The weather throughout the latter half of August had been amazing, perfect beach weather in fact. Last Friday seemed like an excellent day to go to Enoshima, the weather forecast was good – occasional clouds, not too hot – and so the previous evening Mike and I decided to meet at 9.30am, Shinjuku station.
Friday morning, 8.30am – The weather’s looking a bit… grim, but no rain and besides, Enoshima’s a good 50km from Tokyo, so it’ll probably be nicer there.
Mike arrives at Shinjuku, and we board the train for Enoshima. At some point between my arriving and leaving Shinjuku, the Gods clearly decided that no-one was going to be enjoying any kind of outside activities for the rest of the day, “Today is a day for watering the garden, pool parties and tramp cleaning”, they declared to each other. “But what about all those people who decided to go to the beach today?”, asked Faiyah Laitah, God of Barbequeues. “Oh yes, forgot about them.” replied the others, “We’ll send them a memo or something…”
However, as everyone knows, the gods are not too great at paperwork, and the memo was never sent. Meanwhile, we arrive at Enoshima in a blaze of… rain. Quite a few others seemed to have had the same idea of heading to the beach today, and look just as disappointed as us as they get off the train. Not to be deterred, we buy a pair of umbrellas and set off into the unknown.
Enoshima is actually the name of a small island a stone’s throw from the beach (and means “Island of the Bay”. How original…), and there’s a causeway linking it to the mainland on which we stood. Seeing as hitting the beach was a definite no-no, we decided to walk over there and see what it had to offer.
The first thing we encountered on Enoshima was this rather tatty-looking object on the left. At first I thought it was some bizarre attempt at making a space-themed ice cream stall. But no ladies and gents, this was in fact a real spacecraft used by NASA for Skylab missions during the 1970′s. How it came to be standing in a hotel courtyard on a random Japanese island is anyone’s guess, although I imagine the hotel owner had been out with mates, downed way too many beers, stumbled home and decided to have quick browse on eBay. The rest is history.
There are many temples and shrines on Enoshima, and I really didn’t care much to look around any of them. Yes, I know they’re pretty, and ooze zen, karma, chi and Orange Fanta from every orifice, but I’ve had it up to the eyeballs with them. Word on the street is that Benzaiten, godess of music and entertainment, is enshrined on the island, therefore I decided to try and communicate with this mighty being, and have her explain why Japanese TV is so absolutely appauling.
Before I could attempt my meeting with Benzaiten, I had to climb to the top of the island. This meant either climbing lots and lots of steps or… taking the escalator! I shit you not, someone had built a series of escalators all over the island. The best thing about this was that each escalator had it’s own ticket booth (manned by a random old hag), despite being only twenty metres long. AND they charged ¥150 for a one-way journey. That’s 75p for a ten second trip!
Unsurprisingly, we opted to take the stairs, and my, what wonderfully slippy stairs they were, and so many too! The streets were absolutely deserted, with the exception of the stalls and restaurants, who naturally had approximately 17,000 staff each (this is Japan, you know, that’s how they do things. Don’t argue). I’m sure this place must be heaving with tourists come the weekend, but it must be absolutely suicide-inducing to work here on a day like today. I contributed to the local tourist economy by purchasing a bottle of Coke from a nearby vending machine. Enoshima is ¥150 better off thanks to me. I hope it’s grateful.
Occasionally, i.e. when someone had opted not to build a restaurant or gift stall in place of what would have been a really nice view, Enoshima was a really beautiful sight to behold. Very much like the rest of the Japanese coastline, vegetation clings to sheer cliffs for dear life. In fact, once you make it out of the major urban centres and into the mountains, everything seems to be clinging on for dear life. It’s no wonder Japanese tend to live crammed together; there’s simply nowhere else to go.
After around an hour of walking up endless amounts of stairs, and being confronted by a hideous toothless granny who was trying to cadge a cigarette (there was a cigarette machine round the corner), we made it to the top of Enoshima. Here, at the shrine dedicated to Benzaiten, I would feel the full spiritual force of this sacred space. Carefully placing my footsteps, so as not to disturb the mighty power that lay before me, I approached the entrance. As I grew closer I could see that there appeared to be some kind of guardian barring the way, protecting the higher powers from us mere mortals. It seemed to have taken the form of an animal, but I couldn’t make out which one exactly. I stepped further forward to take a closer look and…
…yes, there was a scabby eared, flea bitten cat, casually licking its bollocks. He had the pose and demeanor of the fat, couch-ridden father Jim from The Royale Family. I attemped to communicate with Scabby-chan, as he became affectionately known, but he simply looked up to face me, eyes burning with a mixture of feline rage and cataracts, and said “Temples? My arse!”
After the failure of attempting to communicate with a higher realm, we attemped to get the hell off this place. A wrong turn led us to the sea, on entirely the opposite side end of island. Around here there seemed to be absoutely nothing going on, with the exeption of a few brave souls attempting to fish off the rocks. I used to go fishing for hours when I was a kid, and caught absoutely nothing for all my time and effort. It gave me some satisfaction then, to see that these guys seemed to fairing just as well.
We had no option to return the way we came. As we walked along one particular footpath on the way back I made the mistake of looking at the sheer cliff-face to my right-hand side. My God, it was like being in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The cliff was covered in thousands upon thousands of brown, cockroach-like insects. I made an all too sudden arm movement, and they parted from the area of wall nearest to me with a swiftness that made me feel like jumping into the sea.
The remaining part of our journey back to the mainland was entirely uneventful, although not once did the rain even look like stopping. As soon as we stepped off the train at Shinjuku, the rain stopped, and every day since then has been absolutely glorious. I don’t know how to say “taking the piss” in Japanese but if anyone finds out, please let me know.