Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Hidden Gem Of Enoshima

"Woman divers do not have to grope 
for pearls with lamplight in Enoshima"

Akiko Yosano


In Japan, Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within seven days. In combination with well placed weekends, the Golden Week (GW) becomes one of Japan's three busiest holiday seasons, besides New Year and the Obon week. However, it was a "tobiishi-renkyu" (飛び石連休) Golden Week this year, where three working days were sandwiched between the consecutive off-days. While some companies decided to take a nine consecutive days of holidays, I wasn't that lucky, and my GW was like this - holiday-work-holiday.

Nevertheless, on the second half of the GW, I made a trip to the most famous island of Sagami Bay - Enoshima. My first and only visit to this island was five years ago, in spring 2008.

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 Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass, which is recommended if you are planning to visit Enoshima and Kamakura on the same day.

The plan was to cover Enoshima and Kamakura on the same day, and there is this economical excursion ticket from Odakyu that allows you to travel easily across these two tourist spots. The journey from Shinkuju station in Tokyo to Katase-Enoshima station, with train exchange at Fujisawa station, takes approximately 70 minutes. Enoshima is located just about 15-minute walk away from Katase-Enoshima station.

And to start of the long day, I knew I need something to keep me awake.

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 Some caffeine injection in the morning from Starbucks.

A contradicting choice, when all the while I am someone who not a big fan of coffee.

The train was relatively packed, as I suspect most of them were heading to the same destination. After more than an hour riding on the sardine-packed train, we finally arrived at Katase-Enoshima station. Most train stations in Japan have a pretty ordinary look. However, there are a few exemptions, that are designed to look unique. Katase-Enoshima station is one of them. This bright red train station is designed to look like a 竜宮城 (ryūgū), or Dragon Castle from Urashima Taro (浦島太郎)

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Katase-Enoshima station, on the Odakyu Odawara Line.

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A five-minute walk brought us here, as Enoshima is visible in the background.

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This 600-meter long bridge connects the island to the mainland, accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians.

A small island in Sagami Bay southwest of Tokyo, Enoshima sits at the mouth of the Katase River and is just south of Fujisawa city. Fujisawa is home to Shonan beach, which is one of the nearest beaches to metropolitan Tokyo. This beach is usually mobbed, especially during long holidays. Enoshima is a pleasantly touristy island which offers a variety of attractions, including a shrine, park, observation tower and caves. On days with good weather, views of Mount Fuji can be enjoyed as well.

Enoshima is divided into a yacht harbor accessible to motorized traffic and a forested hill which can only be explored on foot and paid escalators. Here is where most of the island's popular sights can be found. Several shrine buildings, collectively known as Enoshima Shrine, are found around the island and are dedicated to Benten, a popular goddess of good fortune, beauty, wealth, music and knowledge. Benten is believed to have created Enoshima before subduing a five headed dragon that had been terrorizing the area. The shrine and the island were a very popular pilgrimage destination during the Edo period (1603-1868).

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The narrow lane, which leads to the Enoshima Shrine. Souvenir shops and restaurants line up on both sides of the lane.

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 Finally, the entrance to the Enoshima Shrine. Holy crap to see so many stairs ahead of us. This is just the first 
of the many long stairs that we had to climb to reach the hill top.

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Also called suganuki, chinowa (茅の輪) is a large ring made of cogon grass (chigaya) and erected on the pathway leading to the shrine. Worshipers at the shrine pass through the ring as an act of purification from misdeeds (tsumi, 罪), impurities (kegare, 穢れ), or bad luck.

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Those who got a bad prediction on their omikuji will usually tie their folded paper at the shrine in hoping that the bad luck will wait by the tree
rather than attach itself to the bearer.

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The famous omusubi-no-ki (お結びの樹), which is popular among couple as it is believed that it will bring good luck to their relationships.
These numerous pink ema tablets are hung from the rope that ties two big trees together. The trees represent a pair of lovers and on the pink ema,
sincere wishes for happy marriage are written.

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A random peek among the bushes from the top of the Enoshima Shrine. The bridge and narrow lane is filled with humans like crazy!

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The yatch harbour on Enoshima island.

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Enoshima Shrine consists of three separate shrines - Okutsumiya (奥津宮), Nakatsumiya (中津宮) and Hetsumiya (辺津宮), and all three 
are located in different places around the island. This is the second one, Nakatsumiya.

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Wadatsumiya (龍宮), a cave-like shrine which worships the dragon God (龍宮大神). Perhaps you can make you wish to this dragon 
without collecting all seven golden Dragon Balls.

