I woke up early, surprisingly fresh despite the firmness of the futon at Yoshiko's piano room. We all got up at the same time since Yoshiko had to take Lily to school and go to work after that. Lily was completely different from yesterday evening - a moody, silent zombie, still groggy and angry at her mum for disrupting her sleep. I was amazed at the transparency of Lily's character: it was so genuine and so crystal-clear I thought she would make an awesome actress if she managed to carry that feature along with her into adulthood.
Yoshiko warmed up some pain au chocolat for me in the grill and while I ate it with a cup of hot instant coffee she combed Lily's hair, Lily with a toothbrush in her mouth, so sluggishly it resembled more a lollipop than anything.
The three of us left the apartment and bade each other farewell for later at night. Lily could hardly be bothered waving me goodbye, though :P
On that day my guide was a lady, Ueda-san. She was going to show me around some more temples in Kamakura and then we'd spend the afternoon in Enoshima island. We had arranged to meet at the same time and spot I had met Taka-san the previous day, and we found each other quite easily.
Ueda-san must be in her late forties or early fifties - I never dared to ask, age is such a taboo for Japanese ladies! She told me she used to work but, like many women in Japan, she quit her job when she got married and got pregnant with her first child. Since then she's been a housewife, caring for the family and the household, but she devotes some of her spare time showing foreigners like me around. She was timid to start with - I had to prompt conversation more than once - but eventually we broke the ice and we had a great time together.
We first headed to Hōkoku-ji (報国寺), a Buddhist Zen temple located in the heart of Kamakura. It was built and completed in 1334 to commemorate one of the chieftains of the Ashikaga coan, Ietoki, grandfather of the first shōgun of the Ashikaga period which would be the feudal order in Japan shortly after the Kamakura period.
The temple has several unique features. For example, the old stairway that leads to the main shrine dates from the foundation of the temple and it's covered in moss that's equally ancient. Side paths have been facilitated to preserve the historic steps.
Furthermore, the gates, bell tower and shrines are built with Japanese-style thatched roofs that use thousands of straw strings. This is a very traditional roofing style in Japan, which is great for thermal insulation and will find its best embodiment in the minka-styled houses in Shirakawago, where I would go later in my trip. However, their poor fire safety, their relatively short life span - they usually last between 40 and 50 years, with maintenance required every decade or so - and the relentless decrease in the number of skilled artisans who can successfully thatch a roof sentenced this style of roofing to oblivion fairly early on.
However, the main attraction of Hōkoku-ji is, without a shade of a doubt, its lush gardens and its small yet incredibly dense bamboo forest, which boasts more than 2,000 bamboo stalks.
After strolling around the bamboo grove and soaking in the mystic atmosphere, we headed to the nearby Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮), the most famous shintō shrine in Kamakura. It's been exclusively shintō only for the last three centuries: since its ancient foundation in 1063, Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu had the character ji (寺) at the end of its name, indicating that it was also a Buddhist temple.
For most of Japan's history, Buddhism and shintō were not competitors. Rather than rival religions, they were complementary and intertwined practices: happy events like births and marriages would be carried out in the shintō tradition whilst sorrowful ones such as funerals and burials would follow the Buddhist rite. It wasn't until the Meiji Restoration of 1868 that the Emperor decided to clearly differentiate and separate both religions purely for political reasons.
The shrine is also famous for a millenary ginkgo tree - it had stood at this temple since its foundation, so it was almost 1,000 years old. Nevertheless, a strong typhoon uprooted it in 2010, unfortunately.
With the most important temples and shrines of Kamakura covered, Ueda-san and I took a very interesting local train to nearby Enoshima Island (江ノ島).
And I say very interesting because the ride was almost as enjoyable as the visit of the island itself: the Enoden (江電), as it's known, is an electric railway that's been operating since 1902. It covers the trip from Kamakura to Enoshima and beyond, using vintage cars that run through retro stations and the most varied landscape: from busy city centres to relaxing seaside, passing by charming residential areas and temples.
Enoshima (江ノ島) is a small offshore island that's linked to the Kanagawa prefecture by a 600-metre-long bridge, so access to the island is on foot from the nearby Enoden station. It is fairly close from Mt Fuji so, in a clear day, you can see its magnificent outline drawn behind the island. We were lucky enough to get to see a fading silhouette of the famous volcano, but this is how Enoshima Island would look like on a really clear day from afar.
