Reminder: Read from bottom up

Just a quick reminder that the newest posts are at the top, so when we do a big update you will want to start reading further down the page where the first new posts have been pushed to.

If you are new to the site you can start reading at our 1st post, and use the next buttons above and below it. Joel’s second trip, in 2017, starts at this post, while our trip in April 2018 starts at this post.

You can also view photos in the Galleries by clicking on either Photos heading or a location.

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Moving House

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we remain unable to get Live Writer to connect to the blog server again, and nor does there appear to be an alternative client that’s as straightforward to use. However, as Live Writer does still connect to the regular WordPress server, an alternate solution has presented itself: start a new WordPress blog. I’m not a huge fan of that, as it does split my Japan blog in two, but, well, it is what it is. So, to continue reading this blog (and re-read the existing posts from this current trip, which have been cross-posted there), head to:

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Quick Update

No, I’ve not fallen off the face of the earth. Basically WordPress had an update, and suddenly Live Writer is no longer able to connect. I’ve got two posts all ready to upload. Since Live Writer is what I use to painlessly insert images into posts, doing without isn’t really an option unless people are happy with the ol’ wall of words. Guess that’s still a possible option, though. We’re working on it.

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Day 5–Fujinomiya, the Shrine of Mount Fuji

Happy vernal and/or autumnal equinox!

Dunno if it’s the soap Toyoko Inn stocks or something else, but for some reason I find my fingertips get all roughed up when I’m travelling in Japan, so over time my phone struggles more and more to be able to read my fingerprint. It vexes me.

Woke up a bit earlier this morning so that I could get to breakfast a bit earlier, so that I could check out and get moving a bit earlier. So, this Toyoko Inn has been providing styrofoam takeaway containers in place of the usual plastic food trays for breakfast – finally worked out today that it’s partially intended to let you take breakfast back to your room as a covid distancing measure. Which is sorta tempting, I guess, but I’d have to fit everything into one side so I could close the container rather than spread it out.


After breakfast, I finished re-packing all my stuff, and checked out. The rain that was forecast for today has been scared off until Thursday, though it left the clouds behind (now if we can shoo it away from Thursday too…).


Since today’s trip involves a number of transfers, I wanted to make sure I didn’t cut things too fine. I had four trains to catch this morning: Yokohama Line from Sakuragicho to Shin-Yokohama, Tokaido Shinkansen to Mishima, Tokaido Main Line to Fuji, then Minobu Line to Fujinomiya. For the first time, I don’t have a JR Pass of any form for this trip (my planned travel doesn’t offset the cost), so I had to pay my way for the whole thing, which involved learning how to use the SmartEX app for booking shinkansen tickets on a smart phone. It’s pretty clever – you can link a credit card and a Suica IC card, so you use the card to buy the tickets, but then they get loaded on the Suica so you can just use that to go through the gate (which automatically prints you a paper ticket for showing to the train conductor). Though I wound up booking a Hikari train (the mid-speed service on the Tokaido Shinkansen) so I actually only rode for one stop.


Anyway, transfers all went off without a hitch. For the Minobu Line, I hustled to the front of the train to get a nice view out the windows – because, see, shortly after it pulls out of Fuji Station, it turns to face directly towards Mount Fuji. You didn’t think it was random chance that I’ve already mentioned passing through stations named Fuji and Fujinomiya, did you? Unfortunately, the design of the Minobu Line trains’ front windows isn’t too conducive for taking photos forwards. And Fuji-san was half-hidden by clouds anyway. Humbug. Got a much better view of it from all the way over in Yokohama than right in front of it.


Fujinomiya lies right at the foot of Fuji-san (… if it can be said to have feet. It does sprawl a bit). For a long time, it’s served as a stop on the main traditional pilgrimage route which began at the sea and ran to the summit. The town is named for, and centred on, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha, the head shrine of all Sengen (or Asama) shrines in Japan. Sengen (or Asama – same kanji, different reading) is the name given to the kami that represents Fuji-san deified. So that was my planned focus for today.

So after hopping off the train at Fujinomiya Station (and finding a coin locker to stuff my luggage into), I headed for the tourist information centre at the station. See, they had a manhole card to collect. One of three in this area, actually, but one of them, available at the City Hall, has run out until April. With card in hand, I headed west to find the shrine’s Ichi-no-Torii, the outermost torii gate.


The torii actually stands on the grounds of the Mount Fuji World Heritage Centre, a museum about Mount Fuji (or rather, the museum was built adjacent to the torii, since the latter was there first). It’s got a big winding spiral path shaped like an inverted Mount Fuji, with exhibits all along the path (and videos simulating climbing the mountain – there are other climbers in the videos represented by shadows, which are exactly to scale with the shadow cast by you getting between the projector and the screen while walking up, so it looks like you’re climbing with them), and at the top, there’s a viewing platform allowing you to see the mountain.


