Not now. Not ever.
So anyway, having decided that a beautiful autumn weekend was too precious a thing to waste in the concrete confines of the city, a friend and I headed over to nearby Kamakura to stretch our legs and catch a little culture.
Our guidebook listed about 20 different “must experience” attractions in the area, though some of them were things like “pigeon biscuits” (which I proceeded to pronounce as “PIJ AOWN BIS-KAHT” over and over again) and “purple potato ice cream” (umm…), so I suppose that number might have been stretched a little bit.
Upon arrival at Kamakura station, a rather bored and overworked looking girl at the tourist information counter gave us a great map which featured highlights like a gigantic frog sitting in a pond, a cartoon car with the words “VRRROOOMM” coming out of its ass in big puffy white smoke letters, and a woman in full tennis kit bounding over a mountain (literally) to return a serve. I can only presume said map was not draw to scale. We never did get to check out any of those particular spots, but we did ask the guide for a few recommendations.
I was hoping she would share her own personal perspective on the area (“off the beaten trail” kind of insider tips), but much to my disappointment, she just yawned and circled the top 4 most popular tourist spots on the map and waved us off in an uncharacteristically (for the Japanese) impolite fashion. I didn’t get too offended with her however, as I sympathised with the fact that she was dressed in what appeared to be a green Smokey the bear outfit and was crammed in a tiny little “office” not much bigger than the cabinet under my sink where I keep my frying pans, but have been afraid to open for the last 2 weeks because I glimpsed a giganto spidar spinning a huge web in a dark corner in there the last time I peeked, and well, I guess I don’t need a fry pan that badly.
I do miss frying stuff though.
Anyway, I digress (into bizarre spidar-themed tangents relating the cowardice that characterizes my existence). Map in hand, my companion and I decided to head towards the first attraction circled – Zeniarai Benten – with the intention of making a big loop and hitting up several other sites before catching a train back to the main station. We walked for a good 15 minutes or so (pausing for a little bit to marvel at some truly frightening looking koi in a river below, and reflecting out loud on whether we could actually make it through a hand to hand (hand to fin?) battle for survival if we were to accidentally fall in the water), before wondering why a) we hadn’t reached the temple yet and b) why the streets around us looked nothing like the lines drawn on the map.
We finally stopped to ask a kindly mechanic who looked quite busy doing some sort of power drilling/water cooled saw-milling thing which in retrospect we probably shouldn’t have interrupted. He looked at our map for a second, then put to light all our confusion with one simple phrase:
mechanic: “You’re on the completely opposite side of this map”
me: “Now by ‘completely opposite side’ you mean…?”
mechanic: (pointing the way we just came from) “Go that way”
me: “Hmm. This explains a lot.”
Anyway, once we finally got our bearings, we soon reached the aforementioned Zenarai Benten, a unique little temple housing a spring which supposedly contains water that will magically double any money you wash with it.
My lovely travel companion preparing coins to be washed. Note dubious express on her face.
Perhaps bizarrely, off to the side there was a sign that says “the money will dry naturally”, as if there might be some plausible alternative. But afterward, I got to thinking – were there actually some people who expected a dryer to be installed on site for the express purpose of drying just-washed money? (I should mention that “on site” should be read as “in a damp cave”) I dunno, but that sign made me laugh. Then again, come to think of it, I saw a woman washing three 10,000yen (total: ~$300 USD) bills when I was there (tsk tsk, greedy greedy), so maybe a dryer wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
(As an aside, did you know that the Japanese word for “sieve” (zaru) is also used as a euphemism to mean someone who commonly drinks ridiculous amounts of alcohol (like a “lush”)? I learned this in my previous workplace, along with other words of dubious utility such as 臍繰り (heso kuri) – secret money you hide from your wife in case you have an affair/get divorced and 新感覚乳酸菌飲料 (shinkankaku nyusankin inryo – “new tasting dairy/lactose containing beverage”). It was a disparate education, if nothing else.)
I’m not sure what we expected to happen – a puff of sparkly smoke or something?
(more asides: I realize that “belief” in Buddhist traditions and shintoism occupies a rather precarious perch in modern Japanese society (more akin to “we do it because it’s our tradition” than the familiar “we do it ‘cuz otherwise we’ll burn in the fires of damnation” bible thumping we’re used to back stateside) and that most people don’t truly believe in a “spiritual” (in the western sense) aspect to many of the more traditional things they do. (For example, while virtually all Japanese dutifully return to their hometown every obon and clean the family graves, most, I’m certain, don’t actually fear the vengeance of wrathful ancestral ghosts should they miss a year or two). That having been said, adhering to tradition is all good and what not, but really, lady, what would possess you to SOAK THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS in a random cave spring?
