A Hidden Gem in Kanagawa: Tamagawa Daishi Temple

Back in my tour guide days, I used to dread hearing the words “hidden gem.” Tourists claim to want to see unknown places that no one knows about, but if tourists went there, they wouldn’t be hidden. I know some of the popular places in Tokyo, but I wasn’t aware of many places that “no one knows about.”

However, today a friend took me to a temple in Futago-Tamagawa. Futago-Tamagawa, much like other places in Kanagawa Prefecture, has undergone a lot of development in recent years. Young people often visit for shopping and dining. But there is more to the area than department stores and restaurants.

After walking for around fifteen minutes after a delicious Korean lunch near the station, we reached a small temple called Tamagawa Daishi. Now, it didn’t look like much from the outside…

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But what made this very old temple special was that it was much, much bigger once you ventured underground.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures on the inside, but here is an account of what we found.

After offering a five-yen coin, ringing the gong, and saying a quick prayer, we ventured inside. The temple was stuffed full of old treasures: ancient gongs, statues of various Buddhist gods blackened by time, and solid gold bells and things I didn’t recognise. Incense burned and the smell of wood filled the air.

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It cost 100 yen to go down into the underground. We signed our names, put on the provided slippers, and headed down there.

“Last time I was here, we got into trouble for screaming,” my friend told me. “The monk had to tell us off.”

Apparently, it was so dark down there they got freaked out and started shrieking. She wasn’t kidding; it was pitch-black and we had to walk slowly, hands sliding along the wall. I’m not sure what the point of a dark tunnel in a Japanese temple is, but it might give you the feeling of walking into another world.

After several minutes of feeling our way along in the dark, we reached this amazing underground room. Again, taking photographs was prohibited and I wasn’t about to disrespect the rules, but there was a long corridor full of the 88 monks of the temple from back then. Some of them had unlit candles or other treasures placed before them.

There were also statues of angels, one enormous stone statue of the monk who built the temple, and various models of the gods of fire. At one point, we came across a god who helped take unborn deceased children to the afterlife. A month ago I had a miscarriage, but instead of being upsetting, the statue of a god with smaller cherubs clinging to his robes filled me with wonder (though I did feel my eyes burning.)

My friend said later that she had forgotten about my misfortune when she had invited me, and apologised profusely. I told her it was fine; I had wanted to visit a temple with these statues anyway, so in a way, it was beautiful, if a little heartbreaking.

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Fortunately, we were allowed to take pictures outside.

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Then we headed to Musashi-Nakahara to see a small farm of pansies. The pansy is the symbol of Nakahara Ward and is popular to buy around December. Some of the arrangements in the picture below were being sold for 30,000 yen (About £206 GBP or $265 USD)!

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All in all, it was a great day and very different from what I usually do. If you’re in the area, Tamagawa Daishi is worth a visit for the vast array of authentic treasures that are hundreds of years old. It’s a little surreal to be in an underground temple surrounded by priceless artifacts from temple worship.

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10 Things Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Day 13 [New Year’s Resolution]: 10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Living in Japan

Howdy, gang.

Thousands of people from around the world flock to live in Japan, whether it’s to teach English, travel as many prefectures as they can, or settle down and start a family. Some stay for less than a year, and others stay for decades.

Since Japan is such a popular country, there are many websites and blogs where you can find out about Japanese culture, events, food, customs, and the language. However, these tend to paint Japan in a light that makes it look perfect. I work for one of those websites, and any articles that make Japan look even a little bit bad are dismissed immediately.

I’ve been living in Japan for nearly five years now; eighteen months in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, and two and a half years in Tokyo, the capital city. Although I love it here, there are a lot of downsides as well that you can’t really find a lot of information about online. Here are 10 things that guidebooks and blogs don’t tell you about living in Japan.

1. You Are Always a Foreigner

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Coming from the UK where we treat everyone equally and don’t care if someone’s black, white, or purple with polka dots, it’s very weird to still be considered “a foreigner” even after being here since I was nineteen.

It’s the first thing people notice about me, and almost everyone’s first question is “Where are you from?” and the first remark is “Oh, you can speak Japanese!”

It’s not really that much of a problem, but even my boyfriend does it. “Look, a white guy!” I find myself irritably replying “So what?”

Learn the language, get a job in a well-respected company, learn all the complicated customs and rules and manners, it doesn’t matter – you’ll always be a gaikokujin.

2. It’s Very Difficult to Rent a House

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There are a hundred and one rules involved if you’re a non-Japanese person hoping to rent a house. There are all kinds of fees including bond, deposit, key money, etc etc, and you need some kind of written recommendation.