Or that was my plan anyway, except that I discovered about two days before flying to Japan (too late to rearrange plans) that it’s closed on the third Tuesday of every month for cleaning, and, well, that’s today. So says the place’s website, and corroborated by Google Maps. And even listed next to the front door, as it turns out. Except… when I got there, it was open. Gotta be the first time I went to a place expecting it to be closed and finding it open.

So I paid for entry and headed in. On the way up, there was a temporary exhibition of the winners of a photography context (with Mount Fuji as the subject of course, though there was also a secondary category for photos of the so-called “Local Fujis”, mountains in other prefectures that resemble Mount Fuji enough that they’re named or nicknamed Fuji – like Mount Yotei in Hokkaido, which is nicknamed “Ezo Fuji”), and a cinema showing short videos about Mount Fuji, displays about the geology and ecology of the area, and various exhibits about Fuji in historical works and in religion.


And at the top, the lookout… but Fuji was still half-hidden by cloud. Though it did also have a nice big image showing what it’s meant to look like. Also had to share the place with occasional busloads of foreign tourists, though I never listened to them speak carefully enough to determine what flavour of foreign.


Once back down at ground level, I decided to head for the shrine proper. Photographed the manhole cover outside on the way – this is the cover that corresponds to the unavailable City Hall card, and I kinda think it’s the nicest of the three. I stopped just outside the shrine at another tourist information centre for my second card… except it turns out this one has run out too.


Finally reached the shrine and headed in. It was actually fairly busy, with quite a long line waiting to pray. And also a blooming sakura tree. This one actually had a name plate on it, so I know it’s definitely a sakura tree – it’s a shidarezakura, “weeping sakura”.


Bought me a new shuincho with goshuin included, and the attendant also handed me this thing… not too sure what it is. Bookmark for the shuincho, maybe? Text on the packaging doesn’t clarify. Says “Commemorating your Visit” at the top, and “Suruga Province First Shrine, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha” at the bottom.


Headed out the back way to find the manhole cover that was meant to be associated with my was-to-be second card, then wandered back to the front of the shrine.


Now it was time for some lunch. I had two options, as I saw it. One of the things that brought me here is another anime (yes, this trip is fairly strongly anime-inspired) called Yuru Camp, or “Laid-Back Camp”. I’ll explain the series concept in more detail later on, but in one chapter, the main character Nadeshiko visited Fujinomiya (and the shrine), and while here, she ate a dish called shigureyaki at a particular restaurant that she made a point of going out of her way to visit (all locations that appear in Yuru Camp are real, though don’t necessarily bear the same name they do in the real world). Since Nadeshiko is a bit of a foodie, I thought that might be worth trying. Unfortunately, it’s a half-hour walk each way from the shrine. There’s a bus that’d take me right from the shrine to the restaurant’s doorstep… but it runs so infrequently that it’d take half an hour anyway. Since I had only about ninety minutes left before I had to catch my next train (or else wait around another two hours for the one after), I reluctantly decided that was probably not an option. (Also, I’m honestly not too sure what the difference is between shigureyaki and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and I’ve had that.)

So over to plan B: Fujinomiya’s speciality dish is yakisoba, fried noodles (note that the second manhole cover depicted above includes yakisoba, on the right side). And there’s a collection of yakisoba stalls around a small courtyard just across the road from the shrine. (Nadeshiko walked past this place too, and had to almost physically drag herself away from the lovely smell.) I ended up picking a place offering a half-and-half dish – half lightly salted and half with sauce. The sauce half was definitely the better, though. The centre of the courtyard has a water spring in the middle, and everyone who eats gets a cup to fill up from the spring (though there’s a sign on it saying “if you take it home, you need to boil before drinking”… but drinking straight from the source is fine, then?)


With lunch all done, I walked back to the train station. Unfortunately, I lacked sufficient time remaining to visit the manhole location for the one card I actually acquired today (which is, oddly enough, right by City Hall), so I retrieved my luggage, bought a ticket to continue my ride along the Minobu Line (since you can’t use IC cards for stations past the one after Fujinomiya) and headed to the platform to wait.


Soon, I was on my way. And as the train trundled along, I casually glanced out my window… and there was Mount Fuji, on the wrong side of the train, finally emerged from the clouds. I’d forgotten to check at any point after leaving the shrine whether Fuji-san was any more visible, and I’d forgotten that as the Minobu Line leaves Fujinomiya, it turns back on itself, putting the mountain on the other side of the train to what I’d expected. I scrambled to take a photo, but I wasn’t ready, and then there were trees in the way. This is the best shot I managed:


So annoyed with myself.


