Saturday, February 24, 2018

Japanese Gashapon Fun For Everyone

Gashapon machines, or capsule toy machines, one of the original vending machine types.  You can find them almost anywhere, but Japan is always kind of special for them.  Here, there is an immense variety and I believe hundreds ot sets of these toys are released every year.  Many are targeted at kids, but there is also a large mature audience for these wonderful toys, some of which are obviously not aimed at kids.
In the pictures below, I'll show the large variety of capsule toys, some of which are for kids, but many are not.  In fact, the toy manufacturers try very hard to think up creative toys, some of which would probably never be seen otherwise.  Many of these toys are also created with high quality in mind, from the sculpting, molding, assembly, and paint jobs.  Everyone likes to try their luck at these machines to see if they'll get the one they want. 
A large variety of Pokemon toys.  You have little figures, to stickers, to little miniature gadgets.
Some capsule with Japanese masks, mythical figures, historical buildings, etc.  Aimed at  collectors with prices from three to four hundred yen.
Some very creative toys here.  You have cute frogs, haniwa figures, dogs at play, etc.
An assortment of different things here.  You have Yokai Watch danglers, Pokemon desktop accessories, cute little 3 wheeler trucks, and even Dragonball figures.
Capsules of some dogs in hats.  I actually didn't order these, but was shipped these by mistake.  The vendor thankfully sent me the correct stuff afterwards.
Dogs with hats and opened capsules.  The band-aid is regular sized for comparison.
These were some cool little gashapon machine toys.  You get one inside a capsule toy which must then be assembled.  These aren't very common, but do appear from time to time.
A couple of the assembled gashapon machines - they work by the way and have tiny little capsules inside.  They are small, and I've shown the capsule they came in for scale.
Some cool Japanese cultural capsule toys.
You even have art capsule toys - with Hokusai here for example.
The famous sushi cats.  These are cell charms.
This is fun.  UFO space cat aliens.
These are the big cement blocks you find armouring shorelines, but made cute with bears.
Here are some tasty looking meals that are danglers.
There is also a great variety of different cat figures and charms at any time.
Cute geckos.
Hot springs animals.  They look like they're having a good time.
Finally, some salarymen on a park bench.  I think salarymen buy these hoping they can get out and sit on a bench in the park while they are at their desk.
That is just a small selection about the wide variety of capsule toys available.  I know I always check out places in Japan with banks of hundreds of these machines when I visit.  Later!

Gashapon / Gachapon Capsule Toys in Japan
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Sunday, February 11, 2018

My Kamakura Highlights - Part 2 (Great Buddha, Hasedera, Zeniarai Benten)

We walked a block to Kamakura Station, after stopping for lunch.  Needing additional resupply, we looked for a konbini to buy some drinks before heading to the Enoden (electric railroad with old fashioned trains).
Large selection of biscuits, chocolate, and candy at the konbini.  There is always something to tempt you.
Top: Lots of tea drinks to go.  Bottom: While looking for a konbini, we found Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The Colonel is decked out in his Santa suit.  KFC is a big for Christmas in Japan.  Japanese families order buckets of chicken in advance with drinks, sides, and even Christmas Strawberry Shortcake.
Afterward, we went over to the west side of the station via an underpass to get to the Enoden line from the main train line.  The Enoden is a pretty cool, local train that runs down to Enoshima and is a very picturesque and rattly way to get around along the coast.  There is always a big crowd of people waiting for it as they don't run every 5 minutes.
Top: Clocktower on the side of the station with the Enoden.  Bottom: Enoden line platform.  You can see the old fashioned train car.

Enoden Train from Kamakura to Hase
The Endoen runs on a single track that is basically like a single lane road.  On either side, you are looking into people's backyards and admiring the laundry they have out to dry.  It is a very cozy experience as the trains are often full too.
Looking out the front of the train.