This small island of Enoshima is endowed with many legends. Legend has it that a beautiful celestial maiden made the island rise from the bottom of the sea in the sixth century. It is said that the maiden was the goddess Benzaiten (弁財天). Originally a Hindu deity (Sarasvati), who represented water, learning, music, and art in India, she has become more versatile since she was introduced to Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan. The Benzaiten is one of the seven lucky gods and has always been portrayed as a beautiful lady. She sometimes has a type of Japanese lute called a biwa (琵琶).

Probably because of the traditional Japanese happy-go-lucky take on foreign deities, she now represents wealth as well. Since Benten is also the goddess of wealth, some visitors will wash their money at the shrine's pond. In Enoshima, she is even thought to be a goddess of matchmaking as seen from the omusubi-no-ki.

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A traditional wooden lamp, with dragon motive drawn on it, found at a minshuku (民宿), Japanese version of bread & breakfast.

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Beautiful lavender spotted in front of the entrance to the Samuel Cocking Garden, a pleasant park built on the former site of the residence of Samuel Cocking, a British trader who purchased a considerable part of Enoshima in the late 19th century and built a botanical garden there.

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The 60-meter tall observation tower, that also serves as lighthouse inside the botanical garden.

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At present, Enoshima is divided into two city district - icchome (一丁目) and nichome (二丁目).

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This is the spot at Nakamuraya Yokan store (中村屋羊羹店), where the two mountains of Enoshima seem to be constricted and was named Yamafutatsu (山二ツ).

The southern coastline of Enoshima is made up of jagged cliffs that fall steeply towards the ocean below before they suddenly level out just at the waterline, forming wide stone plates where people gather during low tide to enjoy sunbathing and fishing. The Iwaya Caves are two touristy and easily walkable caves where visitors can explore the deep caves created by erosion. The first cave contains some stone Buddhist statues that were carried there by ancient people, while the second cave is dedicated to the legendary dragon that used to terrorize the area.

Going on further and further into the dark cave, you reach the spot where the original Enoshima Shrine was set up a long time ago. Legend has it that the cave path underground leads to the Narusawa ice cave at the foot of Mount Fuji.

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That white platform leads visitors to the entrance of Iwaya Caves.

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It was a pleasant day and this place with little pool with fish and other random sealife was filled with children who were there fishing and catching crabs.

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A crystal clear water hole found at the coast line. At the background is the magnificent Pacific Ocean.

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A tsunami warning signboard placed at the coastline, to remind the people to evacuate in case an earthquake and tsunami occur.

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Stopped by a cafe to have some apple pancakes.

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A antique water pipe with dragon motif found in one of the toilets on the island.

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This is what we had to go through on the way back to the mainland!

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Finally, after more than half an hour shoving through the sea of human beings, I came across this sight. People were lining up to enter one of the restaurants there. 
However, it looks like they were watching some movies while waiting lol!

From Enoshima, we took a 30-minute train ride on the Enoden Line to the historic city of Kamakura. Just like Enoshima, Enoshima station was so crowded that they limited the number of people who enter the station. The queue to enter the station stretched more than a few hundreds meters away from the station! Crazy stuff...

Kamakura, the last stop on the line is the gateway to the city's historic temples, traditional gardens and the famous Great Buddha (Daibutsu). Kamakura was the seat of shogunate rule from 1192 to 1333 and recently recommended to be recorded as one of UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately, the recommendation for the feudal capital of Japan was rejected as it lacked proof of tangible assets of historical significance in the form of town planning and the way people lived.

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Enoshima station on the Enoden Line, which looks like a little hut.

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The old school train that we took to Kamakura.

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Komachi-dori shopping street (小町通商店街), which is very popular for local food and souvenirs.

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Finally, the food we have been waiting for the whole day - shirasu-don (しらす丼).

The most popular delicacy in Enoshima is shirasu (しらす), or baby anchovy. There are different variations of shirasu dishes served in the restaurants on this island. Generally, shirasu is served in two methods - raw or boiled. As all the restaurants and shops at Enoshima had long queue, we gave up having our shirasu meal there. 

Once we arrived at Komachi-dori shopping street, we spotted a small restaurant that serves shirasu and we didn't have any second thought but to walk inside the restaurant immediately.

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Kamakura's most important shrine - Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮) which was founded in 1063.

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This is maiden (舞殿), a stage for dance and music performances that is build at the base of the stairway. The shrine approach can be spotted at the background.

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Dinner was some fresh sushi at Totoyamichi (魚屋路).

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And the trip was ended with beautiful sunset at Yuigahama (由比ケ浜) beach.