Almost an hour later, I hopped off the train at Minobu Station. In this town I’m staying in another business hotel, but given its name is Minobu Inn, I’m willing to bet it’s not a chain hotel. Actually, I think it’s the only business hotel in the area – the standard here seems to be various ryokan, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to splurge quite so much on a multi-night ryokan stay. This place caused me a bit of fun during the booking stages, as they had no website reservation form, only a note saying to book by phone. Since I’m not a huge fan of booking by phone even in English, I found their e-mail address and sent an e-mail asking if I could book like that. After a week with no response to said e-mail, I eventually steeled myself up to actually make the call, fully expecting that either (a) I’d be completely unable to understand the conversation (my listening ability is still less than stellar), or (b) they’d be all booked out. It turned out to be option (c) he couldn’t hear me. Bad phone line or something, I don’t know. Most of the conversation was “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?”, which I did manage to understand. Fortunately, he was able to catch me say my name, at which point he went “oh yeah, you sent an e-mail, I’ll just reply to that”. And five minutes later, it was all booked.

But here I am. I’ve somehow wound up in a Twin room. Guess it’s all they had available. The bedding is concerningly… beige, but I think I’ll ignore that. There’s a massage chair in the hall outside, which I’m gonna have to try at some point soon. And I’ve apparently neglected to photograph the outside of the building. Gonna need to rectify that tomorrow. Lovely view from my window, though.


I discovered in planning that nearly all restaurants in this area only open for lunch and are closed for dinner – and Minobu Inn took the time to warn me of the same in our e-mail conversation – but I located a few places that are open on Google Maps, one of which is a Chinese restaurant just a block from the hotel. So I headed up there… and found it closed anyway. Though I could see someone moving around inside. Not feeling too hungry, I headed back to the hotel and had a tube of Pringles I’d picked up at Sea Paradise yesterday.


(Actually, the Pringles are a bit interesting – there are vending machines at Sea Paradise that only sell you random flavours, you don’t get to pick. You also get a random amount between one and three, though I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if almost everyone only gets one. I got basil and salt, which is nice enough, but it’s barely a step above just salt. Though I happened to notice when opening it today that “vending machine limited edition” is written on it.)

As  I arrived at my hotel at around 4pm, and largely skipped dinner, this has given me time to get caught up on posting, which is nice. Hopefully I can last at least a couple of days before slipping this time. Now it’s time to get caught up on sleep too.

Today’s photo count: Three hundred and eight.

Today’s step count: 10,519 steps, for 7.2 km. 8 flights of stairs.

Today’s goshuin count: One, Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha. And here’s the cover of the new shuincho, too.


Today’s stamp count: five – Fujinomiya Station (which is both rather worn and under-inked, so it’s not great), one from the station tourist information centre, two from the shrine tourist information centre, and Minobu Station (similarly worn, though a bit better-inked, but still not great). Actually, the shrine tourist information centre had no less than eight different ones, but I decided to just go with just my two favourite ones.

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Day 4–Yamate, the Mountain’s Hand

Yesterday’s post now has photos. In exchange, this post lacks them. Perhaps tomorrow is when I’ll get caught up, haha.

I’ve noticed that Japan really likes its pedestrian overpasses. And underpasses too, but let’s start with overpasses. I mean, the simple ones that just cross a road or an intersection abound everywhere, but outside stations you can often find whole networks that span multiple blocks, and connect directly to adjacent buildings. (Unfortunately, it’s even odds whether there’ll be any way to access it from the ground besides stairs.) Here at Sakuragicho Station, there’s an overpass that starts from just outside the station (doesn’t connect directly to the station, like many do), bounds a major intersection, skirts the Hotel Washington, crosses a river, and connects up with the Yokohama City Hall… and then stops, on the other side of a major road from my hotel. If it just crossed that road, I’d be effectively on the same block, but instead I have to cross at the surface crossing. And so far, I’ve only just missed those lights every single time.

So, Sakuragicho Station, is one of Japan’s oldest, part of Japan’s very first train line from Shinagawa to Yokohama, opening on June 12th 1872, as… Yokohama Station. However, after it had been in operation for a number of years, it was decided that the location wasn’t really convenient for being a major transport hub as envisioned, so it was moved to near the location of modern-day Takashimacho Station on the subway line (roughly midway between its starting location and its modern-day location). When the station was levelled by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, they took the opportunity to move it to where it is today. Point is, when Sakuragicho stopped being Yokohama in 1915, it became Sakuragicho. It used to also be the terminus of the Tokyu Toyoko Line, but in 2004, the line was shifted at Yokohama to allow trains to continue onto the new Minatomirai subway.

Anyway, the weather continued to be sunny, which is nice. More breakfast was ate, though I neglected to bring the camera today. Kinda felt like the breakfast room was a whole lot more crowded today than it was on the weekend. Also, there was chicken rice along with the regular plain rice.

I headed out after breakfast, going the long way to the station to get another shot at the Sakuragicho manhole cover. Once at the station, I searched around (unsuccessfully) for a station stamp, discovering on the north side a long concrete culvert running parallel to the JR tracks and over the pedestrian footpath. Turns out it’s the old Toyoko Line viaduct.