Daibutsu Great Buddha
It is half kilometre walk to the Great Buddha from Hasedera Station.  You basically follow the crowds straight up a shopping street to the temple. While we were heading there the Japan Classic Car rally drove by and we were seeing all of these vintage cars passing us too. 
Car Rally Posters
Rally car.
We were greeted by chanting monks when we arrived at Kotokuin Temple.  They were asking for alms and we donated a few hundred yen.  The rhythmic chanting of the monks definitely added to the atmosphere at the Great Buddha.  The Daibutsu is a 93 ton bronze statue of the sitting Amida Buddha, that has a height of 13.35 metres.  This bronze Buddha is the second tallest in Japan, with the taller one in Todaiji Temple in Nara.  The statue is hollow and cast in sections which is still very impressive metallurgy.  Construction of the statue was completed in 1252, almost 800 years ago again.  The Buddha was originally housed in a wooden building that was destroyed by storm and tidal wave, so it has been in the open since 1495.
Top:  The Great Buddha with the crowds in front of it. Bottom: Closeup of the great bronze face.
Great Buddha and a bronze flower in the foreground.
The body of the Buddha is hollow, with air vents in the back.  You can pay a tiny extra fee to enter inside the Buddha.  There they have some displays describing how the statue was built.

Hasedera Temple
This Buddhist Temple is a very pretty one in the western edge of Kamakura.  From its grounds in the hillside, you can get great views of the coast and the bay.  This is a very prosperous temple too from the upkeep of the grounds.  This temple is famous for its tall statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  The statue of Kannon stands nine metres tall, is covered in gold leaf, and is one of the largest wooden statues in Japan.  There is also a small museum that shows some of the temple's treasures including a golden statue of Amida Buddha.
Kannon-do Hall housing the Kannon statue.
Tiny Bamboo Grove by prayer wheel building.
Statue of Sho-kannon Bosatsu in front of the museum.
By this time we were actually getting worn out by being on our feet all day.  We probably didn't spend as much time as we would like here, but the afternoon was fading away on us.  You can tell from some of the pictures the sun is getting low in the sky.  Temples start closing at 5 PM so you have to rush at this point.
View to the bay from Hasedera.
Pond at Hasedera.

Zeniarai Benten Shrine
After a brief walk back to Hasedera Station, we took the Enoden back to Kamakura.  I wanted to visit one more shrine that day.  This one was the wonderfully quirky shrine to Zeniarai Benten up in the hills about a two kilometres NW of Kamakura Station.  I tried to hail a cab, but the driver kept saying he couldn't go to the shrine.  Fortunately, a gate attendant, who had helped us earlier, was able to let us know that the cab could only go to the base of the hill which was why he wouldn't go.  It wasn't a long walk in the end, but the shrine entrance is half-way up a hill, which can be tough at the end of a day.  Walking there took us by a cool looking Starbucks and we also briefly admired some woodwork being done by carpenters at another store (they were doing nice join work).

The entrance to the shrine is a tunnel / cave cut through a hillside into a little valley beyond.  It is a very cool entrance. Zeniarai Benten is an unusual shrine that fuses together Buddhist and Shinto rituals in one place.  You can find Buddhist Shrines with a small Shinto Shrine inside them, but not functioning together as a whole.  This is a popular shrine where people go to wash their money in the sacred spring to double it.  I've even saw a commercials on TV with 7-11 giving away lucky money washed at the shrine.  This shrine dates back to the Kamakura period again.  The first shogun had the shrine built after a dream where a god told him to build it to bring peace.  Later the shrine was also dedicated to a Buddhist goddess of snakes as the dream happened on the day of the snake in the year of the snake. 
Entrance to Zeniarai Benten Shrine
After entering the shrine there is a small complex of buildings, gates, incense burners, etc.  There is the ritual water cleansing for the Shinto portion here too.  You can then pay 200 yen for the buddhist portion of the shrine to get a basket for washing your money in, a votive candle, and a bundle of incense sticks to burn.  You light the candle and place in on an altar rack with dozens of other little candles, then light the incense and place it in the giant burner.  Finally, you enter the grotto with the sacred spring in it where you can wash the money in a more Shinto style ceremony.
Images from inside the grotto.  It can get full.  In the bottom picture, you can see people taking ladles of water to pour over their money in the baskets.
Anothe portion of the sacred grotto.
Basket, small votive candle, and bundle of incense.
I washed some coins, but I realized afterwards that I should have washed my Canadian $20 bills which are made of plastic - it is easy to dry that kind of money afterwards!  This was a really different and fun kind of shrine visit like none of the other shrines I have been to.  With our water washing ritual behind us, the shrine office basically was closed when we left, we headed back to Kamakura Station and the train back to Tokyo.

