Since emigrating to Japan I have learned to love the humble Japanese convenience store. These little beacons of light and civilization are everywhere in Japan, from the loneliest Okinawan island to the busiest Tokyo high rise. You can book tickets, pay bills, do your banking, pick up and send packages, buy cell phones, get your beer, order food, buy ready made lunch boxes or lottery tickets or just browse the huge numbers of magazines. Sometimes you can even borrow their restrooms. Some convenience stores have a seating area with free hot water pots. They are open 24 hours a day, usually never close and the staff is amazingly service minded. During the trouble up north in March and Aril 2011 the convenience stores were a lifeline: they had the most advanced distribution network in the country, a perfectly streamlined inventory system and were able to get fresh food into the damaged areas before anyone else. Over a thousand convenience stores had to close due to the earthquake and Seven-Eleven alone saw 41 factories unable to operate. But they had 128 others spread out around the country that could pick up and keep supplies and food streaming into the damaged areas. For me the convenience stores of Japan are heroes, and I have quite a collection of these kind of “portraits” of lonely convenience stores at dusk or sunset.
I took the photos of a Lawson and Three-F store just next to Yuighama beach in Kamakura City, south of Tokyo.
A couple of weeks ago when I visited Kamakura I took these photos of the Yuigahama beach at sunset, after a short rainstorm. The clouds were clearing up and the moon was there, one of my favorite times in one of my favorite places. There were still a few surfers out in the ocean, they must be a hardy bunch!
Yuigahama beach faces south, so it is tricky to photograph during the day. I have so far made many visits to beaches facing south, east and west but I have never spent any longer amount of time on a beach facing north! That is one of the things on my to do list in life. The north coast of Japan is still a big blank for me.
In the autumn or early winter the worst of the summer storms have passed, few people visit the beach and it is cleaner than during spring or summer. I still found one unopened package of Onikoroshi, a supermarket brand of Japanese sake. I am almost addicted to beach combing and whenever I visit this beach I bring a small garbage bag to collect garbage, plastic, pieces of glass and anything that does not belong to the beach. I wish everyone was as manic as me, the beach would be spotless in no time! One short stroll along the beach usually results in a well filled garbage bag that I put in the trash cans near the stairs leading down to the beach. The only thing I never collect is forgotten children’s toys. I always have a secret wish that the child who forgot it will come back and find it again. I wonder if that ever happens in real life?
More photos from my trip to Kamakura the other week. I visited the Kotokuin temple, famous for its 11th century great buddha statue, the big buddha of Kamakura. The city of Kamakura is also in essence the quintessential Japan. It has everything (except rice paddies): the ocean, temples, mountains, shrines, caves, culture, history, shopping, trains, winding old streets and a much needed intensive does of nature.
The Kotokuin temple has two parts, one garden part and one main courtyard where the big buddha is. Most people tend to spend time the big buddha and miss the other parts which might not have anywhere near as much drawing power as the statue. But there are a few things to see, not least (in this season) being the wonderfully red momiji, or Acer Palmatum, or Japanese maple as it is most commonly known in the west. It is the essential autumn tree in Japan. You can really have an autumn fair, an autumn postcard, serve an autumn meal or wear an autumn kimono without making some sort of reference to the momiji. Think of it as the sakura (cherry blossom) of the autumn!
Kotokuin temple is a nice longish walk from Kamakura station (you’ll need a good sense of direction or a map) or a quicker walk from Hase station on the Endoen. It is easy to combine with a short trip to the Yuigahama beach to get a nice view of the Pacific Ocean as well!
Last weekend I visited Kamakura south of Tokyo, one of Japan’s ancient capitals and wonderful city by the Pacific Ocean. The weather was interesting, going from ominous black clouds to brilliant sunshine to short rains all through the day. I guess most people stayed indoors that day. I visited the Kotokuin, the temple that is most famous for its giant Buddha statue built in 1252. Originally the statue was housed in a wooden buildings but Japan being the land of earthquakes, tsunami and typhoons, it has been destroyed many times since then. I also found a very tiny hidden statue, the sixth photo, inside the temple grounds that I had never seen before. I wonder how many people walk past it every day without noticing it?
This temple was visited by the poet Rudyard Kipling in 1892 and was made famous in his writings during the following years. It is possible that the prior of the temple was inspired by Kiplings poem and maybe the surge in foreign tourists to post the unusual sign asking visitors to behave inside the temple grounds? The sign is posted before the entrance but easily missed I guess, and written in wonderfully old fashioned Japanese and English.