Basically, the weather in Japan during summer is annoyingly unpredictable. Prepare yourself for rain if you’re thinking of spending the day outdoors. And if the skies aren’t crying (or aren’t looking like they’re about to), it’ll most likely be stiflingly hot and humid. On the first day of July, the four of us (TJ, Luke, James and I) went on a day trip to the coastal town of Kamakura (located south of Tokyo) to experience firsthand the temperamental rainy season of Japan while going on a temple binge. The rain did put a damper on our visit, but we still managed to see two main temples (Engaku-ji 円覚寺 and Meigetsu-in 明月院), enjoy some traditional Japanese summer desserts, and have a filling lunch in town.
Engaku-ji (円覚寺) is one of the leading Zen temples in Eastern Japan. It was founded by Hōjō Tokimune in 1282, one year after successfully repelling a joint Mongolian-Korean invasion. The temple was built to honour the fallen soldiers of both sides of the war. As the temple entrance is surrounded by numerous maple trees, it is a popular spot for autumn colours. Engaku-ji’s grounds are located a short distance away from Kita-Kamakura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line (the railway tracks actually cut across the formal entrance to the compound).
Towards the end of our exploration of Engaku-ji, we stopped for tea at the fairly secluded Annei (安寧). James and I shared a refreshing glass of yuzu juice and a bowl of their special anmitsu, which consisted of green tea ice cream, rice flour dumplings, sweetened red beans, kanten jelly and brown sugar syrup. Everything was beautifully presented. The whole experience was made even better by the fact that we sat right in front of a beautiful garden, lush with green and sparkling with rain. It was pretty surreal, the fact that having dessert at this well-hidden paradise could feel so zen.
Meigetsu-in (明月院) is a Rinzai Zen temple of the Kenchō-ji school. It is also famously known as the Hydrangea Temple (Ajisai-dera) due to the abundance of hydrangea plants growing all throughout the temple grounds. During the rainy season, they bloom magnificently, attracting large crowds from all over Kanagawa and beyond.
We had lunch at Kusunoki (くすの木). Cosily decorated, with a nice garden view, it was a good place to take refuge from the wind and rain that suddenly picked up. The staff couldn’t really speak any English, so we mostly just pointed at things on the menu and repeatedly tried to get them to understand that TJ was vegan. Anyway, the food we finally ended up with was pretty impressive. TJ’s tempura vegetables looked really good, and the sashimi set I got was delicious. I believe it was mainly kingfish and bonito sashimi, accompanied by a number of side dishes like grated mountain yam, baked Japanese sweet potato, pickled vegetables, and a sort of soupy stew.