my first full saturday in japan

***Disclaimer: This post is very long and travel-log-ish and more for my benefit than anyone else’s. I will not be offended if you just look at the photos and move on. Although, I’m pretty sure part of this is entertaining enough you might want to read it…***

Earlier this week at work, we were discussing weekend plans. My boss suggested going to Kamakura and Kita-Kamakura. From my conversations with Jodi (who used to live here), I knew this was something I wanted to do, so it seemed like a great idea for a day trip.

I woke up Saturday morning and packed my backpack (yes, super nerdy, and I know I have friends who like to be much more fashionable while being tourists, but I wasn’t sure what to expect and figured having a back that wasn’t killing me from carrying a heavy purse couldn’t be a bad thing) and donned my running shoes (see the previous parenthetical, only replace “back” with “feet”). And because I was carrying a backpack and not a purse, I didn’t hesitate to grab an umbrella and a hoodie, even though I was expecting neither rain nor cold temperatures. The one thing I forgot to pack (thought about it five times, but never put them in my bag) were my flip-flops, in case I decided to head down to the beach.

And I was off…

Look how happy I look. If only I’d known what was coming…

Initially, I was going to run an errand on the way, so I wandered through Minato-ku (the ward–area of Tokyo–where I live) walking past Tokyo Tower (our own version of the Eiffel Tower–which I can see from my apartment balcony).

After that, I got a little lost on my way to the subway stop I wanted (this happens rather frequently here…with no street names–yes, there are almost no street names here–and without my phone and constant connection to Google maps, I have to rely on the city maps posted here and there, and my memory…) and found myself in front of my first Buddhist Temple: Zozoji.

Notice Tokyo Tower in the background…not very Zen.

While I was there, I wandered in and there was a memorial service going on and the monks were chanting. It was very cool.

After that, I found a map and worked my way to the subway. At this point it was about noon and I hadn’t had breakfast and was pretty hungry (I know you care), but I was in a hurry and, while there are several 7-Elevens around, I am not familiar enough with Japanese snack food to know what I’d like and what I wouldn’t…espcially when there are things like this:

In case you can’t tell what you’re looking at from my crappy iPhone pic, that is a hot dog, with ketchup and who knows what else on it. Yummy…

So, I opted to have my first McDonald’s in Tokyo. Happy to report the chicken nuggets were delicious and did not contain any weird things (sometimes “chicken” here is not what you would think it would be). Very sad, however, to report that even at McDonald’s there’s no Diet Coke…only Coke Zero.

And then I was off. The trek out to Kita-Kamakura is about an hour, so I decided to study the hiragana (one of the two Japanese syllabaries–similar to our alphabet). I am quite pleased with how much I’m retaining.

When I got off the train, I just went to the nearest temple, Engaku-ji…which turned out to be absolutely amazing.

The main building
A modern Buddhist cemetery
An ancient Buddhist cemetery
Just a cool statue…not sure what (or who, rather) she is.

More buildings…the temple grounds are sort of complexes of buildings.

