Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Sakura on the Daibutsu Hiking Course

The next edition of our Sakura Explorations takes us to Kamakura!  

We hit up the Daibutsu Hiking Trail, passing through Kuzuharaoka Jinja and then ending at Jochiji Temple.

Once Daddy made it back home from a quick trip to work this morning, we headed out to Yokosuka Station and ending at Hase Station.  From here, we walked to visit our friend Big Buddha!  There were tons of people visiting this area.  We had to walk in a long line to get down the street to Big Buddha.  I was excited to see what this place looked like with the sakura in bloom, but there were only a handful of trees in the whole temple.  It's definitely a better visit when the ajisai are in bloom around mid June.

I hiked part of this course last year and wanted to take Kris to see it this year.  Last year we entered somewhere over by Hachimangu.  But, I KNEW with my sense of direction and ability to remember what hiking course entrances look like, it was a super long shot that I would ever find that end of the trail.  So, I took the easier route...If you are standing on the road, looking at the walkway leading to the entrance to Kotoku-in Temple, take the sidewalk that runs along the left side of the temple grounds.  This will lead you along the road and eventually you will come to a tunnel with this stairway.  There are a few signs that also direct you to the trail.

We ran into a few dozen people on the trail, but not enough to make it crazy.  It was nice and peaceful the whole way around.  The wind was blowing a bit, so we alternated between jackets and no jackets.  The sun was shining bright, so I'm glad we were in the trees, since I forgot all about sunblock for our wintry-pale faces, necks and arms.

The red dots show where we hiked today.

We used our hiking sticks for the first time today (thanks Aunt Tisha and Uncle Clayton!).  Garytt kept saying, "This is so easy."  I would ask, "What's easy?"  He would reply, "Walking up these hard stairs with this hiking stick."  :)

We saw a few other flowers besides the sakura.

This dark pink tree was beautiful!

There it is!  There's the sakura spot!  Mackenzie said, "Uummm...this place looks kind of familiar."  Uh, yeah, from last year silly!  It looked to me like not all the trees had bloomed yet.  The tops of several were still buds.  We got a much better show last year.

They were still amazing though!  A handful of trees right on the path were in full bloom, with millions of flowers....stunning!

At the back of this little park is Kuzuharaoka Jinja.  Founded in 1887, the spirit of Toshimoto Hino is worshipped here.  It looks like he was involved in a plot to overthrow the Kamakura government in the 1330's.  Word of the plan got out, he was caught, then tried for the crime, then was pardoned and sent back to Kyoto.  Then, over the next seven years he trained with a group of priests, kind of like samurai, and he returned to over throw the government again.  The plan was leaked again, he was caught again, tried again, but this time, he was beheaded.  The beheading took place at Kuzuharaoka because this is where the Kamakura period's execution grounds were.

Admission is free.  There wasn't much to see back here.  The kids thought the turtles were amazing!

I read somewhere that these are like love stones...?  Not sure about that.  The two rocks have red string all over them with little 5 yen coins tied to them.  Then, if you look behind the rocks you will see the heart shaped ema.  Again...not sure what that's about.

Just past the two rocks is a smaller torii and building.  

These two guys are standing guard next to the shrine.  I think they are kitsune statues.  Foxes, maybe?  One seems to be standing on a key or maybe a hatchet.  The other has a round object.  Garytt said it's a ball.

A little farther up the path is another little building.  It was hard to get a picture of this place because of all the people praying.  As I was standing there waiting for an opening, I noticed the ema to the side were waving in the wind and making a beautiful sound.  I actually pictured all the wishes people wrote on those boards being carried off by the wind.  It was quite a peaceful moment.

I'm not sure of the significance of the snake statue inside the main hall.  ??

A view of the main hall from a small picnic table.

Once walked back down the path to the torii, we found this little dish breaking spot.  I gave each kid 100 Yen to purchase a plate (well, Mackenzie got two because her first dish didn't break).  

Masaruishi:  the kanji for Ma is negative factors in life.  The kanji for Saru is leave/depart.  The kanji for Ishi is rock.  So, we paid our 100 Yen, the kids picked up the dishes and tossed them at the rock.  The thought being that the plate represents all the negative energy in your life.  Throwing the plate symbolizes overcoming obstacles in life.

Just to the right of this area is the path we took that ends at Jochiji.  This path was nearly deserted the whole way.

Found at the top of a small hill.

