Niigata, Tokyo, and Kamakura with Maria!

Ok, so before this gets totally foggy in my mind, I should set down some of the whirlwind that’s been engulfing my life recently. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we? After a two-day stint in Hakone, Maria came up to Niigata to spend a couple of days hanging out with me and seeing the less touristy side of Japan. On Wednesday, she accompanied me to the Kamo City sports competition, where we saw students from several of my schools playing baseball, basketball, tennis, and ping pong before heading out for a stroll in Niigata City and visiting the Sea of Japan Tower. Thursday, I taught three classes and was soundly chided for not bringing her to class as a “special guest”, so poor Maria had to hang out with me at school – the kidlings were very excited. And they let me go home early. :) We walked around Kamoyama Park a little bit and had a nice time at the Kamo Onsen before getting some dessert at Gusto and calling it a night.

Maria, Sea of Japan Coast
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

Friday we took the shinkansen down to Tokyo, checked into our hostel, and went straight to Asakusa’s Senso-ji, one of the livelier Buddhist temples in Japan. Then we hit Ueno Park for a couple of hours in the Tokyo National Museum, managing to cover only about a fourth of its total collections. The night ended with eating ourselves silly in Shibuya and enjoying some Friday night people watching.

Saturday was all about Kamakura, one of the old capitals of Japan and a center of Buddhism. We started at Enkaku-ji, one of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples and then strolled over to Tokeiji, which used to be a refuge for abused wives seeking a divorce. Then we embarked on a hike which took us to the Zeniarai Benten Shrine, a really amazing place nested in the caves where visitors wash their money in hopes that they’ll attract good fortune. At last, we made it to the Great Buddha, which was everything I hoped it would be. Hase Temple capped off the day trip – it’s home to countless statues of jizo, which help women, children, and travelers – they’re particularly associated with aborted babies. My personal favorite was the part of the shrine hidden inside another series of caves. Anyway, we had some yakiniku before heading back to Tokyo and making stops at Akihabara (yay for massage chairs!), Shinjuku, and Roppongi. Long day!

Maria & Kristi, Daibutsu, Kamakura
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

Hase-dera, Kamakura
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

On Sunday, Maria started off the day with a little aikido – we met up at Tokyo Station and took a quick look at the Imperial Palace before jumping over to Harajuku to witness the cosplay-zoku in their usual Sunday madness. Did a little bit of shopping in Harajuku and Omotesando, enjoyed some kaiten sushi and pizza, and then hopped over to Ginza where we visited the Sony Building. The highlight of the day was definitely the final stop though – we saw a kabuki show for about $8 at the Kabuki-za Theater! It was amazing, mesmerizing, hilarious – it was a blast! Like watching Japanese history come to life or being whisked back into the Edo Period. I think I would totally go every month if I lived in Tokyo. Very much a must-see.

Kristi and Maria, Imperial Palace
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

Anyway, now Maria is back in Washington DC and I’m back in Kamo, readjusting to a “normal” pace of life. Back to work!