this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

for the main blog of poetry, whimsy and maybe beauty, now

Sunday, 23 November 2008


As light as the sky to fly it in, a late autumn filigree tweezered from the hues of childhood.

Trees lose leaves, descent absorbed in the hush of the evening fall. Above cicada-legged helicopter blades birr, swans from Russia complete the last circuit of the Indie Trans-migration. Call and response, land precisely where their brethen paddle and forage, water weeds draped on beaks. Mud-streaked snails slide into the pond's belly, a dank shawl around them, a cloak to obscure them. Ducks and fowl vee away across the water, then flurry back to gawk. Swans nicker and spread their wings and ruffle feathers, shaking out the futon and laying it on the surface of the pond. Welcome home. Lie down, lie down. Rest your weary head.

The moon, fingers splayed on the tops of hills, elbows bent, spring-rockets clear into the sky. Is it safe for birds to travel on such a night? Cats patrol. Lightfooted and stumpy-tailed, one steps out, sniffs around, circles, appetite whet. One waits by a ricefield, peers into a crevice, listening to a frog song, the scuffle of a mouse.

A swan stays for Spring and Summer, its feathers grey with the film of the lake. Its mate is lost, its heart is broken, its wings no longer take it to the sky. Is solitude sought, or wrought upon it? Maybe it likes sushi more than borscht, has tired of Russian rhetoric, circles the pond and disseminates with the ducks, who never leave home. Or Does it yearn for kin and kindred for seven months of the year and is elated tonight?

A stone lies in a runlet, interrupting the flow. Water laps and wears it smooth until it is silt or soil, or a stone with a different name. Motifs are traced and ridges noted. Curvature transgresses the grooves of striation. Hurdles are crafted, a challenge to clear, yet ways are found over and around them, through them, without too much exertion. Often. Not with abundance, but with enough regularity to know that some patterns run counter to the grain.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Godzilla vs Daibutsu; A daytrip to Kurihama and Nokogiri

Browsing the Web it seems that quite a few people have paid a visit to Kenkonzan or Nihonji , or Kenkon temple or Nihon temple. They are actually two different names for the same thing, and most foreigners seem to know it as Nihonji. Actually, even though it is beautiful, and has carved itself out a little bit of webspace, it is not that well known, as shown by the conversation I had with some fellow hikers in the Nokogiri ranges where the temple resides. Despite the sign staring at me and directing me towards the temple (well, I'd climbed masses of stairs, and now it was indicating I had to go down, which meant that at a later point I would have to go up again. What can I say? I was hoping for respite) I thought I would check with them:

Is that the way to Nihonji?, asks I.

Nihongo? says them (meaning, the Japanese language?)

Unuh, Nihonji, and I point to the sign which says Nihonji.

Aaah, Nihonji, they say.

Anyway, this is what my post has got going for it in addition to many of the features also featured in the blogs I have listed below

Around Japan
tyronne in tokyo
japan weblog.

I approached the temple from the backside (hee-hee).
I saw Godzilla first.
I saw a kettle and a bulldozer which I have not seen featured on other blogs.

The north entrance to Nihonji

But first, lets give credit where credit is due. Following coinlockerbaby's advice at the Lonely Planet Forum site, I went out to Kurihama to visit the flower park and see the gigantic statue of Godzilla, and I then took the ferry across Tokyo Bay to Kanaya, from where I climbed Nokogiri to visit Nihonji. Oh, how shall I lay this out? Three separate blog entries on the same day? Perhaps, but then people would read them backwards. Let's start with Practicalities (and end with them, actually. Herewith lies the one and only subtitle!)


I was relatively poor. I wanted to go to Kurihama to see Godzilla (and possibly some flowers as seen in this link in the Kurihama Hana no Kuni, or Kurihama Flower World), and to then cross Tokyo Bay via ferry, land in Kanaya, climb Nokogiriyama and see Nihonji and then return to Tokyo via Hamakanaya JR (Japan Rail). I ended up returning via Hota Station, but that is for later in the post. Well, the quickest way to do all that is by limited express on your return, and get off at Keikyu Kurihama on the way down, which of course also means taking the Keikyu line (from Shinjuku, or elsewhere).

