When I visited Hasedera temple in Kamakura city the main hall was undergoing renovation so I couldn’t get any good photos of it. Instead I spent the time in the vast temple gardens, full of statues, little shrines, jizo, trees, flowers and plants of all kinds. The temple is famous for the hundreds of peonies grown there, not in bloom when I was visiting though, but the kawazusakura, the plum trees and many others were.
The jizo statues of which you see so many in Japan are meant to placate the soul of children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion. The smaller ones are placed here by the parents, and they remain for a year before being removed, symbolizing the rebirth of the soul.
An interesting detail is the Manjiike (卍池), a swastika cross shaped pond. In buddhism the symbol represents eternity, and in Japan it has the added meaning of 10 000, which symbolizes “everything, the universe, the alpha and the omega”.
The great pond in Ueno, the Shinobazunoike is famous its many lotus flowers, which have been a feature of the pond since at least the Edo period. I summer it is covered in a green carpet of lotuses, but in winter the dried husks and shells of the flowers form an equally interesting and photogenic space. The pond is also the home of many birds, some of whom are more than happy to serve as models for the passing photographers!
If any flower would ever be able to give the Plum blossoms a run for the title of The Flower of February here in Japan, it would be the botan, the humble peony. Right now in any number of gardens, temples, palaces and flower shops around Japan the peony is in full bloom. I saw these beautiful flowers at the entrance of the annual botan exhibition in Kamakura’s Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Like most shrines in Japan the Goryo Jinja has a lot of trees, and most of them have a story to tell. The most important tree is a mere stump these days, the Yumi-tate-no-matsu (弓立の松) which features in the story of the samurai warrior to which this shrine is dedicated, Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa. It is said that he once visited the spot where his shrine stands today, and during he visit he leaned his bow against this matsu tree (pine tree). Although the tree is long gone, the story lives on and the tree stump is today protected as part of the heritage of the shrine.
The following three photos are of the large tabunoki which has protected and shaded the shrine’s entrance for about 400 years. The tabunoki is often used in Asia as ingredient in the production of incense. After 400 years the tree is absolutely massive at over 20 meters in height! Another old tree that didn’t make it is an old peach tree that finally felled under the weight of the snow in last year’s February snowstorm.
Also standing strong at 400 years of age is the Meotoicho, or husband-and-wife-gingko tree, a twin trunked giant gingko tree. The left is a male, representing the husband, and the right is female, representing the wife. Due to the large amount of fruit produced by this tree it has come to represent a very fruitful married couple and those newly weds who wish for a large family often comes to tree to pay their respects and pray.
There are also a couple of plum trees inside the shrine grounds that were blooming on my visit, and even a Kawazu Sakura tree, the earliest blooming sakura tree variant, even in the Kanto region it starts blooming in February, almost two months before the other sakura trees, as you can see in the last two photos of this blog post.