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Rambling around the Kamakura Alps

Japan has the Kita (North) Alps, the Minami (South) Alps, and, according to my Japanese language guidebook called “Tokyo One Day Hiking”, also has the Kamakura Alps.  Of course, they’re only about 100 or so metres above sea level, and civilisation almost reaches their peaks.  But, they’re forested, have some impressive views of Yokohama and Kamakura, and have lots of charming historical shrines and temples nestled in their foothills. At this time of year, the plum blossoms were starting to come out.

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From Kamakura Station, we headed past the tourist shops to Hachimangu, then took  a rambling course through the back laneways to local Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines north and north east of the station.  I enjoyed Sugimotodera, with its steep mossy steps and calm honden at the top.  Zuisenji was nice with its plum (ume) trees trying to defy late winter.

I must admit that I wasn’t paying too much attention to the history on this trip, but more just enjoying a day outside  in the nice weather, but here are two facts for you:  1) Kamakura was the capital of a feudal government that ruled Japan back in the 1200s; and 2) Sugimotodera (photo below) is apparently the oldest temple in Kamakura.  (Those statements are not necsesarily linked, by the way.)

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Our lunch stop was a small restaurant serving udon and soba – my tsukimi (moon watching) udon noodles was good.

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There wasn’t enough time to get around to one of Kamakura’s more famous site, the Daibutsu (big Buddha).  Since I was at the Nihonji Daibutsu in Chiba a month or so ago, I think that this one can wait a little longer for my return.

There were some eccentric or offbeat sites as well.  There was the old Rolls Royce parked in someone’s front garden, looking a little worse for wear.  There was the sign for a hiking course up to a pass (which, the sign noted, is impassable).  There were cars being held up by tourist rickshaws – I didn’t envy the guy pulling one heavyweight couple along.  There were a few temple cats that lapped up the tourists’ attention.  And some very remotely placed vending machines brought a modern influence to an historical town.

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There are some hiking tracks that follow the ridgelines of the hills that ring Kamakura – hence the comment about the Kamakura Alps.  My guidebook was quite correct to recommend a route that navigates the ring of hills in a clockwise direction.  Our rambling took us anti-clockwise, and left us definitely feel like we were swimming against the tide, especially when groups of 20, 30 and even 40 walkers came through the other way.  Many of them are very spritely older people, which I just can’t imagine in Western countries on this scale – this sort of activity has got to be  one of the secrets to Japanese longevity.

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Dropping down the hill from the Alps took us into Kenchoji, with a few other temples on the way down the hill.

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And of course, even Kamakura can’t escape temples to modern lifestyle.  Back near Kita-Kamakura on the way home, we passed this bank of 14 – count them! – vending machines, all ready to serve you a cool/chilled/icy/heated drink or ice cream.  I like the two with the roof overhead to protect them from the nasty elements.  This is almost a picture of global warming in action – these things must be turned on 24 hours a day, just hoping that someone will put their 120 yen in the slot.

64477332618Kamakura is an hour or so south east of Tokyo on the JR Yokosuka line.  Beware the train heating in winter – it was unbearably hot on the way home.

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