As early as 1047 a Buddhist monk chronicled the dark, legendary origin of Enoshima. He asserted that the ancient village of Koshigoe, located right in front of where the island now stands, was oppressed for a thousand years by a gigantic five-headed dragon called Gozuryu (五頭竜), who had a dietary preference for small children. At an undetermined point in time, Koshigoe was racked by violent storms and relentless earthquakes. When the madness finally came to an end and the clouds cleared, a heavenly maiden descended from the skies. Just before she touched the surface of the water south of Koshigoe, a mysterious island arose from the depths - Enoshima -, which would serve as her home. The maiden was, of course, the goddess Benzaiten (弁才天), of whom I spoke in my last post about Kamakura.
The dragon fell madly in love with Benzaiten upon laying eyes on her and immediately asked for her hand in marriage. Benzaiten told him she would only consider his proposal if he vowed to help the people of Koshigoe. From that moment on, Gozuryu devoted himself to protecting the area he had once terrorised. Benzaiten eventually recognised Gozuryu’s good intentions, so she married him and both stayed in Enoshima. Koshigoe thus prospered as it had never done before under their dual protection.
Its mythological origin notwithstanding, Enoshima is today a leisure island. There's a yacht harbour that was built for the purpose of the Tokyo 1964 Olympics and it will also be the official sailing venue for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It boasts a beautiful seaside, some temples and parks, and a very special 60-m tall tower-cum-observation deck-cum-lighthouse called the Enoshima Sea Candle.
After climbing the Sea Candle and visiting Enoshima's main shrine, Ueda-san and I sat to have some lunch at the top of Enoshima, where I tried the local Kanagawa speciality: shirasu-don (しらす丼). These are tiny tiny sardines served raw or boiled - or both! - on top of rice. I have to say, they were a bit bland for my taste!
As the afternoon progressed we kept walking along the narrow, bustling streets of Enoshima, which were brimming with restaurants, cafeterias and souvenir shops. A bit too touristic indeed, charming and attractive nonetheless.
Around 4pm, after having treated Ueda-san to some nice dessert in one of the many fancy cafeterias on the island, we bade each other farewell as she had some other business to deal with. I decided to remain in the island for a bit longer because I felt it was getting calmer and quieter as the day progressed.
Eventually it was getting dark, so I decided to leave Enoshima and I headed back to Kamakura, where I was meeting Nicolas, another fellow Couchsurfer that had accepted my request to stay at his place soon after Yoshiko had confirmed my request to her. Nicolas is a Mauritian who lived in Australia for a long time and was now doing post-doc work in biology in Kamakura with a scholarship from the Japanese government.
We went for a walk as we spoke and got to know each other, and we headed to the meeting point where we were meant to find Yoshiko and Lily. Earlier that morning I had suggested to Yoshiko, and she agreed, that we all have dinner together.
After some delay we found them and we all headed to a restaurant. Lily was now much naughtier and livelier, her true state of nature! Unfortunately the place we had in mind was too crammed, so we hopped into Yoshiko's car and tried several other restaurants before settling for a fancy, hipster-looking modern Japanese tavern in Zushi. In there we had some nice - and kinda pricey - food, but above all the best of laughs together, which made it really worth it.
Having finished dinner, Yoshiko said she had to head back home or else it'd be too late for Lily to go to bed. However, she encouraged me to keep on exploring, so Nicolas and I decided to hit the road and try some izakaya.
We found one where there was no English menu or English-speaking staff, so I rapidly decided this was the one. We laughed as Nicolas tried his best in Japanese to order a jug of plum wine, which ended up being two or three - I can't remember how many! - as well as some edamame and some weird seaweed just to pretend we weren't drunkards :P
We had a great time together, laughing a lot but also talking about deep topics such as relationships and transcendental life experiences. I was actually upset we had such a short time to get to know each other: I would've gladly kept going with our pub crawl, but it was getting too late for me to go back to Yoshiko's. So we bade each other farewell and I headed back to hers on foot. Yoshiko had texted me they were already in bed but that she had left the door ajar. About half an hour later I got back. I entered the unusually quiet apartment, I silently changed into my pyjamas and went to brush my teeth. I laid on the futon once again, feeling blissful thanks to the nice people I kept on meeting in Japan