Kamakura-eleon ; We Come and GoMay 17 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C
Today we said goodbye to the shit-hole that was and, barring immediate refurbishment subsequent to our departure, is the Tokyo House Inn.
This isn't quite the damning dismissal it might appear to be. Shit-holes, most particularly the plumbed-in variety, are an utterly essential facility in homes and business establishments, with their absence considered a puzzling quirk at best and, at worst, a flagrant breach of The Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations 1992.They serve a purpose and are indisposable in the field of bodily waste disposal.
Similarly, the Tokyo House Inn served a purpose. It's just a shame that purpose didn't encompass the provision of rudimentary rest-house services.
Whilst I genuinely appreciated the attempt at providing a power-socket terminal for each bed, on mine the USB ports were broken. Worse, on the beds where they were functional, their operation entailed the permanent illumination of a blue LED which is the absolute worst light output possible for science/heath reasons I don't understand but will proclaim as irrefutable fact regardless. As a simple annoyance, however, this persistent twinkle was completely overshadowed by the absence of shadow being cast by our dorm-room door. A simple frame encasing a large, frosted-glass panel, its translucence became prominently problematic at night time as it permitted the passage of light from the hallway outside, which we were able to switch off but that would be shortly afterward switched back on again by another Inn guest as our hallway was a key thoroughfare between bunks and bathroom. Oh, and breakfast was a complete joke; the punchline being that it took about twenty minutes to mildly singe a slice of bread in a table-top toaster oven of which there were precisely two for a hostel holding upwards of fifty people, eighteen-or-so of whom would be breakfasting at around the same time every day.
I’m informed that the female and couple dorms (in the building next-door) were better, but even if true this would be sexist/couple-ist so would still count against them. Overall, I’d give the Tokyo House Inn two-out-of-five stars ; one for location (one minute walk from a Family-Mart, mitigating the breakfast situation) and one because one-star reviews are generally discarded out of hand as being whiny and reactive and I’d hate for my considered, structured views to be pigeon-holed as such. Also any place calling itself an ‘Inn’ should serve beer and they didn’t. One-and-a-half stars.
Before departing we all posed for a picture outside, genuinely chuffed to have the place literally behind us. Somewhat notably, this was the first time we’d all convened with our baggage ready to start actually ‘travelling’ together. I was surprised to see some people had brought suitcases instead of rucksacks, but also at how compact some peoples’ luggage was compared to my own. Still, I don’t workout multiple times a week to not bring as heavy a bag as my airline would permit. Additionally, I’d resolved to bring sufficient clothing to wear something different nearly every day without having to do laundry; a decision that (spoilers!), once I witnessed the consequent distress and trauma of those who eventually did undertake to do laundry when the opportunity arose, I felt entirely reassured by.
I don’t much recall the specifics of the journey we took (broadly, following Yukko through and on several excellent, on-time and well-maintained public transit vehicles), but we eventually ended up in Kamakura; a coastal town south of Tokyo where we’d be spending the day and night. Today’s hostel, the ‘Webase Hostel’, was a short walk from the station and was every bit the cheese to the Tokyo House Inn’s chalk, with extensive on-site amenities, fully operational facilities and sleeping quarters encased in opacity. We couldn’t check-in immediately so we dropped our bags in a holding room and we headed out for lunch.
A short walk down the coast-line we found a couple of small restaurants, with the majority of us opting for the Thai café. The size of our group clearly overwhelmed the kitchen and some peoples’ orders took quite a while to materialise, I noted smugly whilst devouring my speedily-delivered bowl of red curry & rice.
Once everybody had eaten we wandered further down the coast then ventured in-land through the quant streets of this tourist-town, spying and sampling some of the various shopping establishments. In one shop, Ruth discovered the existence of and developed a quick passion for Japanese puzzle-boxes ; delicately-crafted wooden constructs with convoluted methods for opening and priced by size and complexity. Whilst none available here piqued her interest sufficiently to prompt a purchase, Ruth’s mission to find a suitable souvenir puzzle-box is a worthy enough B-story to warrant mention and follow-up. To be continued…
We soon-after arrived at our first itinerary-stop of the day; the ‘Daibutsu’ at the Kotoku-In Temple. ‘Daibutsu’ is an informally-used Japanese term for giant Buddha statues, with this usage proven formally accurate in this case. The bronze-cast statue, dating back to the thirteenth century, was indeed large; the second-largest in Japan I was told but most definitely the largest we’d be witnessing on thistrip. It possessed this effect whereby it seemed to grow larger the closer you got to it, which is an ancient Japanese principle known as ‘perspective’. We were able to go inside it, but there wasn’t much there. Aside from excellent acoustics, which enabled me to win the hastily-devised ‘evil laugh’ competition (in doing-so likely offending many of those visiting with religious alignment to the subject matter).
