ASNS:2252 FinalExam Pt.2

Luckily we got to sit on the train toward Kamakura, because what was awaiting us were a thousands of stairs and steep slopes…

Our first stop was a Zen Buddhist temple which featured a three-claw dragon (apparently it was a trend for some period for dragons to be painted in this fashion and there are only a few of such kind). Also featured in this temple were representations of the monks who are responsible for introducing Zen Buddhism to Japan, one of them which was Dogen…

and so the second part of my final exam for Professor Christmas’s “Culture and Conquest: Intro to Japanese Pre-modern History” (a course I took this past spring semester) began. Learning about the Kamakura shogunate as well as other eras of Japanese pre-modern history really helped me appreciate the hike through Japan’s medieval city…

Even though the very nature of the Daibutsu (Big buddha) over powers the rest of the the places n Kamakura, my favorite part of the hiking pilgrimage was the Inari Shrine, which was hidden in the woods. With Noto-San (see Trip Day 5) we leaned the basics of Shinto, in which we learned the what the Torii Gate symbolizes. While there were two theories of surrounding the origin of the kanji for Torii the one I prefer translates to “Bird, stay.” Because birds navigate the sky, the are seen almost as messengers of kami. Having the Torii gate at the entrance invites the kami to stay. What is special to Inari Shrines is that they have multiple consecutive Red Torii gates, which just looks gorgeous…

Torii Gates at the entrance of the Inari Shrine.
Inside the Inari Shrine there are MANY Kitsune (fox) figurines.

The Kitsune shrine appears in Kamakura because, as legend has it: it was this deity this particular deity that appeared to Yoritomo and encouraged him to rebel against the Taira regents and establish what is now known as the Kamakura Shogunate (the first shogunate ever!); the establishment of the the shogunate would forever change the course of Japanese history and culture.

Throughout the various stops along the hiking tour a series of oral pop-quizes on Japanese were issued…  After learning Japanese Pre-modern History from Professor Christmas and about the fantastic with Professor Selinger in a classroom setting, it was fascinating to learn from them in their state of excitement as they explain and tell on their field of expertise…

FUN Fact: Naruto (an anime series that I really like) integrates much of Japanese ancient history and shinto symbols in its plot line and characters.

103 Steps and Counting

I think there’s something to be said about a change of scenery. I know I’ve only been in Tokyo for about a week now, and I lived in Boston for 10 weeks last summer, but I guess I’m just not much of a city person. So hiking in Kamakura today was an incredibly fun and refreshing experience. I thoroughly enjoyed climbing and hiking and just enjoying the natural scenery (including several views of Mt. Fuji!). I was talking about this a little bit with Ethan, but it felt cooler in Kamakura than in Tokyo, probably because Tokyo is an urban heat island and in Kamakura we were surrounded by trees and breeze. Maybe I’m raving about this a little too much (and I guess you can only say so much about a hike), but I felt very much in my element today with hawks and crows soaring overhead and dragonflies darting in and out of shrine beams.

I think the hike put a different spin on the the shrines and historical places we visited as well. It’s hard to put into words. Learning about Shinto and Buddhism and Japan’s history through shrine and temple visits is definitely an interesting and novel experience for me, but I think sometimes it’s a lot to absorb at once, especially given how many we’ve been going to. Maybe it’s a matter of putting places into context and separating them in my mind. The Kamakura shrines were distinct to me because we hiked there and climbed 103 steps and because they were outside of urban Tokyo. Oh and it’s kind of hard to forget a giant statue of the Buddha (Daibutsu; literally “giant Buddha”) at Koutokuin. At our last stop (another shrine), we were witness to not one, but two traditional Japanese-style weddings. We caught the tail end of one and the beginning of another. Very cool!


I think the photos explain it all. Aesthetic Kamakura, the quintessential photographs of “rural” Japan. In China, there is a saying to describe the journey of a tourist: Sleep on the bus, see temples off the bus. That is exactly what Kamakura was for us. We saw temples and shrines throughout our hikes in the woods. Having two Japanese scholars with us, we got a very in-depth view of Japan’s history during the Kamakura period and later Meiji influences (see, I now know some of the names of Japanese periods). I came to Japan without knowing anything about Japanese history, especially not from the perspective of the Japanese documents/archives. Being able to learn the history in person is a very powerful event.

Because Kamakura was such a great setting for me, despite my sickly stomach issues, I want to take this post to talk a bit more personally about my experience. The history is fascinating since I had never heard of any of it before (except the Buddhism parts which I learned from a religion academic context rather than historical). I am a very quiet traveler. I don’t like people knowing where I come from and want to blend in as much as possible. My solution is to talk less and listen more, in addition, to hopefully observe the most from the ordinary. (As per senseis’ requests) I previously commented on how helpless I feel in Japan, not being able to communicate well, but being able to travel with a group that can understand, I do feel that I am getting much more than the “tourist experience.” For example, before entering a Shinto shrine, one should clean oneself by washing one’s hands and rinsing mouth. One tourist took the ladle and drank the water directly instead of dabbing the lips using the hand before spitting it out. As I saw the crowd of tourists at Kamakura yesterday, I wondered what they got from the experience in a country that they do not speak the language. I am interested in studying food culture, especially with the colonial dynamics of its history and the emerging attitudes based on increasing tourism. Does the average tourist come to Japan to visit the temples have even a brief idea of the history and politics behind the religious artifacts? Or, do they rejoice in updating their social media to show the “cool” and “cute” Japan with the “ancient, exotic” culture?

Dizzy Spells and Sensei Tells

My body has failed me. すみません、みなさん!I woke up with immense dizziness and dehydration. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to stay back from the Kamakura tour today. It was really sad to be away from my classmates. Though I could always go to Kamakura, I will never be able to hear the 先生s’ insightful comments on historical and political contexts. Fortunately, this meant that more teaching in 日本語 was, I assume, achieved (because I am usually the only one who needs translation #shame)! Also, I did get to practice my 日本語 skills with Aridome 先生. He is amazing and stayed behind with me, which means he waited around while I napped and drank たくさん飲み物. We also went to Tokyo Hands, which was *hands* down amazing ですね!I need to go back; we left early because I wasn’t feeling too 元気.

Anyway, I am re-energized and ready to do more!!! Now I just have to do the reading for tomorrow….