I’m really lucky because in Nagano, my company sorted out my house, and in Tokyo, my boyfriend sorted it out. I’ve never had to personally deal with renting a place on my own so I don’t know all the ins and outs, but there’s a good article on GaijinPot all about it.

3. No One Has a Proper Oven

As someone who loves her pies and lasagnas, this drives me crazy. The only ovens you can really find are a sort of mixture between an oven and a microwave, and the same size as that, too. Unless you’re willing to invest tens of thousands of yen, oven dishes aren’t an option if you like to cook. Boo.

4. It’s Hard to Find Good Cheese

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Of course you’ll want to try the delicious local food that’s on offer in Japan, but sometimes you want a little taste of home. Cheese is one of the things that the Japanese just can’t seem to get right. The much-boasted Hokkaido cheese is supposed to be fantastic, but compared to the rich and sharp cheddars from home, it’s pizza-topping tier.

You can find imported cheeses in certain shops, but then you’re expected to cough up for it. I managed to find some Brie the other day from Kaldi Coffee, and after wincing at the price tag, enjoyed it very much.

5. Everything is Scripted

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Back home, I can walk into a shop and easily have a chat with a shop assistant about anything. It’s friendly, it’s good customer service, and it makes the company look good. However, as soon as I walk into a shop I know I’m going to hear the welcoming phrase “irasshaimase“, the amount of money I owe the cashier, and the thank-yous when I leave.

It’s not for lack of trying, either. I’ve tried to chat with people many times in shops only to have a very startled, nervous, and short reply, or to have them ignore me completely or look at me like I’ve grown a tit on my forehead. It’s quite lonely.

6. You’ll Miss Things from Your Home Country

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Although you may not believe it when you first arrive, you will definitely end up missing stuff from your home country after a couple of months, especially food. That condiment that you can find in every cafe at home but doesn’t exist here. Your favourite brand of tea. Good chocolate. Decent deodorant.

Still, that’s what care packages are for. Be sure to send yourself some essentials before you go.

7. Everything is Tiny

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If you’re tall in Japan, you’re going to have a bad time. It takes a bit of getting used to, as doorways, food portions, furniture, and many other things will make you feel like you’ve grown several inches or everything else has shrunk.

Couple that with the fact that the average height in Japan for men is 5″7, and you’ll feel like a wandering giant. The wandering foreigner.

8. People are Fake

No, not everyone. But as someone who grew up with a father who was more forward than most people and didn’t care who knew it, it’s really hard for me to get used to a society where people say “yes” when they mean no, “maybe” when they mean “hell no,” and “sure, you can trust me with this information” when the next thing you know they’re blabbing to unfriendly ears.

A lesson I learned the hard way is to not share things that can be used against you unless you absolutely 100% trust that person. Learn to read between the lines and read body language (tilting their head to the side with a smile/frown often means “no”). It’s a pain.

It’s all part of the politeness thing, but there’s a massive difference between being polite and being fake.

9. Everything is Ridiculously Over-Packaged

This isn’t really a bad thing, I suppose, but the amount of nagging we get in Europe about reducing, reusing, and recycling! Then you buy a box of sweets as a souvenir and hey-ho, you have to battle through three boxes and a plastic bag before you can finally get your (unexpectedly tiny) sweet. Next time you buy anything in Japan, take a look at the packaging. It isn’t normal.

10. Drinking a Lot is Normal

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Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies and this is said to be down to a lot of factors: better diets, healthier lifestyles, and more exercise. Despite this, drinking in Japan is huge. It’s not only okay to drink several times a week, but in some jobs, it’s expected.

Many companies engage in nomikai, a party where the boss and his employees go out to a local izakaya pub or bar to drink themselves silly. Seeing passed out young men in suits at train stations in the wee hours is a pretty normal sight.

This attitude towards drinking leaks into the lives of those who aren’t businessmen as well. I find myself surprised when I realise I haven’t had alcohol in a few days, and my boyfriend loves to go out and get wasted from time to time without even thinking of it as a potential problem.

It’s good news if you love to drink, though, as western men are often admired for being “osake tsuyoi,” or having a high resistance to alcohol. You might find that your alcohol intake, and in turn, your weight, increases while you live here unless you don’t drink at all.

The good things about Japan outweigh the bad by far, which is why I’m still here! No country is perfect, though, and it’s important to know the downsides before you arrive so you can prepare for them. Whether you count all of the above as downsides or not is up to you.