Entered the station and took the Negishi Line south for the first time this trip, getting off at Ishikawacho a few stops away. I find that station interesting in that it straddles a river – the north and south exits are on opposite banks. (And also the stairs leading up to the platform at the southern end are a block further south than the exits are – there’s a road passing undeath them.)


My first destination was at the top of a huge hill just south of the station. Yokohama is hilly in ways that most parts of Tokyo simply are not, and this hill, well, it towered above the elevated station. Actually, the tracks tunnel through the hill just outside the station.


In any case, I was headed for Bluff No. 18, a historical European-style house that’s now a mini-museum. Actually it’s one of many such houses in the area (and one of many named “Bluff No. xx”, though I genuinely cannot work out what “Bluff” is supposed to mean here). It was built after the Great Kanto Earthquake for an Australian trader named Bowden, but after WWII it was purchased by the Catholic Church and used as a presbytery, until they donated it to the City of Yokohama in 1991, who restored it and opened it as a museum in 1993. Entry is free.

What first drew my attention to this place is that it appears in the tenth volume of a manga called Flying Witch as the family home of main character Makoto (for the rest of the series, she’s living in Aomori with family, as a sort of practical training for becoming a witch). So I made sure to get some photos that match manga panels.


It was a very nice little house, though the way it’s currently furnished, it appears to have only one bedroom with two single beds. I especially liked the sunroom with the wraparound windows. And a very nice view. Had to take my shoes off upon entry, which surprised me a tad since it’s a European-style house, but I guess they want to protect the floors.


It’s located within the Yamate Italian Garden, so I spent a bit of time admiring that. And the view. The garden included in one place a collection of replicas of various historical houses nearby, including Bluff No. 18.


Also in the grounds was another house labelled on signage as “Home of a Diplomat”. Or if they were feeling particularly verbose, “Former Uchida Residence: Home of a Diplomat”. But nothing more, so I had no idea which diplomat in the slightest. Googling now, it was the residence of Uchida Sadatsuchi, who served as consul general in New York during the Meiji Period. And also, the house was originally constructed in Shibuya, and moved to its present location by the City of Yokohama after it was donated to them by Uchida’s grandson in 1997. It was noticeably grander than Bluff No. 18, everything done in dark wood. Even had a third floor, though it looks like possibly only tour groups are allowed up there. Plus a tiny room by the front door where the servants could hang out when not working. And also another couple doing wedding photography, though while yesterday’s couple were in traditional Japanese garb, this couple had clearly gone for a western-style wedding, with a bridal dress and tuxedo.


Leaving there, I wandered to the south, finding Yamate Park, which at the side I entered was so steep as to almost be vertical. A little downhill from there was another scene which appeared in Flying Witch (albeit only on a chapter title page).


Then I decided to head for Negishi Forest Park, a park not too far away. It’s got a whole section of sakura trees, and, well, they’ve been blooming most other places I’ve visited, so perhaps they’ll be blooming here too. Of course the walk to get there entailed a surprise hike up a steep hill. It was quite an expansive park, no noises of the city inside. There were, however, a lot of families with kids, picnicing. A little surprising for a weekday. The park also contains the grandstands of the former Negishi Racetrack, and I was hoping I could go up in them, but no, they’re thoroughly derelict.


Unfortunately, the grove of sakura trees was not blooming yet, though there was another tree in full bloom and already losing its petals when the wind blew. Not the foggiest idea what kind of tree, though. I also saw a single squirrel of some variety, but I only got this photo of him – he vanished while I wasn’t looking at him.


When I left the park, I walked (downhill all the way – the up side of having to walk uphill to reach the park) to Yamate Station, where I hopped back in the Negishi Line and headed a few more stops to Shin-Sugita Station. While there, I paused for lunch at a Vie de France bakery – it’s a Japanese chain which bakes lots of interesting breads similar to Bread Top in Australia. I had one called “Baked Potato” (which I’d taken to be maybe a potato-based bread made in a potato shape, but which turned out to contain an actual whole baked potato), a Hokkaido Potato Croquette bun (getting that carbs theme here), and a “Sakuramochi-style pie” (very tasty).


After lunch, I changed to the Seaside Line, a driverless guideway transit, which runs roughly along the coastline. I sat in the driver’s seat (albeit at the back, because the front one was taken by a kid) and got a lovely view. Though I was so distracted by the view that I wasn’t paying attention to how far we’d gone, so when we pulled into a station and I glanced up to spot the name of the station I was planning to get off on the station’s signboard, I hurriedly jumped off… only to discover (after the train had pulled away) that I was looking at the next station indicator rather than the current one, so I had to waste ten minutes waiting for the next train.


My destination here was Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, an island (Hakkeijima) containing an amusement park consisting of an aquarium, shopping mall, hotel, marina and rides. My target here was Dekkai, a huge 3D maze made of wood. I’ve forgotten how I came across this place originally (though one very much like it appears briefly in in a manga called Komi Can’t Communicate), but it looks like fun. They’ve got three different courses – the Adventure Course, which has more adventurous elements in it, the Fantasy Course, which has more… fantastical elements, I guess?, and the Mystery Course, in which you have to solve puzzles.