Part One of Kamakura Highlights.

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

My Kamakura Highlights - Part 1 (Engakuji, Kenchoji, Hachimangu)

The plan was for a nice day trip out from Tokyo to Kamakura on the coast.  There would be brilliant red autumn leaves to see at the beginning of December, visits to ancient temples and shrines, and maybe some time to walk the beach.  I originally had a really ambitious schedule that included doing everything we saw today, a walk on the beach, and the island of Enoshima.  During planning, when I was working out travel time, time to enjoy the sights, and rest times, I realized that the beach and Enoshima had to go.  You could do this in a dawn to night kind of day, but you wouldn't have much time at each site visit, and you would be running a marathon.  My feet don't last that long either these days.

Why visit Kamakura?  Well, it was the capital of feudal Japan when the Kamakura Shogunate was established from 1192 to 1333.  This means that there were plenty of funds in the area to build and expand shrines and temples that have survived for over seven to eight centuries since the fall of the Shogunate.
Kamakura is kind of like a little miniature Kyoto for shrines and temple, plus countryside charm, even though most of the place is a small city.  Kamakura city is on the seashore, but you have to make a slight side trip to go to the beach if you're on a temple sightseeing schedule.  The place is famous for the beaches and there is also the nearby island of Enoshima which is also fascinating to explore as it is supposed to be the home of Benzaiten, the goddess of music and entertainment.

The area has been made pretty famous in a few movies (one of which is Our Little Sister) and anime.  Anime such as Minami Kamakura High School Girls Cycling Club (Kamakura), Slam Dunk! (Kamakura Kokomae Station), Tsuritama (Enoshima), Katana Maidens (Kamakura), Hanayamata (Kamakura), Tari Tari (Enoshima), Elfen Lied (Kamakura - Gokurakuji Station) are some of the anime set here.  Love Hina is also set in Kanagawa Prefecture, which Kamakura belongs to, but Hinata House located at the fictitious hot springs town of Hinata (near Fujino?).  Next time I'm in Tokyo I'd definitely make another day trip out here again as there was still more to see and even some places to revisit.  The area is crowded with Japanese tourists, who know it well, but it there is also a significant number of foreign tourists in the area too!
Great Wave print.  Art is in the public domain courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a very famous ukiyo-e wood block print, is also set in the sea off of Kamakura city.  This print is also one of my favourite works of art by Hokusai.  Some interpretations of this work think this is a tidal wave, but I'd say it is just a big old wave, agreeing with the overall consensus on this.

Kamakura is just over an hour from Tokyo Station, with a direct train via the JR Yokosuka line, where it takes you through Yokohama to Kamakura Station in the middle of the city, and the round trip is $20.  We caught the train from Shimbashi Station after 8 AM and arrived at Kita-Kamakura Station in less than an hour.  We even scored seats!  More and more people got on the train the further south we went and they were all out to see the fall colours in Kamakura.

Engakuji Temple
Our day was pretty packed, so the itinerary I planned minimized back tracking.  We got off the train at Kita-Kamakura, one stop before the main stop at Kamakura Station.  From here we would have an easy walk towards Hachimangu Shrine and the center of the city.  Best of all, there were two famous temples on the way.  Engakuji Temple was basically right outside the train station and it was our first stop.  The morning was cloudy with bits of blue sky, but the skies cleared as the day went.  The temperature was in the low teens, perfect for walking outside with a jacket.

There were a good number of people here and there were many people taking pictures of the red maple leaves right outside the front gate.  It turns out this temple is very popular for autumn leaf photos.  I found out that my keys were missing when we arrived and I thought I might have accidently locked them in my luggage. Still, this only put a slight damper on the morning as there are always ways to remove little travel locks.  That evening I searched the room and found I had kicked them under the bed during my morning preparations - oops!  Just inside the front gate, at a rest area, I stopped to have a can of hot coffee and a couple of rice balls as I had skipped breakfast to get down here on an earlier train. 