The hike took us about four hours.  We stopped for lunch before we reached Genjiyama park (the area around Kuzuharaoka Jinja).  We then took time to walk through the shrine and eat a small snack.  So, it wasn't too terribly long of a walk.  5.6  miles for the day!  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ueno Park Sakura Season

Ok...the countdown is on!  What countdown, you ask.  Well, I'll tell you what countdown...we are counting down the days until the last few petals fall from the sakura trees.  Once the buds pop open on the trees you only have about a week or so before the petals fall and the trees turn from pink/white/dark pink to green leaves.  

This is why we put our schoolbooks back on the shelf this morning, packed our bags, and made our way to Tokyo.  From Yokosuka Chuo to Shinagawa and then to Ueno Stations, we made it to the park around noon.  We quickly found a spot to sit and eat our lunch.  I noticed at this point that there were a LOT of people here!  But, I wasn't too worried.  My plan was to just walk up and down the street a time or two, take pictures and then head home.  After all, it's Monday and the zoo is closed on Mondays, so I didn't have to worry about that five hour excursion.  

Not so, silly traveller!  It's spring break for Japanese schools.  Which means, the zoo was open.  I guess this is payback for me tricking the kids about the hike last week.  Oh well, we had fun, we were exhausted, but we had fun!

For all those who live near Tokyo and are reading this blog....GO TO UENO AND SEE THE SAKURA!!!!!  It is an ABSOLUTE must!!!!!  I haven't seen anything like it EvEr!!  

The initial view is beautiful, but I've seen groupings like this before around Kamakura.  We found the road we wanted to walk down, but the kids were intent on getting into that zoo, so we just made a slight detour under a few of the trees.  

My pictures do not do this road justice at all.  I can't even adequately explain how amazingly beautiful this place was!  It was like walking four feet under a layer of white clouds.  And, oh, when the wind blew and the petals slowly fell...WATCH OUT!  People started "ooh"ing and "aah"ing, and then they pushed people out of the way, some almost whacked others in the head with those infuriating selfie stick things.

There were people in lines on each side of the street with their hanami blankets spread out, their snacks, drinks, etc. all laid out, laughing and relaxing.  There was even a special spot with chairs, made by students at Tokyo University, for you to sit on, but only for one hour, so others can enjoy a leisurely seat under the trees.

I found this white sakura tree inside the zoo.  

I wasn't too excited about going to the zoo with the five million other kids today, but it was fun watching the kids get so excited running around.  Garytt could not wait to get to each exhibit to see what exciting creature he could see next.  

I'm not going to post all the pictures from the zoo part of our day, I've already done that a few times.  But, I will highlight a few moments that were fun.

The otters are always fun, but today they extremely feisty!  These two were wrestling pretty ferociously.  While the other two ran circles around the enclosure and then performed a perfect 10.0 dive!

Mackenzie was looking forward to seeing the owls.  And, this guy treated her to about a dozen long, loud "WWWHHHOOOOOO" 's.  

Momma gorilla sheltering baby gorilla from the hundreds of eyes looking on through the window.

It took a lot of running around to all, I mean ALL, the windows to the lion enclosure for us to finally get a good look at this fella.

Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, 
mighty mighty king of the bush is he, 
laugh, kookaburra, laugh, kookaburra, 
gay your life must be!

Finally, we got a quick glimpse of the polar bear taking a quick splash.

From here I told the kids we were done.  It was getting late and we needed to head back toward home.  So, we walked out the exit and found ourselves back under the sakura canopy.  We made a right and just walked in awe at the trees.  Well, I walked in awe at the trees.  Mackenzie sulked because she wanted a toy that I told her I wasn't spending that much money on it.  Garytt was pouting because he wanted an ice cream but I refused to stand in a 50 deep line to get an ice cream.  I, however, just ignored them and walked in awe...and then bumped into someone, and then got on the wrong side of the street and started walking against traffic, but I couldn't figure out how to get myself back over to the right side, as people pushed and people looked at me like I was an idiot because I was going the wrong way, and then I rudely pushed my way across about ten lines of traffic to get to a side shoot and take a breath.  Shew!  We stood on the side of the road for a few minutes before reentering the massive crowd.