But, ah. It was closed. For refurbishment and inspection. In all my research, I never considered the possibility that it might just plain be closed. Neither did Google Maps, which still says it’s open today. Even its own website doesn’t mention that it’s not open. Rather a shame.

(Actually, speaking of solving puzzles, the company that makes the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries has also released another one that’s kinda similar, but intended for exploring Yokohama on foot. I considered buying it to play today, but I decided I’d prefer to go my own way.)

Instead of Dekkai, I decided to head for the aquarium (or “Aqua Museum”), one of the main features of the island – it’s the big glass pyramid visible a mile off. At 3300 yen to enter, I’d thought it was a bit steep, though turns out it’s actually cheaper than Sydney Aquarium, and covers you for three other locations in the park at the same time (though I didn’t visit them, so I guess I didn’t quite get the value for my money).


It wasn’t bad on the whole, but I rather wondered if maybe some of the tanks were insufficiently sized for their contents (though I admit I’m not an expert on appropriate aquarium tank sizes).


I wandered through the whole thing, following the designated route, and emerged on the roof (beneath the glass pyramid), finding the Sea Creatures Show arena filling with people – seemed there’d be a show starting soon. It was quite an impressive show. Opened with a single penguin, who didn’t seem to want to perform today, then a large sea lion (or maybe a walrus?), a pair of beluga whales who pushed their trainers around in the tank with their noses, then two different species of dolphins who jumped all over.


When the show let out, I hastily scrambled over to the other half of the roof, a smallish zoo with mammal exhibits – and most importantly, red pandas. That said, one was contained in display box so the audience could see it, and I really didn’t think it looked comfortable in there, clearly wanting to get out (and I’m not sure it had anywhere private it could hide). There was another pacing around in a little run that went over the crowd’s heads.


Only had a few minutes there before it was time for me to leave for my next (and last) attraction for today: sunset. As previously mentioned. And this was a special sunset. See, when the sun sets (or rises) directly behind Mount Fuji, that’s a phenomenon known here as Diamond Fuji, because Fuji sparkles like a diamond. One of the places I’m visiting later this trip is a popular location for a sunrise Diamond Fuji, but unfortunately the right time for that was a few days ago – the sun’s moved. While researching other options, I discovered that today, there’s a sunset Diamond Fuji visible from a park here in Yokohama. And conveniently, it’s a short walk from Sugita Station on the Keikyu Line, which is where I was already going to have to change trains when returning to my hotel from Hakkeijima. I’d already calculated how long it’d take me to get there, and set an alarm for when I’d have to leave to arrive in time.

So first I hopped on the Seaside Line and continued to Kanazawa-Hakkei Station, completing my trip along the entire length of the Seaside Line. After disembarking, I realised I was a few minutes ahead of schedule, so I popped down to the street for a very quick visit to some locations that appeared in another anime called Bocchi the Rock (very funny – you should watch). Happened to run into someone else also taking photos for the exact same reason (though he was equipped with screenshots to compare, unlike me). Would have liked more time to explore there, but time and sunset waits for no man, so it was off to the Keikyu line for me. For those in the know, these are the locations (albeit terribly photographed):


Hopped off at Sugita Station, and turned to follow the route Google Maps had charted for me to reach Marunouchi Park, my destination, and looked up… and up… and up… to see a ridgeline far above me, buildings perched upon its edge. No wonder this specific park was supposedly the perfect location for Diamond Fuji – it appears to be perched atop a spike (slight exaggeration) of earth that towers far above the surrounding land. And oh boy was it a hike to get there. Stairs, streets so steep I don’t see how a car could get up, stairs, streets so narrow there’s no way a car could fit, and also stairs.


Finally reached the park, huffing and puffing, but with minutes to spare. There were at least a dozen other people there, all with cameras and tripods ready (though I didn’t spot all of them until it was over). And I was astonished by how large Fuji-san looked. I was kind of expecting a little triangle on the horizon, but it nearly dominated the view. It had become a bit hazy in the evening, but it was still easy enough to see what was going on. This is definitely the greatest distance I’ve managed to see Fuji-san from.


With the haze it was less like a diamond and more like Fuji-san was erupting in reverse, but it was still pretty spectacular to watch. Almost thought it was going to miss the mountain at first, that I’d come on the wrong day, but I guess that’s just the angle the sun sets at here around this time of year.


Downside of watching the sunset, though, is having to find your way back in the dark. Or twilight, which soon became dark. I was walking down one fairly picturesque street thinking how nice it’d be if the street lights came on for some more fancy photos, when the street lights came on. Though it was still a bit too bright out for them to make much of an effect on the photos, and I didn’t really feel like waiting around for more darkness.

