Javantea in Japan
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Temples In and Near Tokyo

by Joel R. Voss aka. Javantea
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April 15, 2006
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Temples are a social, recreational, and spiritual place to visit in Japan. They carry history, culture, religion, and sights that draw tourists, frequent visitors, and religious people. If you can't find one, you're probably not looking. They are indeed everywhere. You can actually walk from Tokyo Tower to the Imperial Palace and further to the Yasakuni Temple via temples. The closest temple to my residence was Senso-ji, only 4 short blocks, which made it a common place to visit. Even though it wasn't my favorite place, it was up there just because it is such a sweet place.
Senso-ji Tower over food

The first time I went to the Senso-ji was on a Saturday during one of their festivals. I forgot my camera, so I didn't get a picture of the young kids dressed in swan hats. There's a lot of interesting stuff there besides the two temples, and souvenir shops. For one, the pond is excellent. It's so long that it has a few bridges over it. Senso-ji Pond
Senso-ji temple

There are a lot of people there and you're likely to find Japanese beauties posing for photos wearing yukata. Most temples that I saw were both Buddhist and Shinto. Wikipedia clears this up, saying that the 6 story temple is a Shinto shrine, Asakusa Jinja and the other is a Buddhist shrine, Senso-ji. Senso-ji has quite a few interesting pieces of culture. 1) Buddhists gathering to pray for virtues, 2) tourists taking in the sights, and 3) people going there to hang out. To compare these three culture items with America is slightly embarassing. Shrines are very nifty and there are plenty of religious people in Japan. The structure of the temples are much more open than churches are. There are plenty of interesting things for tourists to see in the various temples of Japan. Compared to shopping malls, temples are excellent place to hang out. If you'd like to argue the qualities of American spots, feel free to e-mail me.
Statue of Buddha at Senso-ji temple
Mikuji at Senso-ji temple
Incense at Senso-ji temple
There are a few things that a Japanese person will tell you about visiting a temple. Most importantly, if you want to pray, go right ahead. The idea is walk up the stairs, throw a coin into the box (optional), bow toward the shrine, pray, and then clap your hands lightly to finish. I'm not sure what the deal is, but it seems like a pretty simple way to pray. The next thing to think about is the incense or water. A temple might have incense burning. Just grab a few pieces of smoke to clean yourself from evil. Some temples have water. You take the dipper, wash one hand, switch hands, then pour a handful of water to rinse your mouth. This system is to ensure that people that go to the temple are fairly clean (from dirt and evil). The last thing is the mikuji, which is a Shinto tradition which is fortune paper sold for upkeep of a shrine. You'll probably need someone to translate it. For example, the one I got at the shrine at tallest spot in Tokyo said that I had medium luck in life, decent business, and if I was interested in love, to keep my thoughts on personality instead of beauty. Good advice and the fortune was pretty spot on.

The train to Kamakura is long, but it has reasonable scenery and the Kamakura is definitely worth the trip. There's a lot of people that go there, so plan well. I was lucky to have my friend as a tour guide or I wouldn't have found half of the sites. The two major sites at Kamakura are the caves (Kamakura) and Daibutsu (giant Buddha sculpture). If you're lucky, you'll see quite a few koi ponds and the ocean on the way. My friend tells me that the ocean is surfable there. Once you get to the bottom of Kamakura, you are on your way up the hill. In fact, the _mountain_ is quite steep and fairly tough.
Trail to Kamakura Caves
When you get there, the object is 3 small caves that are graves of leaders of Kamakura. The fact that the caves lasted 800 years since the samurai ruled is quite impressive. My friend tells me that the noble samurai fought so many battles in the area that there are amazing amounts of people buried in the vicinity. If you want to read a few dozen pages on Samurai, checkout the intense wikipedia article on Samurai.
Kamakura caves gravestone

Kamakura caves
Steps down from Kamakura caves

Daibutsu

From Kamakura, you can easily walk to the Daibutsu. It was built in 1252, which makes it the oldest thing that I've seen and been able to find a specific date for. It's an amazing statue and it raises questions about religion, devotion, and history. My deep thought for the day was: "Who built Daibutsu?" The question might be irrelevant, but I care about it. Wikipedia says that the priest Joko came up with the idea and One-Goroemon and Tanj i-Hisatomo sculpted it. Why did the priest think that building a large sculpture would be useful? It's obvious now that it's an incredible feat, but at that time, it must have seemed a bit strange. The great number of people that visit it attest to it's awesomeness. But that's not it. Without the people, it's still a great testament to people's interest in everything great, grand, and good.
Javantea and Daibutsu

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If you are interested in traveling Japan, feel free to e-mail me.