Woman washing said yen equivelant of USD$300
Do you really believe the money is going to double? A few coins, yes, that I can understand, pay homage to the idea, take a picture and all that, but in my way of thinking you better have a damn good reason to soak THREE HUNDRED dollars then walk around with it sopping wet in your pocket all day. If you don’t really believe it will double, why would you go to such an extreme when just a few coins would suffice? And if you do believe cave water will magically double your money, then how do you reconcile that with the otherwise completely western logical lifestyle you live every day? )
The fact that mysteries and seeming incongruities like this still exist in Japan for me is what keeps me here day after day.
(that and I can’t seem to find my passport at the moment and hope I didn’t accidentally chuck it out on burnable garbage day)
Anyway, after my friend and I soaked – and failed to double – our money, we headed off in search of more cultural (and hopefully less drippy wet) sights. A few minutes of vaguely southern rambling later, we found ourselves at the great Kamakura Daibutsu (Giganto Buddha), which really is a lot like the great Nara Daibutsu and Hong Kong Lantau Daibutsu, except smaller. Our guidebook insisted that the Kamakura Daibutsu is “widely considered to be aesthetically superior”, though I, not being well versed in the finer points of giganto Buddha statue design, kinda thought it looked basically the same as the other two, except, you know, smaller. (I’m not sure why I’m so fixated on size, it is possible I felt the need to compensate for something that day, especially since on the train ride to Kamakura my friend pulled out her massive 60GB video ipod which made my teeny tiny 1gb ipod nano seem rather… inadequate by comparison.)
While a debate of the relative aesthetic merits of the three daibutsus is best left up to more scholarly types with an unhealthy interest in gigantic fat bald men who may or may not be demigods, the one advantage the Kamakura daibutsu had over its two larger siblings was the fact that you could actually crawl inside the Buddha’s belly!
We discovered this fact quite by accident as we circled around the side of the Buddha to try and find the easiest place for my friend to breach the moat surrounding him and scramble up to sit in his folded palms so I could take a picture before security could try and stop us. (since security in this country generally consists of old men with a proclivity for falling asleep on the job, I am pretty confident we could have pulled it off). As we circled doing our best imitation of gaijin ninja, I spotted two gigantic windows opening up from the Buddha’s shoulder blades.
“…what the…?” I began.
Then my eyes alighted on what appeared to be a bomb cellar leading down into the depths of the Buddha’s meatah left thigh. A long line of tourists wound its way into the murky depths and because I have been in Japan for too long, I automatically did what all Japanese do when they spot a queue in any public place, namely rush to go join it, even if I didn’t know what, exactly, was waiting for me at the other end. (One day this shall be my downfall).
Fortunately, this time the other end proved not to contain my doom (whew!) but rather an entrance into the bowels of teh giganto buddah, complete with the wtf admission fee of 20 yen. TWENTY YEN gentle readers. That’s like 18 US cents. And while this is a startling bargain in the land of a $6.00 coffees (one of which I am actually drinking at this very moment), I felt bad for the old guy collecting the fee because you know, why even bother? You can’t even buy a piece of candy (literally) in Japan for 20 yen.
$6.00 cup of coffee (caramel mocha latte, in case you care)
Anyway, while in theory wandering inside the bellah of a giganto demi-god might seem like an exciting proposition, the reality ultimately proves to be a bit of a let down, and can be summed up as follows:
“Oh my god this is such a tiny staircase!”
“I can’t see anything! It’s so dark!”
“WTF I think a passerby just groped me…”
“oh wait, I’m at the top of the stairs.. Oh…”
“Wow (wowwowowowow)..! It echoesoesoesoesoes in hererererererere…”
“hmm. It’s not quite as gigantic from the inside.”
“Yeah, I feel like I’m trapped inside a tiny metal cave”
“Can you imagine if someone wacked the Buddha with a gigantic mallet while we are inside?”
“Omigod that would be cool, oh wait, hey is this graffiti?”
“Holy shit, someones has defaced teh Buddhar!”
“Oh wait, we’re back at the exit.”
“That was it…?!“
So anyway, there you go gentle readers. Save your 20 yen. Michaelpanda – relating the demigod experience so you don’t have to, since 2006.
After that we wandered around to a few more random temples, but frankly I don’t remember the names (Hasedera?) though one of them did have a rather nice view of the nearby bay. I did manage to lay paws upon some purple potato ice cream which wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but neither as good as I had hoped (In general I have high expectations when it comes to tuber themed ice cream confectionaries), and did spot some pigeon biscuits (though I didn’t buy any). So you know, I suppose we did manage to hit most of the highlights in the end.
And that, my friends, was Kamakura.
Now listening to: Freeloaders – So Much Love to Give (feat. The Real Thing) (Ministry of Sound Milk & Sugar Remix)
Not as good (in my opinion) as the original Radio Mix, which is almost impossible to find in the US and even more so in Japan, despite the fact this song dropped like a year and a half ago in Europe. After searching local cd shops and legit online music sites, in the end I finally had to trawl some dodgy ass Russian download sites in order tolay hands on it.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that as of late, cheesy vocal dance has come to replace cheesy vocal trance as my sekrat shameful obsession.