Temples, arts, entertainment, history and culture
Beyond the first urban impressions of its capital Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture surprises us with cultural treasures, fascinating legends and historic sites that are of great importance to Japan. Its transport connections closely intertwined with its glamorous neighbour Tokyo makes Kanagawa a great day-trip. Lesser known spots of Kanagawa provide profound insights into life in Japan.
Kawasaki Daishi Heikenji Temple in Kawasaki, attracts millions of visitors in the first week of the new year alone, owing to the Japanese tradition of Hatsumode to ward off evil. The widespread belief of its practitioners is projected in the rich heritage of the temple complex. The Indian-style temple in the complex is of rare architectural detail in Japan. The sutra repository holds Buddhist texts detailing the journey of Buddhism from India to Japan, that are of such immense historical value – a matter of pride to be standing in the same room. On the other hand, Shomyoji Temple is a stark contrast to the opulence of Kawasaki Daishi temple. The Jodo-style temple garden with a serene lake reflecting a vermillion bridge draws a feeling of quiet introspection. In the temple dense city of Kamakura, Hasedera Temple has a relaxing zen vibe with an observation deck with views of Sagami bay glistening into the horizon. The legends surrounding the history of each of these temples are as intriguing as the varied interpretation of, essentially, the same beliefs as displayed in each of the temples.
Not far from the land of temples, Kamakura is the island of Enoshima that plays along to its lexigraphy – E-No-Shima – an island like a painting. The beaches along Enoshima coast are popular with stand-up paddling and wind-surfing enthusiasts who add specks of colour to the glistening bay with their neon coloured equipment. The Enoshima Sea Candle is one of the most prominent structures on the island, visible at one end of the coast. The observation deck of the lighthouse offers splendid sunset views. On a clear day, Mount Fuji can also be seen along the coast, making it one of the most easily accessible spots to view the magnificent mountain. A further trek from the Sea Candle brings you to Iwaya Cave that is said to lead directly from the island to Mount Fuji. A fascinating local folklore surrounding the cave is of a five-headed dragon, which accepted children as sacrifices, that terrorized a village in Kamakura. One day, after a massive earthquake, a heavenly maiden appeared. When she touched the surface of the water, an island appeared, which is said to be present day Enoshima. The maiden later married the dragon on the condition that the dragon would stop terrorizing the village. The story seems like a loose prehistoric interpretation of the volcanic activity of Mount Fuji where the fire-breathing dragon (i.e., volcanic mountain) meets water (i.e., heavenly maiden) to create an Island. It is a great story to illustrate what important part Mount Fuji plays in everyday life of the area. In Fujisawa city, a short distance from Enoshima, Fujisawa Ukiyo-e Museum exhibits traditional ukiyo-e artworks – Japanese woodblock print and paintings depicting the lifestyle of people in the area. Mount Fuji is pictured in abundance throughout the collection. In one of the paintings, Mount Fuji is drawn as crossing beyond the frame of the picture, highlighting the significance of the iconic mountain in everyday life and culture.
Besides its spiritual, natural, and cultural heritage, Kanagawa also boasts importance in the history of Japan. When Japan opened doors to foreign trade, Yokosuka Naval Port was one of the first ports to build a shipyard to support infrastructure. Today, US Navy and Japanese Maritime Self-defense Force fleets can be seen up close in a cruise of Yokosuka Naval Port. The association of US Navy on the port also gave rise to a novel fusion of Japanese and American cultures that can be seen in the American-style diners, bars and military shops along Dobuita Street. Fashion and food evolved such as those in the form of sukajan jackets embroidered with Japanese illustrations, and, the Yokosuka navy curry where Japanese curry rice are served with milk. The sukajan jackets have re-emerged on the fashion scene recently as bomber jackets.
The unique shopping and entertainment street culture in Japan can also be experienced in various parts of Kanagawa. Noge entertainment area has hundreds of Japanese-style compact izakayas and restaurants lined across tiny alleys. Every alley is embellished with different gates and lanterns giving them a charm unique to old-Japan. Gumyoji Shopping Street represents shotengai culture with local and affordable shops set-up in covered passages, catering to the older generation. Komachi-dori Street in Kamakura is lined with historic buildings, souvenir shops, snack stores and restaurants serving local cuisine.
From varied temples and picturesque landscapes to entertainment and cultural heritage, Kanagawa prefecture makes an intriguing destination for anyone visiting Japan.