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Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

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September 3rd, 2007

hello kitty

Japan tourist day one: "We can has Kamakura"

(I don't quite know how or why but this has turned into a LOLcat tour...)

carl_allery and I took the train from Minato Mirai to Yokohama, there to meet up with green_knight and take a day trip to the place we had all, individually and collectively, heard mentioned at the con by a bunch of people - Kamakura, home to the giant Buddha, the second-largest Buddha statue in Japan. The train to Yokohama was quiet and practically empty and we remarked on this to each other, given earlier intelligence as to how packed out these commuter trains were. But we had maybe 12 or 14 people in our carriage, and when we got off in Yokohama central station at first it was pretty nearly the same - almost deserted hallways, empty corridors... and then we took an innocuous-looking elevator, descended a level, and turned a sharp left into the hustle and bustle of the REAL Yokohama station.

The map of trains and train lines was, naturally, in Japanese. We must have gawked at this with sufficient incomprehension written on our gaijin faces that a local took pity on us and asked politely in fluent English where we were headed. We told him, he guided us through a ticket-purchasing ritual at a bank of ticket machines.

THe meet-up went as planned (no small feat in this mass of humanity) and we went off to pick up our train at Platform 9. The train trundled us down to the Kamakura station, from where we picked up another train (a real local line this tine, the Enoden line, and took a train to the Hase station from whence we walked up a narrow and pictureque road up to the temple which housed the Great Buddha.

This was spectacular. The statue stands at anything between 11 and 13 metres tall (guide sites disagree on the particulars, but heck, who cares?) - the thing is HUGE, towers over you, and yet exhudes such a sense of peace and grace that it's breathtaking to be in its presence. It's a "working shrine", with an incense burner before the Buddha and offerings of fruit and flowers at his feet and people who come and light incense sticks and stand with their hands together in prayer and their heads bowed in the presence of Enlightenment. The place is home to thousands of cicadas, there is a wall of sound around you, there are lots of those twisted Japanese trees, it was just BEAUTIFUL.

We meandered back via the little twisty street, and detoured into the Hase Kannon temple, full of things unexpected and beautiful - from a huge gilded wooden statue of the Goddess to whom the shrine is dedicated, to a grotto full of flckering candles and a timeless sense of awe-filled wonder, to an area filled with thousands of round-faced sculptures representing children who had died (very poignant, some of them wore baby caps on their head or held items which presumably belonged to the dead child, and the small shrine was full of stuffed toys and brightly coloured childish things. A sweet sad place with candles and quiet water and mourning). By this stage it was getting really hot and humid so I braved the ubiquitous vending machines and got something to drink because I was dehydrating fast. There were eagles flying close above us, huge golden brown things with a wide wingspan - and there were more cicadas, and there was a mysterious side-shrine apparently dedicated to two cats, and a koi pond with teeming hungry fish and a passing turtle, and the first hints of the autumn colour were obvious in the trees. Stunning place.

We eventually left, and caught the train back to one station before Kamakura, confusingly known as Kita Kamakura, and walked up to another temple, the Engaku-ji Zen temple - well, the guide books and websites described it as "a temple" but we were astonished to find that it was an entire complex of pagodas and zen gardens, each more beautiful than the next, taking us down serene stairways under carved pagoda eaves and by huge old Japanese pines and bamboo groves, filling our eyes and our minds and our cameras, until by mutual agreement the three of us decided that anything more would be piling it on and that we were now ready to go "home" and eat something and get packed for leaving Yokohama tomorrow and generally prepare to shake the dust of the WOrldcon from our feet. We had a small supper at a CHinese restaurant, had chocolate ice cream for dessert, and then piled into the Yokohama ferris wheel which we had all photographed a hundred times since we got here for a final view of the city and the Landmark Tower. We took some stunning photos from the top.

It was a grand day, a day filled with smiles and laughter and wonder and friends and the weird "I can has..." attitude to everything in sight.

Well, it's time to pack up and pick up our tour tomorrow.

We can has TOkyo.