However, I didn't read the maps I had very well, so it incorrectly seemed that Kurihama was the best station at which to get off, and as I was using the Holiday Pass (horidei pasu) I was limited to local JR trains anyway. The result of this is that everything took a long time, but only cost ¥2300, plus the extra ¥680 from Hota to Kisarazu, and the ferry fare (more about that later). This is definitely, at minimum, timewise, a day trip. I arrived in Kurihama at about 10am, and I think I'd left Tokyo before nine. With a side trip to Harajuku, I was back in Yoyogi by 8pm. It is best if you set off early in the morning if you are leaving from and wish to return to Tokyo within the day.

Holiday pass

The Holiday Pass can be bought in the areas specified above and in the picture below. It can be used on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays. It is also valid for certain holiday periods. Here is a link. It's a nice deal if you are doing a bit of travel and are on a budget. There is a children's fare as well. Of course if you have come from overseas and have a JR Rail Pass, then using that on the limited express is probably the better option.

The Holiday pass takes you as far as Yokosuka (where Kurihama is), and to Chiba as far as Kisarazu. You need to pay the extra fare from Kisarazu to Hamakanaya, or Hota, which is ¥680 (to Hota). Note this information (scroll down to Nokogiri) about Hota if you choose to come back that way. If you are also going to go out later in Tokyo, or needed to get from somewhere to get to Tokyo, the ticket is not too bad as it gives you unlimited travel within the areas detailed above and below This map below is taken from the JR East site linked to above.

These two train services: Hyperdia and Jorudan can get you train information. Hyperdia is perhaps the better one as you can nominate it to choose local services only.

Those Wiki pages posted before on Yokosuka and Chiba should also help you get your bearings somewhat, as would asking any of the staff at most information booths.

The map below is of Kurihama, and is actually better than the one I was using. Turn right when you leave the JR Kurihama station, left if you arrive at the Keikyu Kurihama train station. The second map is from Keikyu Kurihama station only, I think, which is where I initially went wrong. You will pass the Keikyu station if you are walking from the JR Kurihama station, anyway. Hopefully these maps give you some idea, but it might be best to ask someone when you get there. Keep an eye out for the Japanese characters for the park, you can see them on the bottom of the map, and keep heading towards the (ferry) port. You need to cross the big road, 134, and the road leading up to the park is pretty soon after on your right hand side. This is more clearly indicated by the second map. This is the phone number: 046-833-8282, which I called to make sure that Godzilla was still there.

Yes, yes, Godzilla is still here but there aren't any flowers at the moment.

But Godzilla's there right?

Right. But there are no flowers (dumb gaijin).

No problem. I'll see you then.

Anyway, entry is free, and I got there before 10.30, even though 10.30 -? seemed to indicate the opening hours. This website (in Japanese) has the access map to the park (first link) and the phone and fax number on the bottom lefthand corner. It was also 7-5-3 day , and so I wandered past a small shrine/temple (not the one below) with kids decked out like this:

Samukawa Jinja 7 - 5 - 3
This photo was taken by Kiri-fuda at Samukawa Jinja, Kanagawa Prefecture

The weather was perfect, and it was shaping up to be a wonderful day, despite my having turned the wrong way a few times on my way to the park. Coinlockerbaby suggests taking a taxi from the park to the ferry port to cross over to Kanaya. However, if you don't mind walking, after seeing Godzilla (which is a bit of a hike, anyway. He is in the children's playground, by the way, off to your right after about 1km or a little less, so keep an eye out for that sign. I cannot remember if it is in English as well as Japanese. It may even be called Godzilla Land, if memory serves me correctly - but don't take my word for it), keep going until you exit on the other side of the park and head down towards the port. The second map above more clearly indicates where the parking space nearest the port it (look for the P).

