[ Enoshima Stories ]
[ Katase – Enoshima, Sagami Bay, Kanagawa – Japan]
The southern coast of Enoshima was a stark contrast to sandy beaches that had welcomed me in morning. The jagged cliffs take a sudden plunge, before leveling with Sagami waters – in turn, creating vast stretches of level stone platforms. One could see the coast dotted with families spending their weekends around ice-buckets and fishing rods…while a photographer could be seen setting up his equipment at the far edge of the rocks, preparing himself to capture the imminent sunset safely for his memory. But there was still some time left for the sunset….enough time for me to dive straight into the history of this place once again. Well, technically it wasn’t a dive but it definitely involved descending into depths of the island and experiencing the soul of this place.
Iwaya Caves, nestled safely into the cliffs manning southern coast, are a passage into the history and folklore of this place. Interestingly, these caves were part of marine landscape of this region, before they were pushed above sea level by seismic activities through centuries. An oracle – yes it was an oracle and no, Neo wasn’t involved; instructed Kinmei Emperor to build a shrine in those caves. What ensued were visits from revered monks, the likes of En-no-ozunu, Kuhkai, En-nin and Nichiren – who practiced meditation and prayers within this sanctuary. Until the late Edo period, it was considered a powerful religious sanctuary – before frequent pilgrimage by groups of devotees across geographies highlighted it on global travel maps.
As I made my way towards the first cave, I was handed a small lantern by a cheerful lady manning the entry. Like all things Japanese, the lantern itself was a piece of art!! While making my way through underground labyrinths and appreciating old Buddhist statues placed inside, the causeway split into two. The left path led towards the statue of Goddess of the Island, whereas the right one led towards the statue of sun goddess Amaretsu.
Ah, and how could I forget the “strange” ritual taking place at the end of the cave – where a dragon sat cheerfully on a pedestal, his LED-equipped fiery red eyes greeting all visitors. For the people said that if you wish for something while clapping your hands once, it would come true – IF your efforts succeed in lighting up the dragon’s eyes!! Talk about fusing mythology with carnival gimmicks – no wonder why children would not love history lectures and field trips.
I gradually made my way out of these caves, absorbing the interesting view it projected through the rocks. It was still a few hours to sunset, and I was extremely tired after all that walking I had done since morning. So walking on the rocky shore and skipping over on-rushing stream of water into the crevices, I made my way to a raised boulder at far end of the shore. An old man was engrossed with his fishing rod at the spot when I walked up to him –
“Konnichhiwa!! Kokoni suwatte ii desu ka?” – I asked for his permission to sit there, in whatever Japanese language I could muster.
“Hai!!”, exclaimed the elder in his cheerful tone.
Since I did not know enough Japanese to help me strike a conversation, I was silently hoping he knew a little bit of English. Fortunately, he understood English – but only just. All he could manage were broken expressions, leaving me the job of arranging and making sense out of them. But I am not complaining, for it was so much fun!!
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I can see that you know your fishes quite well. I will trust your recommendation on good sea food served around here!!”
“Ahh…I happy to help. You see market when you come here?”
“Yes, I did. But I was spoilt for choices. Everything looks so delicious, but you can’t eat everything!! It is so difficult to choose.”
“Hahaha, I understand”, said the man as he slowly took a place next to me on the rocks, overlooking the stretch of water in front of us. “You try ‘Senbei’ here? Rice crackers…they make it with octopus and shrimps. Very tasty and very famous!! A shop at entrance, you go there in the evening. Very busy shop. Lots of people there. Or you try fried shell fish…shop near the bridge. Very tasty.”
There is nothing better than a local guiding you through a variety of local cuisines you can satiate your appetite with. They can tell you what to eat, so that you can calculate how much to eat – after all you got to taste everything on your list!! I can’t recall for how long we talked. Also, as it remained a common characteristic of my experiences in Japan – no names were exchanged!! That’s right. Through all my journeys, my interaction with people remained largely anonymous. It was only after I started penning down my experiences that I realized this fact. Now that I think of it, it was probably one of the best things that happened– the mutual trust between two strangers; when all we knew about each other were interesting stories from other’s life. All that he would have remembered was my nationality at the most – and I hope I made the most positive of impressions – given so much was at stake!!
The waves crashing to the shores in a rhythm came as a welcome lullaby and hence there was no point fighting over slumber overpowering my senses. So when it did knock on my door of consciousness, I gladly welcomed it and closed my eyelids behind it. The time seemed to have stood still; for that was one of the most uninhibited I had slept in a long time. The breeze blew gently while a subdued sun shone upon my tired body, which lay listless upon rocky shores under azure blue sky. I was only brought to my senses by the same old gentleman, having packed his stuff for the day & was now heading home. Isn’t that how you wish life could be everyday; grabbing a corner of nature for yourself and allowing it to cradle you into a realm – constructed by most lucid and enchanting dream you can be in. Well, only those who have spent a night under the starry summer sky, away from rush and noise of cities, would be able to connect to the land I ventured into in my sleep at that moment.
However, it was time to get moving again. While the sun was preparing to dive into the ocean below, I left behind those children who were still looking for any small aquatic life-form washed into the crevices by rushing waves. Inevitably, the snail-pace at which I made my ascent ensured that Botanical Garden closed for the day – thereby denying me opportunity to absorb panoramic view atop Enoshima Sea Candle, the famous lighthouse of this island.
For anyone reading this, do not follow in my footsteps for Samual Cocking built this garden in 1860s only for people to enjoy its pristine beauty and spectacular sights. Never mind, since I had already walked almost a full circle of the island anyway, so I guess I did not miss much!!
As the day grew closer to an end, I sat on a bench outside the garden gate, contemplating the day that it had been. It was a day of firsts in more ways than one. Most importantly, it opened my senses to an uncharted territory – appreciation for everything alien and unknown!! Far away I could see the sun melt into the water, a solitary fishing vessel making its way to shore & a flock of sea gulls circling overhead. Besides me was this beautiful couple; sitting mesmerized and holding hands ever so tightly. The lady never blinked, never stopped smiling. The man kept on cleaning his spectacles continuously, before putting them on again looking at the sun and then back at his wife – as if contemplating the life they both had led together for so many years.
A strong gust of wind ruffled his grey hair. They glanced at each other, smiled and turned their heads towards the setting sun as if looking for some inspiration. Probably a reminder that when the day comes to an end, make sure it is so beautiful that it stays alive in the eyes of all people around you – people you love!! As for me, well, I buttoned up my jacket & took one last look at the happy faces around me. After all, happiness is a universal sentiment and if one doesn’t find enough reasons to feel happy in their own lives, then one can always connect with other’s.
It’s a long walk down to the train station. Did I see a Mc.Donald’s on my way up? A coffee would be nice to ease my chill and open my senses.
Oh great…I should definitely stay away from the tourists now!!