So, probably the coolest thing I did in Tokyo wasn’t really in Tokyo, as such. There are lots of outskirts.

The city itself, or what I saw of it at any rate, was mostly just… a city. A fantastically modern city with interesting glassy architecture and toweringly tall buildings at every turn. But otherwise, it could have been any metropolis anywhere.

Not so Kamakura. A tiny seaside city just on the Tokyo border, a 40 minute or so train ride from Shinjuku Station. I had a couple hitches with the trains, actually – getting off at the wrong stop, etc – but eventually I found the right one. I walked up to Enoshima Island, down cute little streets lined with touristy shops. There was a beach, though it looked kind of dirty (though part of that was the darker sand) but I didn’t have a suit and also it was as crowded as any other part of Tokyo. I bought a beautiful hair-stick, though my hair is nowhere close to long enough for it yet. (It’s made of a shell. I love it to bits and it was only 300Y.) And then I climbed all over the hill that is Enoshima Island.

There are a few temples on the island, and some restaurants, and a number of people who seem to just live there, surprisingly enough. I should get over that. Japan is small enough and populated enough that any livable area is basically … lived on, already.

There were several surprisingly friendly cats. Not that they came up to me, or anything, but they lolled about casually and graciously allowed me to approach and pet them.

Why yes, I am in cat withdrawal again, why do you ask?

Enoshima had several staggeringly good views, which I attempted but utterly failed to capture. It has some sort of garden – the Samuel Cocking Garden, which I didn’t get a look at. There was a conservatory, and some fantastic statues of … fierce men-ish guardians.

There was also, in the highlight of my trip, a legend. A legend with a bell and an enshrined dragon.

As the story goes, the good people of Kamakura were living peacefully until this asshole Five-Headed Dragon came and started being, well, an asshole. What he was doing isn’t quite clear, but presumably he was pestering people or alarming livestock or futzing with the weather or something. And the people lived with it for a while, maybe they thought he’d settle down after a while and do his proper bit as guardian Five-Headed Dragon or something, but he never did. So they all got Fed Up with his Attitude, and they prayed for assistance. (As you do.) Storm clouds swept in and covered the sky for several days, and when they parted, lo: an island, Enoshima Island had appeared, and living on the island was a Celestial Maiden. As Celestial Maidens so frequently are, she was beautiful and kind and benevolent and dutiful, and the Five-Headed Dragon took one glance at her and fell hopelessly in love.

The Five-Headed Dragon went to the Celestial Maiden and asked her to marry him, but she looked at him with scorn and said: you are an asshole, and no. And the Five-Headed Dragon pondered, and wondered desperately what he could do to make the Celestial Maiden love him, and eventually hit upon the brilliant idea of dropping his asshole ways and not screwing with the weather patterns behaving kindly to the villagers and taking on the role of guardian Five-Headed Dragon as they’d all hoped he’d do anyway. So, because despite the beauty and the kindness and the benevolence and the devotion to duty, Celestial Maidens are inherently sort of easy, the Celestial Maiden saw the change the Five-Headed Dragon had made for her and decided that he now fit her incredibly low standards of “Not Actually an Asshole” and married him at once. The Five-Headed Dragon was enshrined upon the island, and he and his Celestial No-Longer-A-Maiden,-Really lived symbolically ever after as examples of eternal true love.

Which is a charming little story all on its own, but made more charming by the presence of a suspiciously new-looking bell – the Bell of Dragon’s Love – which is of course in no way a ridiculous attempt by Enoshima Island to acquire more visitors and more tourist revenue. There are shiny metal plaques on three sides of the bell, inscribed with the names of couples who were willing to shell out unnamed but no doubt ridiculous sums to have their mutual devotion blessed by the Five-Headed Dragon and his Celestial Bride. Far more awesome than that, however, is the brilliant solution devised by those tourists who were touched by the story, who wanted their own piece of the Eternal True Love pie, but who did not wish to pay for it. Which is to say, there is a short metal fence alongside the Bell of Dragon’s Love, and this fence bristles with padlocks. Padlocks which have been Sharpie’d with couples’ names and dates. There were several hundred padlocks, as far as I could estimate.

Kamakura itself is a lovely little town excellent for biking or for strolling with your honey in traditional yukata. There is a Daibutsu there, the second largest in Japan (first largest in Nara, third largest in Takaoka, yes, the Takaoka near to which I live) and dozens of temples and shrines. Oddly enough, the temple of the Daibutsu was full of Scouts from Baltimore, on some sort of exchange trip. The Daibutsu itself was actually quite beautiful, and surprisingly large, and in a moment of unanticipated coolness, possible to enter. Inside, you could see the joins where each piece of the Daibutsu that had been separately cast had been assembled and welded, while on the outside the design was apparently seamless.

The Kase Kannon temple was equally impressive, with a large lovely statue of Kannon and and full of hundreds of tiny buddha statues – or more likely Kannon statues. Kannon is an ambiguously gendered boddhisatva who I once wrote an entire paper on for a Japanese religion class and who endorses mercy and fearlessness, as well as being known for answering prayers rather more concretely than other buddhas or boddhisatvas who ignore suffering in the current life and promise nothing more than their assistance in reaching enlightenment in the next. Or the one after that. The point is there were dozens upon dozens of these statues, in all sizes, from very small to actually very large.

I ate sweet potato ice cream, which was purple, and about which I couldn’t quite determine whether I liked or was simply hungry. (I’d skipped lunch.) I returned my bike, which was due at the late, party party hour of 5pm, and wandered around a bit before hopping back on the train to Tokyo.

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