Can’t really imagine living in that area. Many houses can only be reached by stairs. You can walk to the station, yes, but it’s a very uphill walk all the way home again. Even walked down one street of houses which backed onto the Keikyu railway line, and the houses were so narrow that a car parked in the parking bay underneath stuck out at both ends – honestly don’t know how they put up with the express trains running through at almost all hours.


Back at Shin-Sugita Station, I browsed the shops for something for dinner, but decided to return to Sakuragicho Station and try there instead. After scanning the underground arcade for somewhere that wasn’t packed with salarymen drinking beer, I headed over the tracks to neighbouring Nogecho. Just as I was about to give up there and try finding a place closer to my hotel, I came across a branch of Ichiran Ramen. It’s a ramen chain where you eat in individual cubbies. Staff serve you through a window in the cubby, and then close a curtain to let you eat. You order from a vending machine, then you fill in a card for specific tastes like thickness of soup, firmness of noodles, amount of garlic and so forth. You can make further changes or additions by passing messages through the window, so you don’t ever need to speak at all. There was a bit of a queue, though they let me skip ahead because there was one empty seat, I was alone and the ones ahead of me were a group of three. Quite tasty. Might need to try it again sometime, but with more garlic.


Headed back to the hotel afterwards to blog. Tomorrow I’m checking out of this hotel and moving to a new place, and it’s a bit of an early start to maximise sightseeing time en route. Certainly not my earliest start for this trip, but early enough.

Today’s photo count: Seven hundred and twenty-four.

Today’s step count: 24,601 steps, for 17.8km. 41 flights of stairs. These step counts are getting absurd. If I keep this up, my legs are going to fall off by the end of the first week.

Today’s stamp count: One – found a “polar bear and crab” stamp at the aquarium.

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Day 3–Shichifukujin, the Seven Lucky Gods

Gonna have to do the photos on this post tomorrow. It’s late and I need sleep.

So, washlets. I’ve definitely brought these up before, but I don’t recall if I’ve discussed them in general. We call ‘em “bidets”, but for the Japanese, the word “bidet” has a specific meaning, and they’re called “washlet” in general. Having not grown up using one, they definitely feel downright weird, but I do see their benefit. See, you use the washlet to wash, and then the toilet paper to dry afterwards – no need for endless wiping, or scrunch/fold arguments. I will say, however, that the worst part has gotta be the wait. See, when you push the On button, it takes a couple of seconds to extend the nozzle, so when it actually comes on, it’s a complete surprise. It’s like a jump scare in a horror movie – you just know the bad guy is lurking in the shadows waiting to jump out and shout “boo!”, you just don’t know precisely when.

In any case, today dawned bright and sunny. Fairly chilly, though. Started with a spot of breakfast.


Then I headed out. Before starting my intended plans for today, I decided to open with a quick trip around the various Pikachu manhole covers in the area. See, since Japan loves Pokemon, and their fancy manhole covers, then it seemed like a great idea to put those two things together. A number of towns have their own Pokemon manhole covers, in Yokohama there’s a series of four of them, each with Pikachu and one syllable of the name “Yokohama”. However, when I reached the first of them after about a fifteen-minute walk from my hotel away from the station, I discovered a regular old manhole cover where I expected Pikachu. And it’s only at this point I decided to actually check the details… and discovered they were only there for a limited period. So that was a bit of a waste of time.

Not a terrible walk, though – Yokohama was one of the first parts of the country to be open to foreigners after Commodore Matthew Perry came by in the 1850s and demanded it, so it’s filled with a lot of early examples of Western architecture in Japan. Not always easy to get a good vantage point on them to take photographs, however.


Strolling back along the waterfront, I found some sort of… dog fair? at the Red-Brick Warehouses. Like, with a whole bunch of stalls almost exactly like the weekend markets at the Entertainment Quarter, only entirely selling products for dogs. And people with dogs. So there were sooo many dogs being walked around on leashes or wheeled in strollers.


I took the time to visit the Circle Walk – a huge circular pedestrian overpass (also a bit tricky to photograph), before riding the new Yokohama Air Cabin back to Sakuragicho Station. It’s a new gondola lift which opened in 2012, connecting Sakuragicho Station with the World Porters shopping mall (which is adjacent to the Cosmo World theme park). I admit, it perplexes me a tad, because while it does cross a body of water, the route almost exactly shadows an existing walking path called “Steam Train Road” (presumably following the route of the old steam train tracks), over a series of bridges and artificial islands. Very nice ride, though. Windows far too reflective to photograph through, so instead I sat back and enjoyed the view. And the mood music.


Back at the station, the walk had taken me so long that the tourist information centre was now open, so I went and grabbed the local manhole card. There was also a different Pikachu manhole cover on the plaza outside, and that one actually was there. And also a bunch of men in suits unveiling a countdown board for something called “Green X Expo 2027” to a crowd. Not too clear what that is.