It was at this point in the day that it was highlighted to me that it looked like I was burning. Whilst I had applied sunscreen earlier in the day, we had both been on the go for longer than the specified protection period stated on the bottle and, as had also been pointed out to me, the sunscreen I was using appeared to have a greater marketing emphasis on its skin-moisturisation properties than UV-resistance, with its apparent effects reflecting these priorities. I’d also not brought any sunscreen with me this day since, as aforementioned in an earlier blog, my travel bag had either the capacity for sunscreen, a water-bottle or an umbrella but no combination of the three. Veronika kindly let me borrow (on a no-returns basis) some of her actually-protective German-branded cream ; kindness I reciprocated by misjudging my grip on the bottle and inadvertently squirting a decent dollop of it over her bag.
Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine was the next stop listed on the itinerary, which was helpful as there’s no way I’d have been able to transcribe its name from mere audible reference. This entailed a brief, albeit challenging for some, wander through the nearby woodland wherein the less mature amongst us entertained themselves by climbing trees whilst the more mature remarked on the immaturity of this undertaking. The 800 year-old shrine itself was deep in the wooded hills, surrounded by rock walls and could only be reached on-foot via a carved-out tunnel. Upon arrival we were informed of the tradition of entering a cave beside the shrine and washing our money (both coins and notes) in the spring waters with legend stating this would cause the money to multiply. As I’ve been seeking a credit extension for a while now, I gave my Mastercard a quick rinse whilst I was at it.
Up some steps near the main shrine was a smaller, secondary shrine adorned with a symbol that I instantly recognised as the ‘triforce’ logo from the Legend of Zelda video games. Despite this slightly marring my perception of Nintendo’s creativity, it was pretty cool to see this adorning such a place in such a country and its usage in this context went some way to distilling the aesthetic inspirations for much of Breath of the Wild ; an observation I’d have shared if I’d felt anybody around me would have appreciated it (possibly-Martin, with whom I’d previously discussed the game series with and probably-Christina, his partner/girlfriend/wife, weren’t with us today).
Before departing the shrine I bought an ice-cream, which was interestingly churned from vending apparatus that required the insertion of flavoured capsules not dissimilar to a Nespresso machine. The resultant product was fairly good, though less interesting than the manner in which it was made insomuch as I distinctly recall and jotted down notes as regards the process but can’t remember what flavour I had. It might have been matcha flavoured, since around 80% of confectionary items in this country appear to be and all of them are distinctly and equally unmemorable.
We wandered back toward civilisation and to a supermarket, where we were advised there were no evening dinner plans nor much close by to where we werestaying, so to buy some food for dinner and breakfast the next day. The supermarket was pretty upmarket, with concession-style food distributors offering fancily-packed prepared foodstuffs with various samples available to help inform purchases. Mind, I’ve no basis for comparison so this could quite easily have been a downmarket Lidl/Aldi equivalent and a theoretical Waitrose-level grocery-shopping experience exists to be discovered. From my perspective, however, this was at minimum Sainsburys-standard, with Tesco overtures and Asda influences coupled with Co-op conveniences, M&S Food Hall-style amenities and a bit of Booths to balance. Morrisons is also a supermarket.
I purchased a variety of baked goods, requiring no further preparation or cooking to become edible (my favourite foodstuffs), for both my evening meal and breakfast as well as a bonus, crème-patisserie laden tart for immediate consumption. As the day’s hours waned, we then hurriedly returned to the hostel so as to have daylight time for a promised outing to the nearby beach.
