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Published: August 23rd 2017
Fiona and Stephen at the Great Buddha
We're on holiday! We've left the urban jungle of Chiba and ventured again to the opposite side of the bay - a little further on from Yokohama, to Kamakura, a town we remember fondly from earlier visits. My current VNese teacher Mr Hue (said like /h/ + 'way') used to live in Chiba too, and urged us to visit the Izu Peninsula, and I really wanted to find somewhere there to visit for a night or two, but we also wanted to squeeze in a day in Kamakura, and we couldn't do both. So we're compromising by forgetting about the Izu Peninsula altogether, and we've come to spend two nights in Kamakura instead.
The route was almost the same as how we got to Yokohama, under the bay again, but with another 20-30 minutes further train ride tacked on the end. Although there's no countryside between the cities, Kamakura has a quite different feel: more individual houses, and the apartment blocks that do exist are smaller, lower, and less obvious. It's a very historic town, having been the capital of Japan a thousand years ago, yet on this visit we are finding it quite sophisticated. It's always been elegant, but
now it's very international with it.
I tried yesterday and this morning to book some accommodation, but the booking website wouldn't accept my phone number. We started by looking for a ryokan (Japanese-style inn) but they turned out to be too expensive (they looked a bit pricey to start with, but then that was the rate per person
, not per room!) The cheap ones were just hostels, with dormitory accommodation. I found another type, minshuku (guest house), on a Japanese-language booking website but that's where we had the phone problems, and I couldn't find a number to try calling them direct. In the end we decided to just risk it: turn up and see what happened. It was only 3 bus stops from the station, so not too much time wasted if it doesn't work out. We found the bus, found the bus stop, found the accommodation. Rang the bell. No reply. Called the number at the gate. No reply. No biggie. 3 bus stops back to the station, ask at the Tourist Information Office. Why not do that in the first place? I don't know. I looked at going in; the office was right next to the bus
departure point. But no, we had a plan, and I guess I wanted to go with that. But the Information Office was my Plan B, so here we were, after an hour of contemplating homelessness, back at the station. The staff were after all very helpful, and recommended a hotel: close by, not too expensive, and with Japanese-style rooms, that we felt like trying because this is such a traditional place. Actually, the information officer's directions weren't very clear, so our 3-minute walk became about 10, and the hotel manager was out on the street looking for us by the time we arrived, but we were able to drop our bags ready to come back after 3 pm to check-in. It was now 1 o'clock.
We had lunch round the corner, then took a bus to the main sight in Kamakura, the Great Buddha. It was cast in bronze in 1252, and is over 13m high. It has survived tsunamis and earthquakes,even though the buildings around it and its own pedestal have been destroyed. We checked it over and were confident it hadn't changed much since we last saw it, so we left it to get on with yet
another next century. We strolled down the road towards the beach. I remember the sea here as being very warm (for paddling at least) and Stephen remembers it for giving him an infected foot. So I paddled when we got there, and Stephen didn't. And again (or still) it was very warm. Lots of people here this time though - we didn't remember it being so crowded in the past. It might not have been school and university holidays then.
We caught a little local train back into town, and returned to the Information Office for another question. They haven't had phone books here for a few years, but I had the name and address of a Japanese friend from NZ, circa 1997. I'd looked up the address on Google Maps Street View, and the house still had the right name on the gatepost, so at least her parents still seemed to live there, but the address was a long way out of town, and this time we'd really prefer to call before turning up unannounced. Again, the Info Office staff came through, and by the simple expedient of pulling out an old phone book, they found the number.
Modern sushi: Cheese and mayonnaise on beef steak, on rice. Surprisingly unhorrible.
So I tried calling, and not only was the number correct for the family, my friend still lived at home with her parents! We had a chat and arranged to meet tomorrow.
But now we we ready for a bit of a rest, so we checked into the hotel room, but we had another call to make. My old friend from Shiba Park Hotel, Ebi, had asked me to call after 4, when he would know his situation, and so here we were. His situation was such that he could leave his wife at home and go out for a meal with us, so we arranged to meet outside the station at 5.30. A bit of a rest, a bit of a shower, a bit of a hurry, and there we were, hopping into his car at 5.30 on the dot.
We had a lovely evening. It may have been a bit boring for Stephen, I fear, because it was often in Japanese, but we had an interesting drive through the town to a kaiten-sushi restaurant (the kind with the sushi on a track, again, but a bit better than the last one we were at) and then
a scenic with city lights and sea scenes back again. Ebi was maybe in his early 40's when we worked together, so now certainly in his 70's, but he seemed well and healthy, and talked about coming back to VN for another visit.
Back at the hotel by around 8.30, and we had to get out the futons ourselves, but they look comfortable enough, and Stephen's already asleep on one, wasting the TV that we finally get to see. And it's Japanese baseball, with a Japanese commentary, and everything. How can he sleep through that?
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