Walking along the Yuigahama beach in Kamakura City on the edge of the Pacific Ocean I saw this couple having fun with some sparklers. It looked fun and romantic. Fireworks are very popular in Japan and an integral part of Japanese culture. Unfortunately there are very few places for people to enjoy them safely in the crowded cities of Japan. But the beach will always do nicely.
Since for the last few days at Yuigahama, the famous Pacific Ocean beach just on the edge of Kamakura city to the south west of Tokyo, there’s been a rather unusual algal bloom, a phenomena known as akashio (赤潮) in Japan and often called “red tide” in English. It is a natural occurring phenomena when concentrations in plankton grow rapidly and has nothing to do with tide nor is it often very red. Sometimes these algal blooms are associated with a kind of plankton that can glow with a bluish light in the dark but there hasn’t been any reported bioluminescence so far this time at Yuigahama, although I have heard that there were some two nights ago in Enoshima, further down the coast to the west of Kamakura but I am not sure how correct those observations were. If you live in the area, tonight might be the best night of the year for a midnight walk along the beach!
I was a little disappointed with bloom, as it looks a little bit and could be poisonous I was in no mood for swimming so instead I decided to head as far as possible to the east along the beach. I got quite far when another very interesting natural phenomena occured, a kaimu, or ocean mist. For a few minutes there were white wisps of smoke blowing in over the water, as if there were many small fires further out in the ocean. The sun was still blazing though, but in a few minutes a thick wall of mist rolled in from the ocean, completely obscuring the sun and turning midday into early evening in a few minutes. It reminded me of the solar eclipse we had a couple of years ago. Visibility was very bad in mist and the water level rose very quickly, which sent quite a few beach goers scrambling to get their stuff out of the rising water. The silence was also erie, sounds being muffled and nothing much being visible. Quite an experience! The mist last about an hour but even as it passed it left a strangely muted sky much of it remained until nightfall, all over the city of Kamakura.
All in all, it was an interesting day at the beach. I tried to look out for dead marine life but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, the odd dried up blowfish or carp. As I always do, I also gathered a full plastic bag of plastic garbage that had drifted in from the ocean or been blown out on the beach by careless beach goers. If everyone picked just one piece of garbage every time they visited a beach the world would be a cleaner place in no time!
More photos from the interior of little Enoshima island off the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture! Having braved the stairs all the way up to the middle of the island there are even more things to see, souvenir shops, the third and final part of the Enoshima Shrine and a few small restaurants serving the “uminoie” food in the form of ramen, noodles, grilled seafood and shaved ice deserts. Usually uminoie are little beach huts or tiny restaurants set up on the beach during summer to serve drinks and light food to tourists but these restaurants are on top of the island. Some of them have fantastic views of the ocean though. There are plenty of vending machines on the way as well, one of which had a couple of mystery servings!
There is also the option of visiting the 60m tall observation tower in the middle of the Samuel Cooking botanical garden if you want even better views of the area. On this visit I was happy enough taking pictures of the tower rather than from the tower. There are combination tickets called “Enopass” for 1000 yen that includes the entrance fee for the garden, the tower, the ocean front caves and the escalators bringing visitors up to the top of the island comfortably (really recommended if you are not into walking or used to the hot summer weather). The Enopass is even more worthwhile if you also plan on visiting the other attractions around Enoshima, like the aquarium, as it gives a discount.
The third portion of Enoshima Shrine is called Okutsunomiya and well worth a quick visit. Do not miss the famous turtle painting in the roof of the prayer structure! There are quite a lot of things to discover in this part of the shrine so I won’t give away all of them. I couldn’t resist sharing a few massive fruits! The sign calls them “oniyuzu” (鬼柚子), or demon yuzu but they are more commonly known as shishiyuzu (獅子柚子) or lion yuzu, due to the resemblance to a lion or demons face. They are not actually related to yuzu at all, but more closely related to the pomelo fruits (a distant relative in the citrus fruit family). A shishiyuzu is about 5-6 times as big as a yuzu (and yuzu are already much larger than oranges). They are not good for eating raw but often used in marmalade or candied. The impressive look of the fruits also means that they are sometimes kept in shops to bring in big luck and they have been known to scare off demons and ghosts. This shopped sold them for only 200 yen each, very cheap but maybe it is because these weren’t very attractive? I would think they would be even more effective against evil spirits though! If you are lucky you can sometimes find these in very good green grocers for 700-1500 yen a piece, from December to February when they are in season.
The biggest tourist attraction on the picturesque Enoshima island on the Pacific Island coast is probably the Enoshima Shrine. The shrine is one of the big three Benzaiten shrines, the other two are in Lake Biwa and in Hiroshima. Benzaiten is an interesting goddess, in that she came to shinto via Chinese buddhism from her original indian hindu origins. She is the goddess of everything that flows, like music, water, eloquence, words and even knowledge. Since her home is traditionally on the island in the center of the world she is also associated with islands, hence all her three main shrines in Japan are located on islands. Actually the entire island is devoted to her, not only the three shrines that make up Enoshima Shrine.
The legend is quite interesting, since it tells that the island was created by the goddess Benzaiten on May 31st 552 A.D., when she made it rise from the ocean in order to chastise a terrible five headed dragon that had made life miserable for the local villagers for a long time. The dragon fell in love with the beautiful goddess and agreed to stop bothering the villagers and turned itself into a hill. Modern scholars think that the dragon is a metaphor of a local river prone to flooding and that the goddess descent to earth could have its origin in various celestial phenomena.
The Shrine covers most of the island but the most famous and popular part is the Hetsumiya (辺津宮), the middle part. Especially many young couples and singles looking for a partner go to Hetsumiya to pray, as well as people who want to get rich (since Benzaiten is one of the seven Gods of luck), hence the interestingly shaped treasure box of the shrine (in the shape of a money bag). The ema makes for fun reading, as the two examples I photographed. One man, a young Mr. Akihide prayed for success in getting together with his idol, the young singer Atsuka Maeda from the very famous AKB48 girl group. Good luck! Another young woman, Ms. Rie, prayed for luck in getting together with a “tall and kind handsome guy”: I think the Goddess Benzaiten will find it easier to grant her wish but shame for not trying, right?
Behind the shrine, quite well hidden, is a small suikinkutsu (水琴窟), or a water harp (see the last photo). Since the island is so far removed from traffic and busy streets, it was easy to hear the wonderful sound even without using a bamboo hearing aid. You can read more about suikinkutsu in an earlier blog post here.