On Thursday morning, I was woken up by a little earthquake. It was like the kind Wellington gets from time to time, though it went on longer and jiggled a bit. But I just treated it like a Wellington mini quake and kept lying in bed, annoyed it had woken me up, and went back to sleep after it stopped.
This day was a visit to the seaside town of Kamakura. It’s just south of Tokyo, and it’s one of those places people go for day trips. It reminded me a little of St Kilda in Melbourne or Manly in Sydney. Or maybe even a little bit of Seatoun in Wellington.
Kamakura is known for its temples and shrines. On the way to the major Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shinto shrine, visitors on foot from the train station are cleverly channelled through streets lined with shops selling bags, shoes, chopsticks, sweets, kimono and other delights. Apparently during the Golden Week spring holiday period, the place is packed.
The shrine was lovely, and with it came that conflict I get when I visit churches, when I feel like a bit of a heathen and therefore not worthy of being in such a place. Um, something about how we are all God’s children?
We walked along Wakamiya Oji, the main road that leads from the shrine to the beach. It had a long path of cherry trees stretching down the centre, just days away from blossoming.
At the beach (a minor surf beach!), I was introduced to the concept of the street beer. One goes to a convenience store, purchases a can of beer, goes to a place outside and enjoys the beer. It’s quite nice.
There doesn’t seem to be a munter culture in Japan. It’s ok to drink in public because Aotearoa-style bloody stupid stuff doesn’t really happen. Yet I also get the feeling that people drink quite a lot in Japan, but they just deal with it better.
Beer in hand, we wandered through many side streets on the way to the other shrine. I like how Japan does residential side streets – it’s more like a wide footpath than a road. Cars are forced to drive sensibly, cooperating with pedestrians and cyclists.
We ended up at Kotoku-in, a Buddist temple. It’s home to the Kamakura Daibutsu, a giant copper statue of Buddha. But, um, I did not specifically see that because by then it was the end of the day and we were all a bit too tired to climb all the way up the hill, opting for the tearooms instead.
But the lovely grounds of Kotoku-in had plenty more to offer, including a gold statue of Kannon Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of which Canon Electronics took its name), and a interesting cave that was only slightly reminiscent of Disneyland with its health-and-safety’d sealed walls and smoothed wooden hand rails.
Later that evening, Matt and I met up with my dear friend Jon, a Tokyo-based photographer who I hadn’t seen since a chaotic few days in Auckland, 2006.
Jon, who speaks Japanese, took us to a tiny bar that required climbing a staircase that felt like a ladder. We squished into a corner, sat on cushions and drank beer. The place was so small that to order more beeru, Jon just shouted down to the street-level bar.
Smoking restrictions in Tokyo are interesting. It’s illegal to smoke on the street. All around are stickers and signs reminding people not to walk and smoke. There are designated street smoking areas, but apart from that, you can’t be Mr Cool Dude strutting down the road with a fag in your mouth. The concern is that with so many people on the streets of Tokyo, someone could end up with a cigarette in the eye. A child could be maimed.
But it’s ok to smoke indoors. It took me back to a time before Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003 was passed; before December 2004; when stilled people smoked in New Zealand bars. It felt quite crazy and rebellious to be hanging out with dudes smoking inside a bar. And it also brought back the unwanted side-effect – coming home smelling like smoke.
We had a street beer on a busy Shibuya Street, hanging out next to a shipment of shoes next to a shoe store, while all around, people hung out, going from bar to bar.
I’m not sure how I did it, but I made my way back to my hotel via two trains, a subway card problem, kindly passengers, and a non-English-speaking night station guard, and a vague memory of where my hotel probably was.