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!
One of my absolute favorites among the many tiny shrines dotted around the historic Kamakura City southwest of Tokyo is the wonderful little Yakumo Shrine (八雲神社), hidden near the base of the mountains in the Omachi neighborhood. It is actually one of three Yakumo Shrines in Kamakura alone, a testament to the deep popular love for this branch of shinto shrines. The shrine was founded sometime around 1082, when a great Shogun, Minamoto Yoshimitsu, passed through Kamakura on his way to battles in northern Japan. At the time there were many epidemics troubling the people of Kamakura and the Yoshimitsu thought it would be best to establish a shrine branch form the famous Gion shrine in Kyoto (present day Yasaka Shrine) which was famous for its ability to ward of sickness. The epidemics subsided in 1084 and since then the shrine has been immensely popular in Kamakura. It is actually one of the oldest shrines in the city. In 1868 the Gion shrines were all forced to change their names, and the shrine in Kamakura started calling itself Yakumo Shrine, although true locals still call it by its old nickname, Gion-san. There is another great and well hidden reason to visit this shrine, but I will save that for a post later on!
Once a year the little town of Yugawara on the western edge of Kanagawa Prefecture throws a huge onsen festival, celebrating the natural springs of hot water that dot the area with a very wet and very chaotic festival. Townspeople and tourists line the streets with huge buckets of hot water (hence the name, yukakematsuri) and douse the passing omikoshi (made up in the form of traditional onsen style buckets) and their carriers with as much as water as they can. One of the omikoshi were shouldered completely by local young women and naturally they bore the brunt of the hot water assaults! The parade route is a few kilometers long and the streets are lined with everything from adults with water buckets to little kids with water pistols and even local fire departments with industrial sized pumps and fire hoses! More photos and more stories from this fantastic (and rather obscure) little festival to come!
At the far end of Yugawara Town is one of the three major water falls that the town tourist board likes to put on their tourist maps. Naturally I had to walk up there to take a look. It is located about 40 minutes easy walk from the station but for people in a hurry there is also a bus stop right in front of the entrance to the fall. Not only is the Fudonotaki (The Fudo Fall) a typically beautiful nature spot with its 15 meter long fall cool and wet in the summer, it is also a hotspot for mineralogists and geologists who come here to study the naturally occurring zeolites, of which one local variant was first discovered here in 1931, the Yugawaralite. I am an amateur in many things but certainly not even an amateur regarding minerals, so I am afraid I won’t be able to tell you anything more about it. The only thing I think I picked up is the fact that Yugawaralites often occur in areas with hot springs. Appart from the yugawaralite, you can also find laumontite, mordenite, epistilbite and chabazite. Maybe someone more knowledgeable than me can brief us about the significance of this! Anyway, the water fall and the surrounding little shrines and altars made for a very picturesque scene in the fast approaching dusk. If you get there earlier in the day there is a small cafe with outdoor hot spring water tubs for visitors to soak their feet.
If you are a regular traveler in Japan you might notice the name, Fudonotaki, or Fudotaki. It is a very common name for waterfalls in Japan, with I think over one hundred places sharing the same name.