The beautiful Japanese maples. These will forever remind of my backyard growing up. I cannot wait to go back there in the fall and see all of the amazing colors!
As I wandered my way back down the hill (the complex is built on the side of a mountain), I saw this sign which says in English at the bottom “National Treasure”. Well, of course I had to find out what the treasure is. (The picture is actually a hint, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
Then I saw these stairs and wondered just how badly I needed to see this “National Treasure,” but not wanting to miss anything, I decided I could handle the stairs. So, up I went. Unfortunately, so did they.
But the view from the top was totally worth it. And the National Treasure was pretty cool. 
Another temple complex across the valley. Can you imagine this in the fall?
This is the National Treasure.  (Ask me how badly I wanted to back that log up and let it rip…)
The sign next to the National Treasure (aka Ogane Bonsho…which means something like “Buddhist Bell? I should probably look that up.)
 And then, the real reward (not that the bell and view weren’t super cool, but it was freaking hot and humid!)…a little cafe of sorts at the top of the staircase…serving shaved ice. 
This is yuzu–my new favorite fruit (or at least fruit flavor)!
Just in case the first picture of stairs didn’t look that bad, this was the other half of the staircase, as viewed from the top.
As I was getting ready to leave the complex and head to my next stop, I thought it might not be a bad idea to use the bathroom since it was there and I wasn’t sure when the next one would be. (Normally I would not share my bathroom pit-stops with the blogosphere, but there’s a reason for it.) Before I moved here, I had been warned by Jodi of the “hole in the ground” bathrooms, so when before walking into this one, I was praying it would be normal…not having mastered the whole “hole in the ground” thing for obvious reasons. I saw an elderly woman come out of a stall and, for some reason, thought of course the toilets were normal; an elderly woman wouldn’t pee in a hole in the ground…
So, for a “hole in the ground” this is actually pretty nice in my opinion. That said, I still wasn’t going to use it. 

I left the bathroom hoping I’d come across something more familiar soon. Then I remembered that I needed to take a photo (because that’s normal, right?), so I went back in and when I got to the last stall (trying to be discreet about my potty-picture-taking), it was a normal toilet. I’m sure eventually I’ll be in a situation where I just have to use the hole in the ground, but thankfully it wasn’t yesterday. (And, despite my openness here, I doubt I will blog about it…)

After leaving Engaku-ji, I got sucked into an earthenware shop. When I found out I was moving to Tokyo, I decided that the one souvenir type thing I wanted to collect was earthenware. My grandparents lived in Japan years ago and I grew up eating and drinking out of these beautiful bowls and mugs brought back with them. While I would love a few of my grandma’s pieces for the memories, there are a lot of us grandkids and I’m just not counting on getting much, so this will be my own little memory of my grandparents, as well as my time in Tokyo.

Anyway, I looked around for a while and couldn’t find anything that I really liked that wasn’t over $40. I wandered into a few more shops and then came across this bowl and I knew it was the one (and it wasn’t ridiculously expensive). I ate breakfast out of it this morning and it made me so happy.

Back to the story. Having arrived later and wandered/shopped longer than planned, it was now almost 3:00. I had read that most of the sites close around 4/4:30, so I decided it was time to just head to the Great Buddha, as that was the other thing I really wanted to see while in Kamakura. Looking at the map below, I was in the lower left corner and wanted to go to the red box on the right side. I decided that, rather than walking around, I would hike the red trail over the mountain. You know, a short cut…

It started out nicely enough. I wandered through another little temple and got some good pictures of some Koi.

The pond was kind of dirty, but I had to take a shot: the black one was at least 18 inches long. Amazing.

It started to sprinkle while I was wandering through these temple grounds. Nothing major. So, I pulled out my umbrella and decided it was time to really get going.

And then, when I was about halfway up the mountain (or so I thought) the torrential (not joking) rain started. A less stubborn person would have turned around and cut her losses…but I am not that person. And so I kept going.

There were a few points when I wasn’t totally sure I was going the right way and, at one point, I suddenly realized that what I was doing (hiking, in a torrent, alone, in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language) was probably not the smartest decision I’d ever made. That said, I was seriously smiling and laughing to myself the entire time. These are the types of adventures that make my life so fun. And eventually, I did come across signs like this one pointing me in the right direction.

And then the path started to flood…

You can’t tell so much from this photo (and this is still in early stages), but there’s basically a river flowing to the left of the path. 
I cannot even explain to you how wet and dirty I was.

At this point, I knew (like, in-my-gut-knew) that falling at least once was inevitable. I was in running shoes, not hiking boots, and the path was so slick. On top of that, I was wearing my backpack on my front so as not to damage my camera or my passport, which made it difficult to watch my footing, and I was carrying an umbrella. Pretty hot, right?