Beaches, as a general concept, are hardly high on my holiday highlight list. I feel this is likely due to the natural connotation between ‘beaches’ and ‘beach-holidays’, the latter of which I find monstrously dull. Any excess of time spent lounging on a beach is time that might be spent seeing or experiencing something of deeper aesthetic or cultural value than a narrow mass of sand or rocks beside a lapping expanse of water. However, on this occasion, as the afternoon waned and the assurance that this would be the only opportunity during our trip to visit a beach was voiced (a lie, but whatever), the prospect evolved from lazy diversion to that of time-limited challenge. Hurriedly checking-in to the hostel I rushed to my elevated bad-compartment within our group’s sleeping-quarters, quickly changed into appropriate gear, grabbed my microfibre towel, slipped on my slip-on Birkenstocks and wandered the two-minute walk to the seafront.
Upon arrival at the beach I immediately left the beach, proceeding straight into the water-feature without which the beach would not be a beach but that technically isn’t a part of the beach itself. The sun had receded behind the clouds and the wind was picking-up, rendering the standard crotch-level checkpoint a point of no return; the maintenance of comfortable body-temperature only achievable by continuing to the shoulder-submersion depths.
After some brief wave-jumping with various members of the group, Veronika splashed into the ocean to join the fun. The two of us somehow ended up a fair distance down the coast from the rest of the group, possibly a result of currents or potentially a reactionary defence mechanism instigated by my ego to ensure I was outside of direct-comparison range of the buff muscularity that Craig had got goin' on. I’m pretty comfortable in both my skin and with the developed fibrous tissues beneath stretching and forming said skin, but even a top-tier BMW doesn’t want to share a showroom with a Bentley. I’d already made a mental note (because of course I had) of Veronika’s stated affinity for the ‘good-looking men’ of the Marvel movies, and I doubt she was referring to Happy Hogan. Personally, even I wouldn’t kick Chris Pratt out of bed; though almost entirely out of fear of him kicking back.
I continue to enjoy Veronika’s company, both within our established sub-group and during occasional, fleeting one-on-one moments such as this. I was also quite taken with her choice of swimwear, which I might elaborate on were I not an anointed gentleman of the British realm. That said, I still can’t be sure whether she and Flo are an item. They don’t outwardly express affection in excess of ‘friendly’, but then perhaps that’s par-for-the-course for German couples. I don’t know; I do care, but I can’t figure out a way to enquire that wouldn’t overtly outlay some ulterior aspiration. Speaking of Flo, he had neglected to bring any swimwear with him so had remained on the beach, but soon grew envious of the jollity on display so ventured into the sea in his underwear; a brave fashion choice that placed him in the highest echelons of body-confidence.
After the beach, a bunch of us went once again for a group-soak in the hostel’s bath-house. As before, this entailed sex-segregation and obligatory full nudity, guaranteeing the inevitable movie adaptation of this blog will need significant edits to achieve a family-friendly classification rating. But this wasn’t a problem; any mild reticence from our first-time alleviated by a sense of habituality. With this repeated mention and undeniable thematic recurrence of male form and body-image you’d think I’d have something profound to say about the modern-day societal pressures imposed on men, the prevalence of gender-norm expectations and the inescapable, harmful impact toxic masculinity has on the world at large. But I don’t.
In the evening hours we all congregated in the hostel’s common area, cooked (or simply ate) our pre-purchased food and just generally co-existed together with the generic socialising and conversation so frequently associated with such gatherings. As most people peeled off to bed, a group of us remained up until the late/early hours, with the main conversation topic seemingly being the attempted explanation of British humour to the Germans, by way of listing and detailing the premises of popular comedy shows from the last fifty-or-so-years.
There was concurrence on the amusement value of Monty Python, though upon mention of the ‘Fliegender Zirkus’ special shows the troupe had produced specifically for the German audience I was surprised to find that they preferred the German-dubbed, original English production. I’m told that the Lumberjack song in particular is far more amusing in the German translation as opposed to the Michael Palin reciting-phonetically-transcribed-German version. Despite the Python link, they hadn’t heard of Fawlty Towers so we attempted in earnest to convey both Torquay and the particular hilarity of the ‘Germans’ episode, though I don’t think we sufficiently sold it. Whilst, somewhat ironically, this description of describing classic comedy is rather flat, as a topic on which I feel fairly schooled I found this evening to be a tremendously enjoyable cultural exchange. Although I stopped short of mentioning ‘Allo Allo’, which is questionable in terms of its portrayal of Germans but, more importantly, really isn’t very funny or well written and as such any endorsement by myself would tarnish my established taste in terms of all things comedic.
I mean, I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it…