Then I hopped on the train. See, today’s activity was to return to Kamakura at long last, and finally finish the Shichifukujin pilgrimage I did just half of way back in 2017. On day five. About five and a quarter years ago. (Couldn’t name today’s post after Kamakura, because I already did that then.) So I planned to pick up right where I left off by starting from Kita-Kamakura Station, since Jochi-ji (my third and final stop in 2017) is close nearby. The train, however, was absolutely packed, and far more people got off at Kita-Kamakura with me than I’d expected – thought people would be heading to Kamakura proper, if anything.


In any case, once out of the station, I proved my devotion to the cause by immediately getting distracted by something else. I first wanted to see a historic tunnel which I’d thought was right next to the station, though when I googled for its precise location today I found it was much further away than I’d thought, so I decided to pass. (I do wonder now if Google was giving me the location to something else besides what I’d been thinking of.)

Instead, I popped into Engaku-ji, the second of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples (Jochi-ji, as you recall, is fourth). It was founded in 1282 on the orders of Hojo Tokimune, who was the effective ruler of Japan at the time, so a little while ago. It now contains some eighteen different structures strung up a hillside, including the Tokimune’s grave. And also the Ogane (“great bell”), at the top of far more stairs than I’d initially realised. Nice view, though.


Plus a number of trees blooming, which I attempted to take nice photos of. I’m not entirely sure they were sakura trees, though, as the flower petals lacked the fairly distinctive notch at the top, though admittedly I don’t know if all sakura species have that.


After that, I headed back over the train tracks (which cut through the edges of Engaku-ji’s main entrance) to see Tokei-ji, the only remaining temple of the Amagozan (nunneries which were the female equivalent of the Five Great Zen Temples). Founded in 1285 by Tokimune’s wife after her husband’s death, it long had a rule that women wishing to divorce their husbands (something extremely difficult in those times otherwise) could do so by remaining at the temple for two years. The temple’s power to do this was removed in 1873 when the Court of Justice began to oversee divorce cases. Men weren’t permitted to enter the grounds at all until it came under the supervision of Engaku-ji in 1902. The temple was almost entirely wiped out in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and presently has only two main buildings, one of which isn’t open to visitors, so I didn’t stay here too long. (Also, no photos were allowed anywhere on the temple grounds.)


Next stop, after passing by Jochi-ji en route…


Kencho-ji, the first of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples. I’d previously encountered this place when I took shelter in the car park from the noise of the traffic on the road in front. Constructed on the orders of the emperor in 1253, its main patron in its early years was Hojo Tokiyori (Tokimune’s father), who’d also instituted the idea of the Five Great Zen Temples as a way of consolidating his power. But also because he was an adherent of Zen. Once comprised of forty-nine different sub-temples, today only ten remain. One of which is the Hatto, currently the largest Buddhist wooden structure in Eastern Japan (which is… quite specific), and which also has a large dragon painted on its ceiling. Also a very relaxing Zen garden, which I sat gazing over for a bit. I thought the shape of the lake looked rather deliberate, and wondered if it was supposed to look like something, similar to how the lake at Saiho-ji in Kyoto is supposed to resemble the kanji for “heart”. Researching now, it turns out this one is “heart” too, though I still couldn’t really see it.


Continuing on from there, I finally headed for the next stop on the Shichifukujin. The road I was following, though, appears to be Kamakura’s main approach road from the north – it was heavily trafficked – both road and foot traffic – and there was barely any footpath, so it was a bit hair-raising. It did help that the traffic on my side was barely moving, though. (No idea why there were so many people around – it wasn’t this crowded on my last visit. Not sure if there was something on, or if it just happened to be a nice weekend day for a trip.) Passed through a weird “tunnel” that’s open to the sky the whole way through, so I dunno what its purpose is. On my first visit, it was almost night, so I didn’t realise it was open at the top until I was most of the way through. (This is not the most indicative photo of the footpath width, as it was much wider inside the “tunnel” than outside.)


Eventually reached Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu – stop number four on my Kamakura Shichifukujin pilgrimage, enshrining Benzaiten, the only female member of the Seven Lucky Gods, and “goddess of all that flows: water, music, arts, love, wisdom, wealth, fortune” (though that’s a subordinate shrine on the grounds – the main shrine enshrines Hachiman, as you can probably tell from the name). As mentioned last time, it’s Kamakura’s main shrine, and the shrine’s approach road is also Kamakura’s main street. It was originally a Buddhist temple named Tsurugaoma Hachimangu-ji, Kamakura’s oldest temple, but during the forced separation of Buddhism and Shinto, they were forced to sell their Nio statues to Jufuku-ji (third of the Five Great Zen Temples) and destroy their Buddhism-related buildings. In any case, this place was packed with people (which, as the main shrine of the city, is perhaps not surprising). Possibly for this reason, they were only selling pre-written goshuin on loose paper, both the main shrine and the Benzaiten shrine. I’m not a fan of gluing in loose paper goshuin – they feel like they don’t really count as much as one written just for me – so I wound up only getting the main shrine’s one and not the Benzaiten one (which might be a bit odd considering I was on the Shichifukujin pilgrimage).