The park is nice, and worth the walk, and must be even nicer when there are actually flowers. As you can see Tokyo Bay from the park, you should be able to get your bearings, and from the second exit (the furthest from the train stations) the port is only about five to ten minutes by foot. There is a map outside the exit to the park (all in Japanese, but with pictures) which will also help you with directions.

The ferries go fairly regularly, but they do have different timetables for different days. Here is a link for the timetables, and a translation of the Japanese names so that you can hopefully figure out the times. Scroll down on the site linked to get the days.The ferry company, or the website, anyway, is called Tokyo Wan. You will have to pay this fare in addition to your train costs, but I think it was only ¥700 one way.

Crossing Tokyo Bay from Kurihama (Yokosuka) to Kanaya (Chiba)

As you approach Kanaya, it is easy to see the ropeway heading up into the hills, but here is a map, just the same (they help me, anyway!). I've put some English indications on it, anyway and here is a link to the original for a better picture, and if your Japanese is better than mine (which is not hard).

The one thing I cannot seem to find on the map, though it is probably there, is the Hamakanaya JR train station. It is well worth your while, if you cannot read some Japanese, to learn this kanji which is eki, or the kanji for train station. Look out for the JR, too, that's usually a give away. I will write it in this post, too, to make it clearer, but have included the image just in case other people's computers cannot read the Japanese characters:

Rather than head to the ropeway, I decided to head towards Hamakanaya train station as I thought they might have lockers (they didn't). I have an unfortunate habit of piling too much into my backpack, but it was fortunate, really, as I didn't return via Hamakanaya. To get to the station, if I recall correctly, go down the main road from the ferry heading towards the ropeway for two sets of lights, and the train station is down the road on the left after the second one. It is a small road, so look out for that kanji above, it is signposted. Or ask someone! I am relying on my sieve-like memory here. Additionally, there is a big map outside the ferry port.

If you want to climb the mountain rather than take the ropeway, this is a really good way to go. From the train station, there are small wooden sign pointers which I took to mean the way to the mountain (see how organised I am!). As said before, there is the large map outside the ferry port, too. Anyway, these signs take you through the town (very pleasant) and then under a road and to a point where it says that the Nokogiri Hiking trail starts. At one point it is a bit confusing, as it says there is 50m until the start of the trail, and another sign indicates it is right there. Keep going the 50m until you see some steps and a guide something like this.

I've included details of the walk I did on the image below. Click on the image for the larger size.

As you can see above, my way was a little circuitous, but all the more interesting for it, I feel. For some reason I thought I could cross the mountains (or granite?) peaks from the top. Even in this map it is not possible, so I'm glad I met the other hikers. At first I was disappointed that I didn't make it to the peak on the left, but considering that the steps were like this

towards the end of the journey (and no, I don't know if those in the first picture are going up or down), and that I was almost touching them with my nose while climbing them, I'm glad that I didn't climb the other peak, as I doubt that I could have done both, despite entreaties from the Julie Andrews in my mind.

This walk to the north entrance is very pretty, actually. More wild and overgrown than the approach from the Hota side, though a bit precarious as the stone steps are covered with moss and the handrails have disappeared in places. I don't know that I would want to do it on a wet day.

Nihonji is famous for a giant Kannon carved into the cliff side, a giant buddha, 1500 boasatsu sculptures, a tree growing from a "cutting" of the Bodhi tree, and a third statue which I didn't get information on unfortunately (it is always the most important pamphlet you lose. I have heaps of information on the herbs in the flower world, and cannot find the one on the temple!).

