Yesterday I hinted as to the best hidden reason to visit the Yakumo Shrine in Kamakura City, and here it is, the “hidden” trail up to Gionyama mountain. If you walk past the shrine on the right of the main building, you find a narrow path up to a tiny shrine altar (the first photo), but take off to the right just before that and you will be on your way up a very narrow (and probably very slippery) trail towards the summit of Gionyama. From the summit you will find a nice view over Kamakura City, and on clear days even Mount Fuji itself will be visible! If not you can console yourself with the views of the Pacific Ocean and the Yuigahama beach in the far distance. The hiking trail goes quite a bit further along the ridge and then down on the other side, not a difficult walk if you are young and in reasonable shoes but it might be more nature than you want to spend your time with, if you are on a hectic schedule to see a lot of Kamakura. Despite the trail being quite hidden it is by no means unknown to locals, and I met maybe three or four couples or families on their way up and down the trail. Living in Tokyo there are few chances to get out in nature like this so when you are here it is a pretty amazing feeling. For those of you who live closer to nature my enthusiasm for this spot might look a little bit silly, but after a few weeks in Tokyo you will get it too!
It is not often the Shinagawa Shrine looks this picture perfect – not only is it spruced up for the big annual festival or matsuri, it is also full of flowers in bloom right now, not least the giant and very colorful hydrangea (or Ajisai, 紫陽花). These large flowers are one of the most beloved flowers in Japan and the semi-official symbol of summer (in the same way that the cherry blossom flowers signals spring). Hydrangea is a species with a vast number of different flowers, some as small bushes, other as tall as trees. The flowers can be as small as your fist or larger than your head. The ajisai blooms as summer starts, but it is not the only flower at the shrine, there were even a few potted water lilies. More photos of the shrine and the festival to come!
A couple of evenings ago I went to the Chinsanzo Hotel gardens to see the fireflies released there at the start of every summer. I usually go every year but this year there were so many of them I just had to return early tonight with my camera. Capturing fireflies (hotaru in Japanese) is very tricky even with the best of preparations, and I just had my camera, no stand as usual. Although the water is very clean at these gardens there is far too much light pollution for the insects to breed there, although I have see native fireflies in the western parts of Tokyo many times, in the suburbs near the mountains in Hachioji for example, where there are no street lights and very little traffic after dark.
To make the fireflies feel welcome the usually well lit gardens are darkened down considerably, and this photo of mine is almost nothing like what you will see in real life. With the naked eye all you will see is a myriad of small, faintly pulsing lights in near absolute darkness. Obviously this is wonderfully poetic and fantastic experience, but still quite different from photographs. It was far too crowded for me to be able to relax and concentrate on holding my camera steady, so I only had time to get one decent photo. Maybe I will try again next year!
Summer is fast approaching and while outdoor temperatures are still tolerable even outdoors here in Tokyo, the days will soon be upon us when a lot of people will be stuck day and night to their air conditioners. The only thing I can recommend in those cases is to spend a little time and effort and try to get out of Tokyo. It is often forgotten that even Tokyo mostly consists of mountains and forests, so there is a lot of greenery around if you have the energy to find it. One of my favorites is taking the Ome line out to Sawanoi in Tokyo’s far western Town and walk along the beautiful Tama River. This far upstream it is still quite small, rapid and much cleaner than downstream, although the modern river is many hundreds of times cleaner than it was just 50-60 years ago. Today a lot of wildlife has returned to the river, enough even to support fishing of carp, trout, salmi, redfin and ayu. Not fished but still quite common in the river you may find turtles, crabs and crayfish. There was even a case a few years ago of a seal making its way up to the river, although never this far up!
In the summer the trees provide good shade, the slight breeze is usually cooled down over the broad river and there are plenty of spots where you can get down and put your feet in the cold water to cool down. Go early in the morning, bring a picknick or eat at one of the local places, and get some green in your life to substitute for all the Tokyo grey!