Finally, we made our way back out to open area, back toward the train station, and then onto our next crowded excursion for the day...the train through Tokyo.  It was standing room only until we made it to Keikyu Kawasaki Station and as two ladies got up a very nice guy held the seats so we could get from the other side of the car to sit.  I was incredibly grateful since just before this station Mackenzie broke down in tears with a headache.  It took fifteen minutes, but the headache subsided, she rested her head, Boy fell asleep and it was a quiet ride to Yokosuka.  

All in all, we did about five miles of walking today.  And, even through the tears and the tantrums, we had an amazing time!  


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Shomyoji Temple, Gardens, and Hiking Trail (Yokohama)

Once a month I let Garytt have a "skip day" from karate.  Today was that day...and, what a perfect day....sunny and 13C!!  

We ended up getting a later than anticipated start due to Kenz wanting to finish more Language pages than planned (learning cursive is quite an incentive to get her workbook done quickly).  So, around 1100, Kris picked us up and drove us to Womble Gate.  From here, we walked to Yokosuka Chuo and made the ten minute ride to Kanazawa Bunko Station.  From the East Exit we walked to 16, across the road, and then towards what I hoped was the entrance.  

From the train station, we walked to the thick yellow line (16), walked left toward the Koban (police badge icon) and made a right.  From there, we walked to the purple dot.  There are stairs here that lead to the beginning of the trail.  

The stairs look like they just lead up to a little cemetery, which is to the right of this picture, up the stairs.  At the top of the stairs and to the left is the entrance to the trail.

After walking through the trees for a few minutes, we came to a little hill with a map of our excursion today.  I had to assure Boy that it was a 'little hike'....

Boy:  I hope we're not going on a long hike today.
Me:  We are going on a little hike today.
Boy:  What?!
Me:  We are going on a li...
Boy:  Mom, Mom, Mom...I didn't mean that kind of "what".  I meant "what" like you say when you're excited.  Like, WHAT!!

We started on the left of the map (You are here rectangle) and hiked all the way around the entire edge of the park and ended at the pond and temple.

Lots of stairs today.  So, it was a short hike, but it had some ups and downs.

It's not too often that I get beautiful blue skies in my pictures!

The explanation for this little building was in Japanese and my translator spit out some weird nonsense.  

Looking out toward Hakkeijima.  

The kids were quite excited to find a bridge to cross.  There wasn't much to see from it though.  Just weeds and bare trees.

We made it to about the halfway point around the forest and found a little cemetery, I think.  The only thing I could get the translator to say that made any sense was Hojo.  I'm guessing this is for the family that built the temple.

At this spot on the trail we had two options at a T intersection.  There was no map here and I wasn't sure if one of the paths lead back out to the road or if it kept going around the forest.  We decided to head down the stairs.  The kids called this "Bee Road" because of all the little bees flying around on the ground.  

At the bottom of the path it opened into a beautiful field.  There were ladies in the field either picking or planting.  I'm not sure.  We didn't walk too far before I said I didn't think this was the right way to the temple.  It looked like there were houses at the end of the path.  So, we turned around and headed back up "Bee Road" and took the other direction at the T...

...up more and more stairs!

At the bottom of the stairs Mackenzie said (with a little bit of an attitude, I might add), "Mooommmmyyyy....this is where we just were and YOU said it was WRONG!"  You'd think she'd be a little less surprised at how easily I can take the wrong direction.  By the time we made it to this point there were a few women with their children in the field.  The kids ran around squealing as the mothers giggled at them.  

When we made it onto the road leading to the field I pulled out the kids' sandwiches and we all ate lunch before walking to find the temple.  Just around the corner was the second gate.  I'm going to put these pictures in a different order from how I took them, simply because it gives a better picture of the grounds.  What we actually did:  we got to the second gate, looked down the long Sakura-lined street toward the first gate, decided the kids would think I was a crazy person if I asked them to walk all the way to that gate only to turn around and come back in the gate we were currently standing next to, so we just walked onto the main grounds; I could get the first gate picture as we were leaving.  (all of these structures have been rebuilt since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake)

Red Gate 

The official name is Kintakusan Shomyoji and was build around 1267 as the Kanesawa Hojo clan's family temple.  From the temple literature:  "It is said that the temple began with an Amitabha hall built by Hojo Sanetoki, a senior vassal of Kamakura Shogunate, in the grounds of his residence.  It was originally a temple for prayer but later converted to that of Shingon Risshu sect."  Apparently, this family loved books.  They collected and saved many books through the generations and housed them in the library that is next to the temple.  (250 Yen entry fee)

Niomon is the large gate just before you get to the pond.  It houses two Ni-o, who protect the sacred grounds.  These two warriors have survived since 1267!