Engakuji is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Japan and it is #2 of Kamakura's five great Zen temples that was founded in 1282 (almost 8 centuries ago).  It is as big as Kenchoji and has equally beautiful buildings.  Some of the timbers in the buildings look absolutely ancient.  The temple is has a holy relic, a tooth of Buddha, and is dedicated to soldiers who fought off the Mongol invasions of Japan.
Top: Sanmon, the main gate built in 1783.  Bottom: Butsuden, the main hall.
Dragon painted on the ceiling of the Butsuden.
Statue of Hokan Shaka Nyorai Buddha in the Butsuden.
Grounds and pond.  They are very pretty with the fall colours.
Kojirin meditation hall
Fall colours.

Kenchoji Temple
It was a 15 minute walk to Kenchoji from Engakuji on the sidewalk along a well travelled road.
Walking to Kenchoji
Kenchoji is the oldest Zen temple in Kamakura and #1 of the five great Zen temples here. This temple was founded by the Kamakura Shogunate regent in 1253 (over eight centuries ago).  The founding would show just how pious and wealthy the regent was and the first priest was from China.
Over the centuries the temple has shrunk in size, but it is still very impressive.  The Hatto or main hall is my favourite part of this temple with its impressive mural of a dragon surrounded by colourful draperies hanging all around it from the ceiling.  This hall is the largest wooden hall of this kind in eastern Japan.
Top: Sanmon (main gate).  Bottom: Hatto (Dharma Hall)
Dharma Hall which houses a statue of Kannon and the dragon painted ceiling by Koizumi Junsaku done in 2003.
Dragon painting on the ceiling.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
It wasn't a very long walk to the Shinto shrine, Hachimangu from Kanchoji (seemed like ten minutes and it was all downhill too).  We entered the shrine from the top of the hill where the main hall of the shrine is, saving us a walk up. 
Side entrance
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a big shrine that covers a wide area.  It is Kamakura's most important shrine that was founded in 1063 (almost 1000 years old), but it was moved to its site here by the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate.  The shrine represents the power of the ruling family and is dedicated to Hachiman the war god of the ruling Minamoto family.

This is a busy shrine that attracts over nine million visitors every year and it is especially busy during the New Year holidays with two million visitors who are doing their first shrine visit of the year (Hatsumode).  There is also and samurai archery competition held here in April and September.
Ema - wish plaques.
After seeing the main shrine building, we went down the main stairway to the lower part of the shrine.  Here there is the Maiden, a building that houses a dance stage and ceremonial area.  While we were they we witnessed a traditional wedding with odd sounding musical instruments playing along.  To the left of the maiden is a large offertory wall with casks of saki and cases of beer.
Maiden in the foreground, with the main shrine hall on the hill behind it.
Top: View from the main hall over the Maiden.  Bottom: Stairs leading up to the shrine's main hall.
Dankazura Street, a long and wide, stately pedestrian walk, runs through the center of the city through several torii gates to the front entrance of the shrine.  From the top of the shrine you can see all the way down this walk all the way to the waterfront where it starts.  A block to the west of this street is the busy Komachi shopping street that is chock full of shops and restaurants.
Torii gate.
Saki  barrel wall.
Cases of beer.  I hadn't seen this before.
Top: Komachi Street with the crowds of shoppers.  Bottom: A souvenir shop.
After walking from the shrine, we had been on our feet for more than a couple of hours and it was lunch time.  It was either eat a little early or have a really late lunch after more sightseeing.  We decided on an early break.  We stopped at a restaurant near the Kamakura train station on Komachi Street for Oyakudon, chicken and egg rice bowl.  We had a lunch set and it was delicious.
Signboard for the restaurant.
Lunch set with miso soup.
Souvenir boxes of various snacks to bring back from Kamakura.  Omiyage, it is a big thing for Japanese people to bring souvenirs back from places they have visited for families / friends / coworkers.

This post concludes in part 2 which covers the Great Buddha of Kamakura and several other places.

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