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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, especially  in places like Tohoku and Kanto regions.  August is also  the most contentious month of the year in Japan; with the end of the war and war-related guilt.    Then there's the great exodus back home for millions of Japanese.   Obon season is what it's called in Japan, and it's  where families return to their hometowns to remember their ancestors and to spend time with loved ones.  Gravestones are visited, cleaned, and washed; rice or alcohol is often placed on  miniature altars next to a  headstone.  This is a way for Japanese to reconnect with their roots; a way for them to stay grounded and founded in the ways of tradition and cultural protocol.   

For the foreign tourist, some places will be overcrowded and expensive to reach; for Japanese, this is normal and can't be helped.   Wherever you go there will be lines and h…
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How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 9: Meigetsu-en 明月院

Why Meigetsu-in 

You love dry rock gardens that are expressive and impressiveYou love the Irisis behind the main hall when they are in seasonGrotto grave ( stone cave graves )"Moon-smiling" teahousesThe paths of weathered Kamakura stonesHydrangea

Founded in 1160 "Meigetsu-an" ( Bright Moon Hermitage) by Tsunetoshi for the repose of the soul of his father.   This is a Rinzai Sect school belonging to Kenchoji Branch.   If you visit this place on weekend be prepared to stand in a long line in order to view the main attraction.   The tatami room with the view of the seasons.   
When I come here the first thing I do is make an offering and pray at the alter.   I think walk around the gardens while admiring the shrubs and the seasonal flowers.   Sometimes just taking a book and heading over to the teahouse is good, too.   The local teas and sweets are very nice as well as the view from the teahouse.   

Typically young couples come here because of the overall cuteness of …

How to Properly Enjoy Kamakura Part 8: Jochi-Ji Temple 金宝山浄智寺

Jochi-Ji Temple ( Rinzai sect) Engakuji School
Why visit here?   Read here first.

You have an interest in Zen Temples.You have an admiration for cypress wood.You are on a personal pilgramage to discover Kamakura's five great Zen Temples.You want to see the famous 3 wooden statues ( Nyorai, past, Amida, present, and Shaka, future) all three are regarded as Designated important Cultural Assets by the government.

This temple is only 8 minutes walk from Kita-Kamakura Station, so easy to visit first.   Jochi-Ji is ranked 4th among the great Zen Temples of Kamakura.   The reason I visited here is the admire the Japanese umbrella-pine tree and the styrax bassia trees.   The beauty of a Zen temple is less is more, but I got so much more.   The continuity of traditions is long here in this part of Japan, and I love how things are so well preserved.  
Through zen you learn about self.  

Jochi-Ji is one of the largest temples after after after the three great temples of Kenchoji, Engakuji, a…

How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 7: Gokukuji Temple 日蓮正宗 護国寺

Gokokuji Temple
Why visit here?  First, read here. part two, part three, part four, part five, part six

You have an interest in Nichiren Shoshu Risshozan.You like unique architecture.You want to learn more about Hosshaku-KemponYou have an interest in Nichiren Daishonin doctrine of BuddhismYou have an interest in the  exile of one of Japan's most provocative spiritual leaders.

For the serious student of Buddhism, the karmic wheel of causality will play a central theme in the teachings of all Buddhist law.   However, not this particular doctrine of Buddhism.   Here you will learn the new teachings through true identity and how to create your own future.   No longer will you be shackled or bound to the karmic wheel of destiny, but through your own will create a future for yourself through the teachings of Daishonin.    

His teachings were widely rejected by the Shogunate and as a result  he was thrown out of Kamakura!  Living in exile in Izu he became an inspiration to the locals the…

How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 6: Eishoji Temple 英勝寺

Eishoji Temple
Why visit here? Start with part one here

If you have an interest in the Jodo sect of Buddhism.If you have an interest in beautifully wood carved gates called sammon gates.If you like bamboo forests, like Hokokuji.If your aim is the appreciate the wooded culture of Japan.

Key information about this temple is that it is first and foremost a nunnery / convent the only one of its kind today in Kamakura.   The temple itself was founded by a lady named Okatsu who was a concubine of the late Tokugawa Ieyasu.   After Ieyasu's death, Okatsu was granted land to build Eishoji Temple.    

The reason people visit here is to see the four main NICP ( National Important Cultural Property).   That is, The Main Hall, the Sanmon Gate,  Karamon and Shido gates, and lastly the Belfry bell tower.   This is more of a showpiece temple for tourist to see old structures.   No teahouses to sit and admire the beautiful artifacts.   This is the temple you take friends and visitors who want to g…

How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 5: Hasadera Temple 長谷寺

Hadera Temple
Why here? Start with part one here.

You are a tourist and love touristy templesYou love beautifully well preserved gold plated kannons.You love legends and stories of antiquityYou want to offer up prayers with candles while facing a Kannon.You want to take in the beauty of Zaimokuza Beach from the observatory.  You want to wash little jizo statues with holy water and pray.  You like Jodo Buddhism.

Touristy temples are not bad, but not the place you go back to once a week.   The only real solid reason  to visit here is for the annual events, and there's an event happening here every month, some events are  on the 18th of every month.     

I place this temple on the same level as an admiration temple.   The flora on the premises here are astounding.  A flower lovers paradise all year round!  Come here for the flowers, flowers, flowers.    Places of interest:   The Amida-do Hall, huge gold kannon, Jizo-do, Daikoku-do, Benten-do, Inari-sha, and the Kyozo a place where Bu…

How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 4: Sugimotodera Temple 坂東三十三観音第一番札所 杉本寺

Sugimotodera Temple

Why here? Start with part one here
If you like thatched roof templesYou like Kannon statues dressed up.You want to view several important cultural properties up closely, not far away.The first temple of the Bando 33 Kannon PilgrimageYou are serious about Buddhist mythology and esoteric.

It's the oldest and first established temple in Kamakura!   I come here because the place is consecrated and offers the visitor an opportunity to offer prayers and supplications with candles.   When I visit this place I offer prayer only simply because of the atmosphere.   This is not a touristy temple, in other words, no photos are allowed in the main hall, and if you pray you have to remove your backpack.    You should write your prayer in Japanese characters on candles, not any other language.   The biggest candle is 1000 yen / $10 and it's almost a foot long and three inches wide.
Remember, unlike other touristy temples, you do not place your candle in the candle holder …

How to Properly Explore Kamakura Part 3: Tokeiji 東慶寺

Why here?  Start with part one here
You love seasonal flowers like the plum blossoms in February, Higan Cherry in March, Weeping cherry in April, Japanese Iris and hydrangea in June, Balloon flower in July.  From September moonflower, October Japanese Anemone, and November Ginkgo and Japanese Gentian.You like to take classes in traditional Japanese culture, including Zen meditation sessions, lessons on sado, tea ceremony, kodo, the incense ceremony, and flower arrangement.You want to learn how to write a sutra called "Shakyo."  If you like stroll gardens with a simple layout for easy navigation.A lover of architectural beauty then you'll love the pyramidal roof of the main hall.

This temple is not like Sugimotodera Temple, but more like a sanctuary where women fled to in order to break their wedding ties and could find refuge.   Famously called the "divorce temple."   When you walk along the temple grounds it does not feel like a place of refuge, but mo…