By Josh Egnew
Up and at 'em! We hit our local ramen spot and jumped on the train. Today we were going to see the Great Buddha! As we exited the train and made our way through the tiny village, Crystal brought our attention to a vending machine that dispenses fortune poos. Yes, little piles of colored plastic poo complete with faces depicting their moods, each with an accompanying fortune! We had to have them...
Finally, we arrived at The Great Buddha Kamakura. The seated Buddha is a National Treasure. Standing at 13.5 meters tall (44 feet) and weighing a respectable 121 tons it is quite a sight to behold. Initial construction of the Buddha began in 1252, and took around 10 years to complete. Beyond the Buddha itself, the surrounding gardens are magnificent and rife with reference material. Every lamp-post is adorned with images of foo dogs, dragons, water, swazi patterns, etc. If you really pay attention you will find so much inspiration here. Next we grabbed some hot green tea for our walk to the Hasedera shrine. (Note: wear comfortable shoes. As Crystal proclaims, you will lose a belt size if you do this tour and she ain't kidding.)
Hasedera is basically the most beautiful garden that I've ever seen. Perched up on a hill, overlooking the sea while hawks circle overhead, it is about as peaceful as it gets. The place is littered with statues of the Buddha in all sizes. I'm not kidding there are hundreds of them.
Again there was no shortage of imagery to photograph. Not only deities, but nature elements as well. Their collection of flowers was astounding. As we wrapped things up we hit a few local shops along the way back to the train for some souvenirs before heading off to Ninja restaurant for dinner. We got there well before our reservation, so we ventured into the local Hooters next door for drinks and sights. The rest of the evening was pretty reserved as our dogs had taken a beating.
Today we went back to visit Horiyoshi III again for Foerdl and Matty's appointments. This time we were visiting his newer studio. As we approached the door and read the sign stating that if you are ill to refrain from entering, we were reminded of how lucky we were to have these appointments. Up until we arrived it wasn't certain that we would actually get tattooed due to Horiyoshi III's time and health concerns.
Not only was he in good spirits and health, but he was surprisingly affordable. On behalf of our whole group I would like to express our sincere respect and gratification for this man. While Matty was getting his HiHi tattoo we had the good fortune to meet a few of Horiyoshi III's visiting clients. They were very nice gentlemen who let us photograph their amazing hides. The one man had completed his full body suit in just two short years and it was stunning. That's the sort of dedication that most of us only dream of having.
Next Foerdl was up to get a little shunga tat. I was pleased to find Horiyoshi III pull out a reference book that I had just acquired a few short days ago. He seemed to have a good time doing these tattoos and we surely had a blast getting them. As we wrapped things up, we parted ways with this incredible man and headed out into the night. Riding high, we decided to hit up the Yokohama amusement park for roller coasters and a Yokai themed haunted house. As we were leaving a couple of small boys ran up to us and gave us a couple of stuffed animals that they had won. It was quite odd receiving these gifts, but we obliged and in return gave them stickers. Carnival prizes in tow, we hopped in a cab and made off for a visit to Slapstick Tattoo where I was to do a guest spot after the tour.
Takayuki's shop has got major style. The man is not only an impressive tattooer, but also a collector with an amazing eye. You can spend hours looking through his shop and believe me, I did. We parted ways and made our way back to Tokyo to feast at Godzilla restaurant. I'm not sure if that is actually the name, but they have a statue of the bugger out front, so that name is sticking. The restaurant sits on a canal and it is tops. We feasted on sushi, dumplings, skewers, sake. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth water. After that it was off to bed as the next day was to be a long one.
We hit the streets early to catch the two-hour train ride to Nikko. As our train weaved through the countryside it became apparent that we were truly going some place special. We had no idea. As we hiked the half hour or so up to the entrance of the Toshogu shrine we noticed many hand-made signs in the shop windows. Upon further inspection each sign had child-like illustrations with messages warning kids not talk to or take anything from strangers. It was quite odd as there were dozens of them through out this tiny town. Soon we were at the shrine. The Nikko Toshogu shrine is a world heritage site constructed in the early 1600s during the Edo period.
Five of the eight structures are categorized as National Treasures of Japan. As we paid our entry we were given maps to the enormous grounds and left to roam freely for the next couple of hours. I was surely glad that I had cleared the memory on my camera this morning, as Crystal had suggested because I put a hurting on it. So much so that I eventually killed the battery and closed out the day with cell phone pics. This place is spectacular and the Fall couldn't have been a more beautiful time to witness it. This was a major day in terms of reference material. It is definitely a must-see destination.
It felt like I was in a northern California forest in terms of trees, but full of some of the oldest and most amazing structures, sculptures and carvings that I have ever seen. We felt like little kids running around this place, which was unbelievably refreshing. As with any good holy place there was no shortage of good luck and donation opportunities. I took advantage of nearly every one if not all of them. I rang bells, I bought safety in traffic protection stickers and drank from the holy water fountains. Uh, don't do this. I regretted that a bit the next day as I nursed Pepto. If the next time you see me I have some sort of extra appendage growing from my body this will be why. Eh, I grew up in the Microwave Generation anyway, so I'm fucked regardless.
As it grew darker we made our way back down the mountain for a fantastic ramen meal and we popped into a shop run by this amazing woman who makes unreal dragon paintings in basically one brush stroke. The entire twisting body complete with exterior and belly scales in one single stroke. She bangs these things out in about 10 minutes, with ease. It turns out that she is related to Horiyoshi III. Go figure!
We bought a few paintings, grabbed some road sodas and hopped on the train back to Tokyo. Being that it was 11-11-11 we had decided to end the day with small tattoos to commemorate the occasion. It also happened to be a full moon, so after a bit of a group sketch session we came up with a rabbit-in-the-moon motif and quickly banged them out... Today was a good day.
Crystal Morey/Gomineko Tours
(Josh Egnew is a tattooer and blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine, Josh can be found at Three Kings Tattoo in New York City and his website: www.joshegnew.com.)
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