Monday, January 14, 2013

A Little Bit of History in Kamakura

Kris and I spent this week in Area Orientation Briefs and Inter-culture classes (AOB/ICR - as you can see I forget what the R stands for!).  The first couple days were painful.  This course is required for every new person to this base, including those on ships in port.  This class is usually conducted every week, but because of the Christmas/New Year's holidays the base went three weeks with no class!  So, an AOB usually has about 30-50 people in it...we had 300!!!!  It took thirty minutes to sign everyone in first thing in the morning and then again after lunch.  Probably three quarters of the class was made up of E4 and below, probably mostly guys and gals from the George Washington.  Days one and two were "Welcome to Japan, now, DON'T DO THIS!" speeches.  We heard a lot of stories about the dummies in Japan that have caused the trouble that resulted in the 10 p.m. curfew, the abuse speeches, etc.  The end of day two was the beginning of "What to do" while in Japan.  Yay!  We were given a lot of pamphlets and booklets to help us get around, to help us figure out when to go on vacation and how to get there, as well as booklets with language introductions.  We were briefed on what the base has to offer in regards to sports, travel packages, food, exercise, etc.  We even had a half of a day spent on Japanese history.  Kris and I have tried to dig into the history a little deeper, but American websites seem to tell the story a little differently than what we heard from our Japanese instructors this week.  I will do my best to put the pieces together in this post.  :)

Thursday we were taken to the train station, with bus maps and Kamakura brochures in hand!  We all hopped on the train and headed to Kamakura ... there was a little bit of confusion with the train here, we were supposed to get on the Yokosuka Line and go straight to Kamakura, but there were so many people signed up for this tour that we ended up having to take the train to one station, get off, go to the other side of the station and hop on another train to take us into Kamakura.  This probably wouldn't be so bad, except that I find it difficult to find my way back when I don't actually go through the process of getting myself there in the first was kind of like being blindfolded and driven across a strange town, then unblindfolded and told to go back to the starting point.  Needless to say, coming back we were a little discombobulated...more on that later! 

So, we get to Kamakura, I think the total roundtrip fare for one adult was around $5.00.  We headed out of the train station and were dismissed for lunch with a "good luck on getting back home" speech.

Our food ready to go
Front door of rest. 4th floor
The majority of us went to a Korean BBQ joint, Gyukaku,  just a block from the station. Our instructor already had it arranged for us to take over the place at noon, so the menu was set and the price per meal was 980 Yen.  So, we sat down at our table, Kris and the kids and I.  The coals were already hot in the pot in front of us, so as soon as our plates of meat were on the table we started dropping it on the grill. coals!
We had two plates with steak and chicken, then we had a four bowls of cabbage with a semi-sweet dressing on it, Kris and I had a small bowl of kimchi each, and we each had a bowl of white rice.

Once again, Garytt thought it was quite cool that he was able to add his own lunch food to the grill and cook it.  Mackenzie could have cared less.  I think she was ignoring the cooking process in the hopes that we wouldn't insist she try any of the food. 

After lunch we headed out to meet our group's tour guide and then make our way to the Shrine.  We learned this week that Kamakura was the seat of the first Shogun in Japan.  Japan has an emperor, and he is considered a national symbol of Japan, the country is governed by a Prime Minister and Diet (House of Representatives and House of Councillors).  The Emperor is believed to be a direct descendent of the Sun Goddess.  Around 1,000 years ago the Emperor actually ruled the country and appointed important people throughout the country to uphold his rule and protect his people.  Well, those important people, the Samurai, believed they should have more power and property than they were given, so they started to fight each other.  This is when shoguns started to take over the land.  Minamoto no Yoritomo is known as the first shogun, he moved the Emperor to Tokyo (put him in a nice pretty palace and basically said he was Japan's poster-boy while Yoritomo was its ruler) and set up his seat of power in Kamakura.  Our guide said that he chose Kamakura because Yoritomo was from the area and because between the mountains and the water it was pretty well protected from invaders.

