Spring in the ancient capital - Kamakura tradition
Shizuka no Mai
The historic city of Kamakura lies about 1 hour south of Tokyo by train. At the end of the 12th century, Kamakura was chosen to be the administrative capital by the samurai warlord Minamoto no Yoritomo. There are many corners of the city that evoke the time when Kamakura first flourished.
Every year in April, a major festival is held in Kamakura. One of the highlights are a dance performance re-enacting a historical episode that took place 800 years ago. The shogun, Yoritomo, had fallen out with his younger brother, Yoshitsune, who fled the city on pain of death, leaving behind his lover, a court dancer called Shizuka-gozen. Forced to perform for the shogun, she expressed through her dance her undying love for Yoshitsune. To this day, local dancers recreate this tragic episode from Kamakura's early history. Another cultural tradition with a long history in Kamakura is the local style of lacquerware. Known as Kamakura-bori, it dates back to the days of the master craftsmen who carved the statues and altar surrounds in the Buddhist temples in the city's golden age. On this edition of Journeys in Japan, Rosa Yum returns to Kamakura to explore the city further. She meets a young dancer who will perform the famous dance, Shizuka no Mai. She also visits a lacquerware workshop where the 29th generation owner is the first woman to become the head of the family business.
The Kamakura Festival is held each year from the 2nd to 3rd Sunday of April. On the 1st weekend, a gorgeous parade is held on Sunday. Then the Shizu no Mai Japanese dance is performed at 3 p.m. in the city's main shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. On the 2nd weekend, a Yabusame event is held (from 1 p.m. on Sunday), also at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Archers dressed in the costumes of samurai warriors shoot arrows at targets while riding on fast-moving horses. This is a very popular event, so it is best to arrive early in the morning to secure the best vantage spot.
Tokei-ji (Temple Flower Arranging Classes)
Tokei-ji is a Buddhist temple in Kita-Kamakura. It was originally founded as a nunnery. In the old days, women seeking to escape their husbands would take refuge here, and eventually be recognized as divorced. For that reason, Tokei-ji's nickname was the "divorce temple". Every 2 months, flower arranging classes are held at the temple. There are no strict rules. Students are taught to use their imagination, composing the plants however they like. The aim is to have fun while learning the principles of flower arrangement.
1367 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa Pref.
Open: 8:30 a.m. -4 p.m.
Flower arrangement classes:
Date: Last Saturday of Feb., Apr., Jun., Aug., Oct. & Dec. Time: 11 a.m. -1 p.m.
Max enrollment: 10 people
Fee: 3,000 yen
The chef at this restaurant is known for his creative sushi, using fresh seafood from nearby Sagami Bay and vegetables grown locally in Kamakura. His dishes combine Japanese and Western flavors, such as olive oil or ponzu sauce. On request, the chef will prepare vegetables, demonstrating how different they taste according to the way they are cut.
355-9 Tokiwa, Kamakura, Kanagawa Pref.
Lunch from 800 yen
Founded in 1900, Hakko-do is one of Kamakura's oldest and most prestigious workshops specializing in Kamakura-bori lacquerware. It was founded by a family of master craftsmen who carve statues and altar surrounds for Buddhist temples. Keiko Goto is the 29th generation and the first woman to head the family business. She continues to preserve the tradition, while also introducing new and innovative designs, adding a feminine touch to the powerful and masculine carving style of traditional Kamakura-bori.
1-28 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, Kanagawa Pref.,
Open: 9 a.m. -6 p.m. (Nov. & Dec. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)
Grove Kamakura Rental MTB
This bicycle rental shop specializes in mountain bikes. It is popular with foreign visitors, since mountain bikes are the best way to get around the hilly terrain of Kamakura, from the seashore up to the steep slopes. The staffs are happy to make adjustments to the bicycles so they suit each customer. They can also provide information on cycling routes. ID is required before bikes can be rented.
2-1-13 Yuigahama, Kamakura, Kanagawa Pref.
Open: 10 a.m. -7 p.m. (closed Wed.)
Rental fee: from 2,500 yen/day
Komachi-dori Shopping Street
Komachi-dori is a narrow street that runs for about 360 meters north from Kamakura JR Station (East Exit). It is lined with around 250 stores, selling various merchandise, souvenirs and snacks, such as manju (steamed bean-jam buns), hand-made sembei rice crackers, oshinko pickles, or Japanese sweets. Some stores have English-speaking staff.
Hikage-chaya (traditional Japanese confectionery)Ichiban-ya (handmade sembei rice crackers)
Traveler:Rosa Yum, reporter (USA)
Date :Apr. 13 - Apr. 17 2013
Experiencing Kamakura in spring was so very different than my visit last fall. Not only were the colors different, the temperature was pleasantly warm making, for one thing, biking around the city truly enjoyable.
It was also so wonderful to watch Hanasuzuto practice Shizuka no Mai (Dance of Lady Shizuka) which is Nihon-buyo, a traditional Japanese dance, before her big debut at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. During my visit, I learned the history of this dance and was able to appreciate the actual performance so much more. The entire experience helped me understand Lady Shizuka's heartache, which was the theme of the dance.
When I visited Kamakura in the fall, I thought this city was all about temples, zen and samurais. During my spring visit, I learned that the city was rich with art, inspired by the beautiful nature surrounding this ancient capital city. Watching Ms. Keiko Goto painstakingly carve out sakura patterns on a wooden bowl, called Hakko-do, a style of craft handed down for 29 generations, made me realize how local art was still vibrant and important to the residents here.
I was also very excited to meet Mr. Toshiaki Konno who not only introduced me to the best sushi I've ever had, he also showed me Wagae-jima, the oldest port in Japan. The port is now a pile of rocks and is only visible during low tide, and I was lucky enough to be there at the right time.
Who knew that I had it in me to create a sashi-bana which the teacher complimented as "a great first shot?" I didn't know that there was an order of which kind of flowers to place in the vase first. I thought it was a matter of whatever looked good, but I quickly learned there was much more to it than just that! It was quite an experience to be taught to look at flowers and plants in a different perspective - one that has long been a tradition in Japan. The main flower comes first, then the supportive ferns and leaves next. I did the exact opposite!
As I visit these gem cities and meet the people who had showed me their rich history, my love of Japan, its heritage, and its people continues to grow.