The guy on the left has his mouth closed.  The guy on the right has his mouth open.

I'm not sure why, but this temple gate is blocked off.  No one can walk through it, you have to walk to the left of the gate to enter the grounds.  There is netting all around it...now that I think about it, maybe this is because it's just too hard to keep all the birds from making this gate home.  We saw a LOT of birds around the pond.

Next we come to Jodo Teien, Pure Land Garden, designed to represent Buddhist Pure Land in the real world.

We were lucky to have a few periods without any wind, which allowed for a few reflection shots.  

When we entered the garden, we made a left turn to walk around clock-wise.  Immediately we came to a tree covered spot with benches, so we took a seat and took in the peaceful garden.  While we sat the kids had a small snack.  A small snack that quickly attracted the attention of the neighborhood pigeons.

The birds were pretty brave.  When Mackenzie dropped part of her rice cracker they came running and fought over that piece.  We laughed and Garytt sat quite still to see how close the birds would get to him.  Pretty close...however, we stopped laughing quickly as I heard the all-too-familiar swoosh of a hawk's wings just a couple feet over my head.  The kids said, "Wow!"  I said, "Uh, Mackenzie, I think they are after your snack."  At which she responded by quickly throwing her whole pack of crackers on the ground, saying, "I'm NOT hungry ANYMORE", and taking off in the opposite direction.  Garytt then said, "Nah, I think he wants to eat these pigeons," then he picked up the crackers and we all walked on down the path.

Just a few steps down the path we came to a small open grassy area.  We pulled out our newly-purchased leisure sheet (a plastic picnic blanket - much better than a cloth blanket, the grass falls right off!).  We took our shoes off (because this is Japan and that's what they do!).  And we took a seat for a bit.  Garytt laid back on his sheet and told me he needed to relax...it lasted not even two minutes!  After they ran around a bit, rolled in the grass, and chased a few pigeons, I pulled out some paper and pencils so they could draw me a few pictures.  While they drew pictures I took a little time to walk around and snap a few pictures.

Dunno who this guy is, maybe the guy who designed the garden?  

The little mound by the trees is a cemetery for the descendants.  We didn't go all the way back there.  The wind was starting to pick up and get a little chilly, so we packed back up and made our way around the rest of the grounds.

There was a blocked off tunnel at the back of the garden.  From the sign posted next to it, this is believed to be where the ancient library was located.   As I was taking pictures, the kids decided to head over to the bridges and take a look around.  It was so awesome of those two for behaving as quietly as they did, so they could walk around the place and look at what they wanted to see while I wandered around and looked at what I wanted to see and we didn't have to be right next to each other to do it!  
Kondoh, the main hall, houses a statue of Miroku Bosatsu, which no one can see.  It has only been on display a few times in hundreds of years.  There is a replica in the library.

The temple bell, first donated by Hojo Sanatoki in 1269.  Hojo Akitoki had it recast in 1301.

Shakado.  The roof on this hall is beautifully gentle.  I wish the blue sky hadn't disappeared by the time I made it over here so the building could have been a little more highlighted.  

Next, I turned toward the bridges in search of my children.  I found them counting creatures and drawing pictures.

First, I walked onto the flat bridge, which lead to a small island and then the second, arched bridge.  On the Yokohama Kanazawa City Guide Association's site they say that the arched bridge represents the difficulties in the past (it takes extra effort walking up the arch); the island, Nakanoshima, represents present time; the flat bridge represents the future, after enlightenment.  (I guess we walked the wrong way around the garden)

A view from the bridges of the grassy area we just left.

The kids were so excited to see so many turtles and fish.  The crane was a bonus!  

Looking back toward the second gate, also, looking back in time, I guess.

I sure wish the Sakura were in bloom...of course, we may not have had a nearly empty garden experience if they were.  

A few buds were starting to bloom.

Now that the sun was hiding and the wind was starting to whip around we bundled up and marched back to the train station.  From the first gate we went to the road, made a right turn, walked to 16, across the road, and straight to the station.  I did see a neat little shopping street by the station, but the kids said emphatically, NO!

Back on the train, I decided not to wait for the express since the local was only about 4 minutes longer and the local guaranteed us three seats.  We hopped off at Shiori Station, walked to the Daiei Gate and we were home by 4.  Looks like we were just in time too...