Yeah…not quite as happy as when I left. Well, I was still happy, just kind of wet…
And then it happened. I was on a more sure footed part of the path (like the log steps you saw above), so I allowed myself to relax my vigilant footing for two seconds and my foot slipped on one of the little log steps. The umbrella went flying and I landed on my bum (trying to keep it family friendly) with my back slamming against one of the steps. It did not feel good. 
I stood up, so grateful that I hadn’t twisted my ankle or something else that would have made the rest of the hike difficult. Once I was sure I wasn’t too physically damaged (there is a HUGE bruise on my back…it’s kind of amazing), I started to assess the mud situation. My hands and one of my arms were coated. And then I felt my backside. Completely covered. 
If it was just a matter of getting in my own car and heading home, this would not be a huge issue. But I am in Japan, heading to a major tourist attraction (oh yes, at this point there was NO stopping me) and then had to ride the train home through Tokyo…nice, clean, manicured Tokyo. 
So, I did what any nature lover would do. I started using the bamboo, ferns, and other bushes (until it occurred to me that I’m not actually Bear Grylls, so I should probably just stick to bamboo and ferns–things I know aren’t poisonous) around me to try and clean myself off. This worked well enough for my arms and legs. My bum, not so much. Being the brilliant, innovative person I am (and having abandoned any illusion of decency or self-respect at this point), I decided a tree trunk was the only solution. That’s right. In the middle of the forest in Japan I rubbed my bum across a tree trunk…several times. (It’s possible I was also laughing so hard at this point I had tears streaming down my face.) But you know what, it totally worked. So, take that, all you Judgy McJudgersons out there. 
The one thing that kept me from just sitting down and giving up was knowing that the Japanese, with their attention to clean feet, would for sure have a foot washing area at the Great Buddha. And my entire person was so wet at this point that I could completely bathe in it and it wouldn’t have made me anymore wet (it just might be a little awkward). So, when I finally arrived at the Great Buddha, I found the station, rinsed off my arms, legs, and feet (shoes still on…it didn’t really matter) and wished to high heaven that I had not forgotten my flip-flops. But I wasn’t going to go spend $15 bucks on a pair of flip-flops for an hour train ride. Thankfully, I packed the hoodie, as it covered the dirt smeared across the back of my white shirt.

The Great Buddha was really cool (you could even go inside) and getting there (once it was over) was kind of fantastic. As I started to head to the train station, I realized I was super hungry (and rightly so). I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go sit down somewhere without showering and changing my clothes, so at the train station I grabbed a bratwurst on a bun.

The bun is like a little potato roll…clearly not the right size, but it was delicious.

And then I got a few of these little fish-shaped treats. They are like little pancakes/waffles with various fillings (think ebelskivers). Absolutely delicious and made for a more pleasant journey home.

And that almost concludes my first full Saturday in Japan.

10 thoughts on “my first full saturday in japan

  1. I love that you are so worried about keeping it clean for the Japanese. You are for sure embracing the culture. πŸ™‚

  2. I seriously adore the play-by-play. Also fun to see yuzu – I work with the flavor all the time, but never see the actual fruit. And of course you know that I love all the Buddhas! (ps. I'd say find some arnica for that bruise, but it might be difficult to put it on your back?)

  3. I am loving all of these posts! Been telling my mom all about them! This one was hilarious – I laughed out loud at the image of you rubbing your bum on a tree. haha! So amazing that you are there and living it up!!

  4. I have been loving your Japan updates–keep them coming. This one had be cracking up. When we were in China, the only place to find a normal sitting toilet was our hotels–everywhere else there were squat toilets. Never in my life have I held it as much as that month in China…although there were still many places I had to use the squat toilets. From what we were told, the squat toilets in Japan are at least really clean compared to many in China. Good luck, and don't fall in :).

  5. You're a champ. And reading about how you cleaned up made me totally chuckle out loud, a few times, at my desk. Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

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