Japan is full of cities, towns and villages and they all have one thing in common – the ever present shoutengai. A shougtengai can be translated as a shopping street, a place where many little shops and stores crowd together to attract customers from all over the neighborhood. They all have their own ruling committees, quirks and specialities and one of the quirkiest must be the shoutengai in Daishimachi, the are right in front of the huge Kawasaki Daishi near the border to Tokyo. This is the place to stock up on traditional sweets, good luck charms, daruma dolls and all manner of semi-religious trinkets and cookies! If you’re in the area to visit the big temple, make sure to take the little detour and approach it from the shoutengai.
The speciality here to look out for is hard to miss, it is the traditional sweet and very sticky tontoko-ame, a nougat-like white paste that takes its name from the unmistakable tontoko-tontoko sounding hacking boards of the men who cut them up from long strings on big wooden slabs. The rival stores up and down the street will engage in a rhythmic cutting match, trying to overdo each other and attract customers at the same time. Actually, when they are waiting for the next batch of tontoko-paste they just hammer the cutting boards with the handles of their knives, making even more noise. Some of the rhythms are very catchy! The tontoko-ame is easily one of the best souvenirs you can get in the whole of Kanagawa prefecture!
This spring has been incredibly cold, wet, windy and weird. Yesterday we had barely 6 degrees here in Tokyo and in Gunma and Tochigi prefectures there were plenty of snowfall. Something is wrong with the weather! But there has been a handful of good days, like this morning a couple of weeks ago when I happened to pass through the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura city south of Tokyo. I didn’t have time to stop but I had my camera ready and just took the things I saw as I hurried through the grand shrine. If you visit Tokyo this shrine about an hour’s train ride away is one of the must sees! I have been here so many times I rarely find anything new these days but I found a new ema design that I hadn’t seen before, one with a ginkgo tree image to commemorate the great gingko tree that blew down in the morning March 10th 2011 (which some people later recognized as a bad omen). The tree was 30m tall and about 1000 years old and it’s going to be awhile until the new tree planted near the old tree stump will grow to be anything like it’s predecessor.
A couple of weeks ago I spent a few minutes looking out at the sea from Yuigahama Beach in Kamakura city just south of Tokyo. The beach faces south so you are always going to see the sun over the ocean from this point, I always wonder what Kamakura would like like from a boat in the ocean? Someday I need to find myself a spot on one of those boats I sometimes see on the horizon here. It’s an unseasonably cold early April afternoon but already some windsurfers and surfers are out there.
Probably the biggest and most famous temple in Kawasaki city right on the south western border with Tokyo is the Kawasaki Daishi. It is a huge temple complex divided into several different parts, one of which is dedicated to traffic safety and cars! The temple building itself is a modernistic almost south east asian looking building in the middle of a huge parking lot where cars are staged in group depending on their order of taking part in the ceremony. Once an hour monks hold a ceremony praying for the safety and good fortune of the cars and their passengers and most people who have their cars blessed do so once a year. The ceremony itself costs 5000 yen but it is customary to give an additional donation to the temple when you return. Cars thus blessed gets a small bumper sticker that looks quite neat. You can see it on the temple’s home page. I was very lucky with the weather this day!