The red gate separates the real world we live in and holy land
His wife, Masako, designed the gardens and ponds.  This was our first stop for the day.  (The guide was a little too boring for the kids, and we were unlucky enough to get the annoying guy from all of our classes and his whole family in our group - the Japanese are mostly very quiet out in public, you could hear a pin drop on the trains here, Well, this guy doesn't talk in a normal voice, he basically yells as his main form of communication.  And, his son takes after him, so after being embarassed a few times by this guy and his family, we departed from the tour group and did our own thing).

Walkway to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine
There is a long walkway from near the train station all the way to his shrine with cherry trees and lanterns all along the route.  This is probably a beautiful view in the spring.  ~One quick note to those reading the blog and looking at the is almost impossible to take a picture anywhere and not have a thousand "extras" in it.  Kamakura has a population of more than 10,000 people per square mile, then add to that the many thousands that visit it each day = not a lot of room!~

We walked the route, through two of the three red gates and then up the steps to the shrine. 

Final gate with the Shrine in the background.

We watched what others did and found that, once they walked through the final gate they washed their hands in a basin just inside the gate. 

Hand Washing
After washing their hands, they walked to the next structure, clapped their hands twice, bowed and said a prayer.  Most people threw money into a container inside this building.
It's rare that Mackenzie asks to be in a picture

At the top of the stairs no pictures were allowed.  So, you'll have to come visit us to see inside!  :)   It's hard to see in the picture on the right, but there are two mean looking statues on the left and right of the entryway.  Once you walk past those two guys there is a raised platform inside, surrounded on three sides with walls, and then the side that faces the stairs to the outside is a mesh curtain.  There was a line of people to get into the Shrine and pray.  Every ten minutes or so, a young guy would walk away from the entrance to the platform and strike a gong a few times.

Entrance to the Hasedera Temple
Small pond
From here, we headed back to the train station and then on to the Hase Station.  Our plan at this stop was to go see "Big Buddha".  But, on the way we discovered the Hasedera Temple.  It is a beautiful Buddhist Temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  Once again, we weren't able to take pictures of any of the beautiful statues. 

The pictures of the main temple, Kannon-do Hall, do not do it justice.  The building is amazing.  The curves of the roof, the dragons on each peak, the colors....just fantastic!

We walked the gardens here for a while, there were waterfalls that traveled through bamboo trunks, lots of koi fish, and even a cave!

After a quick look out over the city we headed into the cave.  From what I've read on the Kamakura travel site, the cave is dedicated to the goddess of feminine beauty and health.  There are several statues inside the cave of other minor gods. 

Now, onto the "Big Bhudda" statue.  Just a short walk from the temple is the Big Bhudda.  WOW!  A pretty awesome site!  The kids thought he was pretty cool.  And, what was even more cool - for 20 Yen each we could walk inside Bhudda!!!  You won't guess who actually begged to go inside...Mackenzie!  The child who is afraid to do anything new was so excited to get to walk inside Bhudda! 

       Kotoku-in Monastery Kamakura

Stranger whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. 
    This is the Temple of BHUDDA and the gate of the Eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.

 This was our last stop for the day.  With the kids thoroughly exhausted, we walked back to the train station...well, three of us did.  Garytt was carried the mile back to the station.  Once on the train we all grabbed a seat and started on our way back to Yokosuka...or, so we thought.  Turns out, we got on the wrong train, so we left Hase St, arrived at Zushi St, then headed back to Hase St.  We got off here and got on the right train and NOW we made our way back to the Yokosuka St. 

What a fun day!  There was a lot of walking, a lot of laughs, and some awesome new experiences!  Not only did we get to take a trip into Bhudda, but we also got to taste new ice cream flavors.  We stopped and got four cones in Kamakura, the kids got vanilla, I got green tea ice cream, and Kris got a combination of green tea ice cream and sweet potato ice cream.  Actually, they were all really good.  Mixing sweet potato and green tea didn't taste good, but separately they were yummy.