That sums up my one-day trip to Enoshima. Now, it is time to go back to work and at the same time, start planning for summer trip. Destination has been decided, and it is sure to be an exciting trip! Hint - pineapple and hibiscus. Anyone fancy making a guess?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Golden Week Gathering 2013

"Fu Wei zai na li?"
"Fu Wei zai jia"

the most famous line
at this year's gathering


Golden Week came and went this year. However, keeping up to the long tradition which started more than a decade ago, the annual Golden Week gathering was held again this year. More than ten years ago, the seniors studying in the universities came out with a brilliant idea to organise an event to welcome the new juniors to Japan. Back then, it was just a small barbecue gathering and no more than fifty people joined the event.

A few years later, some of the seniors graduated and returned to Malaysia, while the ones who remained here were in their final university year. There was nobody available to continue to organisation of this annual gathering. Fortunately, the forth-year kosen (technical college) juniors came to the rescue. They volunterred to take over the organisation, and that was the point where this gathering has been organised by the forth year kosen juniors every year. On most of the years, it is almost a lus non scriptum for the forth-year juniors from Kisarazu Kosen to be the main organiser, including this year.

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The fresh third-year juniors who just came to Japan last month, along with the forth-year juniors who are the organisers.

For the past five gatherings, the venue had moved to Otizawa Youth Centre (2008, 2009, 2010, 2012) in Machida city, and the University of Electro-Communications (2011) in Chofu City. Finally, after a six-year absence, we finally returned to the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Yoyogi, Tokyo. This is the very same venue where my batch members attended our first Golden Week gathering seven years ago. 

Yup, seven years ago. Sounds like such a long time, ain't it?

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Basketball is almost a must-have sports every year.

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Guess what all these boys have in common? They are Malaysians. Haha, lame I know.

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A group photo after the sports session, before heading to the next venue.

This year, they gathering point was at the University of Electro-Communications as they played some sports in the morning session. Basketball and badminton, played in the huge university gymnasium they rented.

Later in the afternoon, they moved to Yoyogi Park for some games sessions. From the photos I saw, I guess they played Frisbee and break-the-opponent's-ballon game.

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The term Frisbee, often used capitalized, to generically describe all flying discs, is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company.

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The inventor of Frisbee, Walter Frederick Morrison had the frisbee idea as a teenager throwing lard popcorn tin lids with his girlfriend.

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Basically, in this game, each group members will form a line and they will attempt to break the opponent's balloon.

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Look's simple but I bet it is not as easy as it looks.

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As you can see, some even resorting to use their kung fu flying kick skills to win the game lol!

After the games session, it was time to head to the main venue - the National Olympics Memorial Youth Centre, located just next to Yoyogi Park. Here is where the ice-breaking session, self-introduction, more games and networking happens between the newbies and the old birds like me.

The most awaited session however, is surely the self-introduction session by the new juniors. This is the only time where we get to interrogate them with whatever questions we like. The most common question always is whether they are available or no. But this year, it seems that everyone was asked their hobby. Not sure if this was done on purpose or not haha!

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The fantastic MC of the night - Mugu. This joker really did a great job entertaining us with his jokes.

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But first, dinner time! No extraordinary food this year though, as we had bento dinner from Hotto Motto lol!

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Another HY Ong joining us this year. One thing for sure, he is definitely not as siao as the siao kia HY Ong we already have haha!

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Crystal senpai, the most senior person at the gathering this year, introducing herself. She came to Japan in almost two decades ago.

From my observation, it seems that most of the juniors this year are from the northern states like Perak and Penang. There was almost no juniors from the popular states like Kedah, Selangor and Sarawak this year.

Anyway, the night continued with Bingo games. The prizes are mostly snacks, biscuits and cakes, that the game eventually turned into a group game. Every time someone wins a prize, his friends sitting around him would make him open his prize and start enjoying the food together. So, in the end, nobody lost the game. Everyone there was a winner.

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Working hard to get the chance to shout Bingo.

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Someone was proud to win a pair of pink sandals lol!

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No luck for Bin Wei this year hahaha!

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And just when I said that, Bin Wei suddenly did a ballet dance. Did he hit Bingo? No idea lol!

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The winning group of the games session in the evening.

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I love this group a lot. It is arguably the most rojak batch in the history of PPKTJ/KTJ 'coz we have Melanau and Bidayuh in this group as well.
 
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The batch one year my junior. Yew Keong sesat into that group since he is in the same university year as them.

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My batch, seven years ago in 2007. Our batch used to be one of the biggest batch.

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And now, we were trimmed to only four members. Some had gone back for good, some had moved to other parts of the world, and some just got MIA.

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Lastly, the group photo!

During this gathering, I was told that technically, the batch that are scheduled to come to Japan next year will be the final batch, as there are no more new intakes for this technical course to Japan anymore. In that case, it also means that it will be the last time we will get the chance to have this annual gathering in 2014.

Just like this year, the Kisarazu team has been tasked to be the main organiser for the event next year. And here's hoping that the gathering next year will be a big blast!