The whole area has a history dating back to 725 A.D. It was built by imperial decree and is said to be the oldest temple in eastern Japan to have been done so according to this site. Initially it was part of the Hosso sect. Its later incarnations were with the Tendai and Shingon sects. From the Edo period (1603-1868) to present day it has been affiliated with the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Or at least I think it has. As such, not just the temple but the surrounding cliffs are carved out (or does it occur naturally?) such as below. Actually, I have just discovered that the area was a quarry, ha-ha, which takes away from the mystery; very sheer cliffs for a quarry, but anyway, I will post on.

and when I went here (excuse the blurry picture), which was a little detour on the way to the temple (see the map above) there were these carvings on the cliff face and seats. Were the seats for prayer or concerts? Was the carving for contemplation? Or are they all there for far more prosaic reasons. I don't know. This part didn't seem to be frequented, and I kept my own company very well.

Apparently it says "safety first", followed by the name of the quarry company. I am indebted to this flickrite for the information.

From the site I linked to just above, it seems that the whole area was used for military operations during the war. I wonder if the kettle, calcified and abandonned, was from those days, and likewise the bulldozer (or from quarry days). It's hard to imagine how the bulldozer got there (but not if it had been a quarry, ha-ha). The paths at this point are not easily accessible by vehicle, and it is not surprising that it has been left there to rust. The Japanese are very animistic, and I wonder just what kind of spirits lurk in these implements forgotten. I guess that is why little altars such as the one below are built.

...and they are the hidden treats of the unbeaten path. I love that they are built to honour ancestors, and the fact that they are outside.

Well, I was getting higher and my trusty branch, picked up by the side of the path, used as a walking stick, was serving me well. Of course I had to take every little sidetrack, because I'm like that, but this was one set of mountains in which curiosity paid off, as it led you to places where you got views such as this:

Looking over Tokyo Bay from Nokogiri mountain.
For those who dig views, but maybe not temples.

It's said that you can see Mt Fuji from here on a clear day, and I am wondering, is that vague white shape...might it be...can you see it? I took a photograph of a family here, for them, though the sun was shining directly into it, so I don't know if it worked out too well. They were duly amazed that I asked them if they wanted their photo taken, and that I could do so, albeit, very poorly, I'm sure. Saaa, well, that's just the life.

Once I actually hit the temple it was business as usual. Well, not quite, as I was impressed. I cannot get an exact date on when Kannon was carved, but reports are saying it was recent, though it may be a recarving; in the way that rebuilding of temples and bridges means that timelessness is maintained through continuity. Anyway, she is one of my favourite deities, and she certainly seemed at home. As I approached the north entrance, the sun spilling on (yet more) steps, and needing to walk through an open tunnel mossy and cut through the rock, she was the first thing I saw after paying my entrance fee (a little more than ¥600, I think). I recommend coming this way for this reason, perhaps. It's actually one of the most serene and satisfying approaches to a temple that I have experienced (once I could stop gasping for air, that is).

Many people climb Nokogiri (or take the ropeway) not to see Kannon, nor the Daibutsu, but to visit the precipice, which is seen as peering into the jaws of hell (it's a very pretty hell, if so, but the view may be so named because the mountain resembles a saw, which is actually what it is named after). There is no shot of me on the precipice, as I went alone, but here is a picture from it.

Click on it to enlarge. Get any idea of how my legs were feeling?

Well, after getting caught up in the congestion that was the crowd who wished to rush to view hell, I wandered down to see Daibutsu, or the great Buddha. If you had approached from the Hota way you probably would have already done this. The signs in the temple give you two choices; to go straight to the Daibutsu, or to see the 1500 Tikai Arhats, or Buddhist carvings of boasatsu, deities, priests and so on (I think! Though maybe they are not boasatsu if I take that definition of arhat). Now, I am from Australia, and I think history can happen in an instant, so something that was carved in 1798 is old enough for me, particularly if the temple grounds themself date from the 700s, and there has been a history of both continued worship and destruction. Oh, for my pamphlet so I could tell you who (and which followers) carved them.