Fortunately, the route to the next stop in the pilgrimage took me away from all the people (though not all the traffic) – a couple of blocks to the east of the main road stood stop number five, Hokai-ji, enshrining Bishamonten, god of treasure, wealth and warriors. Currently a subordinate temple of Engaku-ji, it was built on the ruins of the Hojo clan residence to appease the souls of the 870 members of the clan who committed ritual suicide on July 4, 1333 after the end of the Kamakura Shogunate. And despite a fairly heavily-trafficked road outside, it was so peaceful and quiet inside. The goshuin office was inside the main hall here, with the window low to the ground – just the right height, in other words, for someone sitting in the formal seiza kneeling posture, which I just can’t do for any length of time. Sitting cross-legged, though, put me too low.


A straight shot from there was stop number six, Myoryu-ji, enshrining Jurojin, god of wisdom and longevity. (Actually, five, six and seven are all in pretty close proximity.) This one’s a pretty small temple, with just one main building and the temple office. Doesn’t even rate its own page on Wikipedia. It does have a statue of Jurojin holding a deer which is absolutely covered in coins.


Continuing down the road, I passed a 7-Eleven seemingly out of nowhere (really didn’t seem like the road for one), then finally reached my seventh and final stop, Hongaku-ji, enshrining Ebisu, god of commerce and fishermen. And also a big ol’ tree in full bloom, which many people were gathered around photographing. The grounds were a bit larger than Myoryu-ji, but somehow it still doesn’t rate a Wikipedia page. In any case, after five-and-change years, I’d finally completed the Kamakura Shichifukujin pilgrimage!


I’d been walking for a while by this point – hadn’t even had any lunch, though I didn’t really feel hungry for it either – so I pondered calling it a day, but I decided first to stop in at a nearby temple called Myohon-ji (no relation to Myoryu-ji). It was built in the 13th century by Hiki Yoshimoto upon the ruins of his own clan’s estate, which had been destroyed by Hojo Tokimasa to consolidate his clan’s power over the shogun. This gets confusing. Anyway, it was a very nice temple (lots of stairs again!), and also some nice trees in bloom. And a couple having their wedding photos taken. The goshuin office appeared to be closed, though.


After taking photos there, I headed back towards Kamakura Station, and right into a street packed full of visitors. With more than an hour of daylight left, I pondered getting the Enoden down to Enoshima Station so I could take the Shonan Monorail during daylight, but I decided I’d had a long day already, and plan to visit Enoshima again sometime anyway, so instead I snagged a “Kamakura menchi” (= minced pork cutlet) stuffed with cheese for some dinner. One of the last few before they sold out, as it turned out. Quite tasty, but a bit hard to eat without getting sauce all over my face. Such stretchy cheese.


Headed into the station and caught the train back to Sakuragicho, pretty much just as the sun was setting. Went to go see the manhole cover that corresponded to the card I got this morning – just a small detour from the route back to my hotel. I found it, but it was perhaps too dark to photograph. Might perhaps try again tomorrow.


Popped into a Family Mart for a couple more things for dinner – an onigiri stuffed with Korean-style beef, and a bag of chocolate-coated freeze-dried strawberries – and made it back to my hotel shortly before 7pm. I thought “oh, this is great, I can get my blog post written and get a nice early night”… and then suddenly it was 9:30. I genuinely have no idea where the time went. Maybe I’ll have another shot at getting a reasonable night’s sleep tomorrow – my plans end with sunset. Like, literally – the last thing I have planned is to watch the sunset. Why? You’ll see. Provided I have the weather for it.


Today’s photo count: four hundred and ninety-six.

Today’s step count: 20,825 steps, for 14.5 km. 36 flights of stairs. Not the longest distance I’ve walked in a day for this blog, but apparently the first time I exceeded 20,000 steps in a day since I started using the Qantas Health app. It awarded me a badge.

Today’s goshuin count: Six – from the right, Engaku-ji, Kencho-ji, Hokai-ji, Myoryu-ji, Hongaku-ji, and the loose Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu which I still need to glue in. And that completely filled my second shuincho. I spent the day looking out for a new shuincho to buy that I liked, but nothing caught my eye. Just gonna have to hope the next shrine or temple I visit has good ones, I guess.


Today’s stamp count: Found one at Kamakura Station. Thought at the time I’d missed this on my last visit, but checking my blog now, I did get it. Though it might be different – it’s got “March” (i.e. the month… in Japanese) on the design. Don’t have my 2017 stamp book on me to compare them. Seems to be part of some sort of event – there was a sign up, though I still need to sit down and translate it. (Also need to remember to check Sakuragicho for a stamp.)

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