Tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season, has officially hit the majority of Honshu according to the JMA. The name literally means plum rain, as this is the time of year when the plums ripen. Even though Kanazawa has been suspiciously sunny for several weeks, as soon as I returned from Tokyo on Monday morning, the air felt sticky and oppressive. The rain will come, and then the heat that steals my motivation to do anything but consume liters of iced teas.
The one bright point in the humid horror of tsuyu is the flowers, particularly the hydrangeas (ajisai, アジサイ) and the irises (hanashôbu, 花菖蒲). Kamakura, one of the old capitals and home to the Daibutsu and a stretch of temples that could take all day to explore, is famous for their hydrangeas. Finding myself in Tokyo for a performance of Elisabeth (my favorite musical–review of the 2012 show to come), I decided to see if the hydrangeas were blooming more than in Kanazawa, downloaded the Kamakura hydrangea walking course information, set off to enjoy those bunchy globes of blooms.
From Kitakamakura Station (北鎌倉駅), we opened our umbrellas and headed toward Engakuji (円覚寺), a temple we had actually visited before in Dec. 2010. Instead of the warm colors of the sun-dappled momiji (autumn maple leaves), the temple was covered in shades of vivid green.
Not one of these photos has been enhanced! Kamakura is truly that green in June.
Engakuji was founded in 1282 CE by Hôjô Tokimune (北条 時宗), a regent of the Kamakura shogunate (not the Edo one) who help spread Zen Buddhism. Of course, the real reason he’s cool is that his family crest is the Triforce. I’m pretty sure this stone monument opens up if you put a coin in the right place.
Detail of a dragon carving on the gate. According to Stephen Turnbull & Angus McBride (2002), though the “triforce” pattern of resembles fish scales (literally 三つ鱗, three scales), Hôjô family legend states that they are actually dragon scales (Samurai Heraldry, p. 12). As if having your mon be turned into one of the most iconic images in video game history weren’t cool enough already!
Hydrangeas have such a variety of colors, sometimes even within the same bush. The purples, pinks, and blues can be subdued or vibrant. This purple bloom caught my eye.
I adore photographing the gates of temples (particularly Engakuji). What sort of people passed through this gate (or the location of the gate, post-disaster reconstructions aside) over the course of 800 years? What did they feel when stepping out of the temple grounds into the bright green world?
Next: on to Tokeji for more hydrangeas!
Interested in visiting? A Guide to Kamakura has a very thorough English-language guide for access, history, and a guide to the grounds.