I would suggest going down the paths following the arhats if you are going to take the train from Hota, and not the ropeway back to Hamakanaya, rather than the path leading to the Daibutsu. You will end up at the Daibutsu, anyway. If you go see him first, you will have to reclimb those damn steps, and it ain't easy! The arhats are said to have different facial expressions, and they do. The temple's English guides also say that many were destroyed during the Meiji era. Again, according to the temple, quite an anti-Buddhist sentiment arose at this time from the government, but according to this site it was also the fact that Meiji rulers separated Shintoism and Buddhism (which probably was part of the anti-Buddhist push), and so, I guess, animostiy arose amongst the more devout followers of either religion. I have mentioned before how much I love finding Shinto shrines within Buddhist temples. Away from superstition, polytheism makes a lot of sense to me.

Well, again, referring to the aforementioned site, it wasn't just anti-Buddhists who decapitated and disfigured the arhat, but people keen on increasing their luck. This is copy and pasted from the site: "Kaizan Nakazato (1885-1944), in his well-known novel Great-Bodhisattva Pass , said of the arhat images at Nihonji: "People could always find a face that resembled somebody they loved. If they could take that head without anyone's knowing and secretly worship it, they were supposed to get their wish fulfilled." Taking heads became popular. "The headless arhats at Nihon-ji" was a common saying. In 1915 alI the carvings were repaired, but the vandalism immediately resumed".

The site just referred to, says that restoration of Nihonji, after repeated destruction and statue decapitators, didn't really begin until the 1960s, and when I visited, it seemed that the restoration of the arhat was a lot more recent than that. There were some truly beautiful statues, but many disfigured, and many with their heads seemingly glued back on, and now I understand more why a lot of them are behind fences.

After walking down to visit the many, many, many arhat (in all the nooks and crannies and winding paths) you will come to the Daibutsu. He is taller than the one at Kamakura, but apparently not the biggest stone Buddha in Japan according to some of the blogs I have visited. Who knows and is it really important? Anyway, at about 30 metres, it is pretty impressive, and also the area is a lot less crowded and more beautiful than Kamakura (though that has charm, too).

The cutting from the Bodhi tree is in this area in front of the Buddha, too, and it is a great spot for a picnic. After resting for a while, and buying some postcards (I'm old school) I chose to keep walking down the mountain, thinking I could get to the Hamakanaya train station. More fool me. You'd need to go to the ropeway, or walk back the way you came to do that, which means going up steps in either case. I decided I would try to get to the Hota train station, the stop before Hamakanaya. I had about another hour of daylight, and about another half hour before the temple complex shut for the evening.

The walk down from Daibutsu is peaceful, and the actual temple is tucked in there somewhere, as is a place for tea ceremony, and such. I did pass some of the buildings. You will pass a free carpark as well (if you were coming by car from the Hota side, you could park here). Once at the entrance of the temple there are buses which go to the train station, but there were none waiting and I didn't check the timetable. I don't know how often they come. Likewise, the Hota train is not that regular and it is worth checking out the schedule. Not that I did. It is 1800m to the train station, so it is not close, but the walk is flat, and Hota is very pretty. The roads to the station, for the most part, have views of the sea and rice fields. Look out for brown, wooden signs with that kanji for eki, or station, painted on them (carved into them?) and for JR. They don't steer you wrong, in a way similar to the woman who was walking her dogs just ahead of me. I thought she must be going to pick someone up at the station, but she veered off eventually.

Like seeing the children for 7-5-3, this part of the trip was unexpected. As said before, Hota is pleasing to the eye, the weather was about as good as it gets, and though long, especially after climbing a mountain, the walk was enjoyable. On a good day in autumn, just as the sun is getting ready to set over the ocean, well, what more could you ask for, especially when you know you will return to Tokyo madness soon. Though it is fleeting, the actual train follows the coastline for a while, and that too, is a nice view.

I was fortunate in that a train was due soon after I arrived at the station. I paid the extra for my ticket to Kisarazu, and then set back for a 2 hour journey, transfers included, to the Big Smoke.
And, oh, my battery ran out at the Daibutsu (4 pictures only), so I will post a picture of my train ticket from Hota to Kisarazu instead. Fascinating, I know.

this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr