Thursday, August 9, 2012

Orientation Day 4: Visit to Kamakura

So day four of orientation is the day that you are forced to leave base. We have guides to take us to one of the major shrines in Japan, but after that, we are on our own to find our way back home. After venturing out in real Japan, I'm feeling a bit more comfortable here and I really think we are going to have a great time during these three years.
We traveled about 15-20 minutes, by train, to Kamakura. Kamakura is a city of about 170,000 people. It was once the capital of Japan during the Shogun era. We visited the Hachimangu shrine - a Shinto shrine- that was built in 1063 (!!). That is just mind-boggling to me.
As you can see, I'm super excited!
The ticket machine for Japan's railway.

We had to ride the train for about 4 stops to get to Kamakura. I know the machine looks confusing, but it has a very obvious "English" button that translates everything and makes it very easy to use. It was not all that different from trains/subways we've used in the States and Europe. And the best part is that when we bring the kids out, children 6 years old and under ride for free!

I had to run to the restroom while we were waiting for our train, so The Hubs snapped some pictures of the Japanese and US ships. He even spotted some Japanese submarines!


Meanwhile, I was in the bathroom dealing with this....

A squat toilet.


These are quite common in Japan. We had been told about them in orientation, but I hadn't anticipated having to use one so soon. Only one stall was open when I went into the bathroom and it was one of these toilets, so I decided to wait for the Western-style one. When a stall opened, an American girl came out and gave me a weird look. I'm not sure if it was politically correct of me to ask, but I said, "Um, how did it go?" She laughed and said, "Well, if you want my advice, I think you should wait for the Western toilet." Unfotunately, time was ticking away and I didn't to miss my train. So, I said ohwhatthehell and I went for it. I was nervous about it for two reasons: a friend of mine went to China and on her second day there, she tried to use one, slipped and fell, and broke her leg. And, I would totally be that person who walks out of the bathroom with a giant wet spot on my pants because I peed all over myself. Surprisingly, however, it was pretty easy to use. And in a way, it felt much cleaner than some of the toilets I've used in public restrooms back in the States. So now I know that no matter where I am in Japan, I'll be able to pee. I'm proud of myself. :)


In Japan, everyone lines up to get on trains or buses. It's kinda nice!

We went to a Korean BBQ place for lunch and if you've never been to one of these, it's basically a place where you have a grill in the middle of the table and YOU are in charge of cooking your food. We had beef and chicken, soy sauce for dip, a cabbage salad, rice and kimchi (fermented cabbage with seasonings). The meat with soy sauce was great, but the kimchi was a little spicy for my taste. I thought I was pretty good with chopsticks, but these metal ones were hard to use! Our meal cost about $20 for The Hubs and I to eat. Not too bad. After lunch, we started walking towards the shrine. It was about a 10 minute walk.

Fresh fish anyone? Notice the octopus on the left.
One of the three torii leading to the shrine.
We can see the shrine!
This bridge was supposed to bring a long, successful life to anyone who could walk over it (it's apparently harder than it looks!). Many people would injure themselves trying to get it over it, so the government decided to close it off. Now, it's just a great bridge for pictures. :)
It is the Japanese Obun holiday and there are lots of lanterns (hand-painted with pictures) all around the shrine.

When you walk through the Torii gates, you are supposed to go through a mental purification. However, you also need to have a physical purification before entering the shrine, so that is what this little water station is for. You take a ladle and get some water out. Starting with your left hand, you pour a little on one hand and then the other. Then, you cup your hand and pour a little into your hand to sip. After that, you flip the ladle over, letting the water run down the handle, cleaning it for the next person. We all got to do this and I loved being able to participate.

This was used as a dancing/performance stage.
Loooots of sake.

Our guide stopped at the bottom of the steps to tell us about the 1,000 year old Genji tree that used to flank the stairs. It was blown over in a strong storm a couple of years ago, but a sapling is already taking root in the same place. Can you imagine a 1,000 tree?!

And check out the unique fashion you'll find in Japan....

This is the main entrance to the shrine. We couldn't take any pictures inside, but we were allowed to make a wish/say a prayer once inside. We tossed a coin into a depository in front of the shrine, and then our guide told us what to do. We bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed once more, this time saying our prayer silently. I LOVE this stuff!


Once we were back outside the shrine, we stopped at the prayer area where people can buy a wooden tablet, write a prayer on the back, and hang it up, releasing their prayer into the universe. Each shrine has its own kind of tablet, so my friends and I bought one in hopes of starting a collection as we visit the various shrines and temples in Japan.

There were all sorts of trinkets you could buy.
Me and my new friends!

Before we knew it, it was time to leave and head back to base to pick up our kids. But on our way back, The Hubs spotted an ice-cream shop and decided to try an enticing flavor: green tea and sweet potato.

He's trying to decide if he likes it....
He actually likes the ice-cream. He's just annoyed that I'm photographing the event.
I thought the ice-cream tasted like cold baby-food. Not my thing.

After getting out of the base and REALLY getting into Japan, I feel a lot better about moving here. Not that I felt bad, per say, but... I just know that I'm going to have a good time. We will be alright.

We wanted to see the Great Buddha too - the second largest Buddha statue in Japan - but we just didn't have time since we had to get back to pick up our kids. We want to go back though, and maybe take the kids with us. It's not that far afterall. And, now we know our way around!


1 comment:

  1. It is so exciting. I really enjoyed the pictures and descriptions.