside (though wonderfully peaceful), but inside it houses a number of statues and other items, including two national treasures (the Yakushi Sanzon and the Black Jizo).

While the outer grounds are free to wander, getting a chance to see the temple’s treasures requires joining a tour for about ¥500. The tour takes roughly 50 minutes and is in Japanese. It’s only offered a handful of times a day, and not at all during certain times of the year (August, end/beginning of the year, rainy days), so make sure to google or contact the temple if you’re determined to join. Please note that photography is not allowed.

Founded: 1296 (built on the site a Buddha hall established in 1218)

Festival: Black Jizo festival, August 10

Trivia: Kakuon-ji is home to the Black Jizo, which is Jizo #3 of Kamakura’s 24 Jizo pilgrimage.

お is for Ofuna Kannon

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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)

 

Hase in the Snow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Taking a bit of a break from Kamakura in Kana to post some photos of the snowstorm from Monday, January 22. It only snows a few times a year here — sometimes only once or twice, so to get this much snow was pretty exciting, especially for this Canuck.

While I didn’t manage to make it to other parts of town, I did manage to catch three different temples in the snow: Hasedera, Kosoku-ji, and Kotoku-in. The Daibutsu was serene as always, even wrapped up in flurries.

 

え is also for Eisho-ji

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Bon Odori Summer Festivals

 

tsukiji Hongwan-ji bon festival
Bon odori at Tsukiji Hongwan-ji, near Tsukiji Station, Tokyo

Japanese summers are pretty spectacular. They buzz (cicadas) and DON DON DON (taiko drums). They whistle and gong and chant (festivals). They’re burning hot and impossibly humid. But if you let the music drifting from the festival grounds carry you along, not only will you make it to fall without melting into a puddle (maybe), you’ll have a damn good time, too.

Awa odori drummer
Taiko drummer at Awa Odori in Musashi-Koganei, Koganei City, Tokyo

There are a huge number of matsuri (festivals) that take place over the summer months. The big ones are definitely worth a visit if you’ve got the time and the means (the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture, and the Awa Odori in Tokushima, Shikoku, are my favourites), but there’s absolutely no need to go far afield to find a fun summer matsuri.

Bon odori, dance festivals that take place during the period of Obon when the Japanese honour their ancestors, are held in small neighbourhoods as well as in large city centres. The dances are easy—and usually repeated several times at each dance—and there’s no costume requirement (though a yukata or jimbei adds a bit of authenticity to the experience). Some have live music, while others rely on tinny recordings played on ancient tape recorders. You might get lucky and get a fireworks show tacked onto the end, or other entertainment, like cheerleaders demonstrating routines, a taiko performance, a hula dance recital, or, if you’re really lucky, traditional Japanese clowns demonstrating their art.

Bon Odori Koganei
Bon odori stage and lanterns, Higashi-Koganei, Koganei City, Tokyo

Depending on the area, Obon is observed around mid-July or mid-August, meaning that bon odori are held in various areas throughout the summer.

Favourites in the Tokyo area include the Hanazono Jinja bon odori (August 1 and 2, located roughly 10min from Shinjuku Station), the Tsukiji Hongwan-ji bon odori (August 3-6, located near Tsukiji Station), and the Hibiya Park bon odori (August 26, 27, located near Hibiya Station).

Kamakura, of course, has a few of its own bon odori. In our little neighbourhood, there are two very small odori, one at Gokuraku-ji and one at Goryo Jinja. These are mostly for neighbourhood kids, so not surprisingly, the song selection is limited to two or three easy songs. Kamakura does host two rather large bon odori, however, that could cap off a day-trip to the city in fine fashion.

engaku-jiEngaku-ji, one of the area’s larger temples (and temple number two of Kamakura’s five major Zen temples) hosts its bon odori on August 24 and 25 this year. The temple is located right at Kita-Kamakura Station, very likely allowing it to claim the title of most convenient bon odori in the city. The expansive temple grounds deserve a good look before dusk falls, so be sure to make time for some wandering. Have a look here, here and here for an idea of what the grounds are like.

Kamakura-guKamakura-gu (Kamakura Shrine) is host to the other large bon odori in Kamakura. The dance is held on August 19 and 20. The shrine is a bit of a hike from Kamakura Station (around 20min), but there is a bus that leaves from the east exit of Kamakura Station that heads out towards Kamakura-gu. For bus information, please visit Kamakura Visitor’s Guide. (Note the Kamakura Free Kankyo Tegata bus pass that, for around ¥600, will give riders unlimited rides within the pass’s boundaries on participating bus and train lines).