Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kamakura Day Trip

Kamakura is my favorite place to take a day trip from Tokyo. It's not too far away, but it's the perfect change of pace. Whether you're looking for history, nature, or just a break from the tall buildings, Kamakura has it all.

We've taken all of our visitors this year to Kamakura, and while I don't think I could actually get sick of the place, I've definitely spent more than my fair share of time there over the last few months.

A new discovery this year is Hokokuji, also known as the bamboo temple. The temple itself is quite small, but what makes it so special is the bamboo grove behind it. In my opinion it's smaller, but just as nice as the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Particularly if you go on a weekday or in the morning, it's less crowded. I'd never heard of this temple before this spring when a Japanese friend recommended it. It's not in the guidebook I have, and it's too far to walk, but it's a quick bus ride away. Just take bus 23, 24, or 26 to the Jomyoji stop.

My all time favorite part of Kamakura is Hasedera, a temple a few train stops away in Hase. The temple is dedicated to women who have experienced miscarriages, abortions, or still births, and is also visited by women who are trying to conceive or hoping for healthy pregnancies. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful from the pond at the entrance, to the temple itself, to the hill beyond the the temple which is covered in hydrangeas in spring, and offers a view of the coastline. On the walk up to the temple you will pass hundreds upon thousands of jizo, small statues that have been left by women who have lost children. It's beautiful and sobering at the same time. One note, if you come in June during hydrangea season, it may take upwards of an hour to see the hydrangea covered hill, but you'll have no trouble with the lower grounds, the cave, and the temples.

These are my two highest recommendations, the absolutely can't miss parts of Kamakura. But even on a day trip there should be time to visit more places. I also recommend Hachimangu, a shrine on the way back from Hokokuji, and the shopping streets on the way back from Hachimangu to Kamakura station. In Hase, the Giant Buddah is only a few minutes walk from Hasedera. If the crowds are getting to you, I also recommend Engakuji, a zen temple that is less visited and more relaxing, in Kita-Kamakura.

Jizo Statues at Hasedera
The pond at Hasedera
Hydrangeas (and crowds) at Hasedera
Kakmakura Coastline
Hokokuji
Hokokuji's Bamboo Grove

Hokokuji
Tea in the Hokokuji Teahouse
Festival Decorations at Hachimangu

Hokokuji
Hours: 9:00-4:00, closed Dec 29 - Jan 3
Admission: 200 yen, 700 yen for admission + tea
Map

Hasedera
Hours: 8:00-5:30 (5:00 Oct-Feb)
Admission: 300 yen
Map

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cranberry Almond KitKats

I came across a new kitkat flavor this morning at the convenience store while I was paying my water bill. From the packaging you can tell their not just going for a novelty flavor, they're trying to be fancy.

I love fruit and nuts in my chocolate, but I was still skeptical of these. I've been burned by too many bad novelty flavors. (And yet I still keep buying them. I must be a glutton for punishment...or maybe just a glutton?)

When I opened the box I was surprised to see six tiny individually wrapped sticks instead of the usual three packs of double sticks. The cranberry almond topping only seems to cover about 3/4 of the top. I'm not sure if they're intentionally giving you a handhold there, or what.

But despite my low expectations, these turned out to be real winners. The fruit and nuts really comes through in the flavor. And the texture of the nuts and chewy fruit pairs nicely with the crunch of a kitkat. The only downside is that these cost nearly double the price of a regular kitkats. While I wouldn't buy these on a regular basis (Not that there's any risk, they'll have disappeared in no time) I would happily eat them again.