Courtyard, Kawasaki Daishi
Kawasaki (川崎)  is a city in Kanagawa, Japan, sandwiched between Tokyo and Yokohama.
Kawasaki lies in the middle of the Keihin region, separated from the Tokyo metropolis by the Tama River, and is divided into seven wards. The eastern part of Kawasaki, along Tokyo Bay, contains industrial work areas and blue-collar housing, while more upscale buildings can be found in the Tama Hills further west and inland.
Kawasaki has been an important city of trade since the days of the Tokugawa Shogunate, as a stop on the Tokaido Road between Tokyo and Kyoto. With a population of over 1.3 million, Kawasaki is the ninth most populated city in Japan, but one that is overshadowed in the middle of Japan's two largest cities of Tokyo and Yokohama. There are attractions, though, that make Kawasaki a unique side trip, including a buddhist temple that ranks as one of Japan's top three most visited temples during the New Year, and a shinto shrine with a peculiar 'resident'.
To reach Kawasaki from Narita Airport, take the JR Narita Express to Tokyo or Shinagawa and transfer to the Tokaido Line (90 minutes, ¥3280, no charge with Japan Rail Pass).
From Haneda Airport, you can take the Keikyu Line to the Keikyu-Kawasaki station in as little as 11 minutes (up to 20 minutes with a connection) at a cost of ¥400.
JR Kawasaki station is on the Tokaido Main Line from Tokyo. Trains on both the Tokaido Line and the Keihin-Tohoku Line stop here. The Tokaido Line is slightly faster from Tokyo Station (15 minutes) compared to the Keihin-Tohoku Line (22 minutes); it costs ¥290 in either case. From Yokohama it takes 7 minutes on the Tokaido Line and 13 on the Keihin-Tohoku Line (¥210).
The Nambu Line runs from Kawasaki along the western part of Tokyo. It runs to Tachikawa, a stop on the JR Chuo Line (55 minutes, ¥620), and also offers connections to the Tokyu Line at Musashi-Kosugi, the Odakyu Railway at Noborito, and the Keio Railway at Bubaigawara.
The immediately adjacent Keikyu-Kawasaki station is also accessible more cheaply on the private Keikyu line from Shinagawa (10 minutes via Limited Express, ¥220). The trip from Yokohama on Keikyu is more or less on par with the Tokaido Line (6 minutes, ¥220).
Shin-Kawasaki station, on the Yokosuka and Shonan-Shinjuku lines, is quite a distance from main city center, located in a more rural area near a Mitsubishi industrial plant. In March 2010 a new train station will open nearby at Musashi-Kosugi station, making the run to Kawasaki easier by transfering to the Nambu Line. At present, the easiest way to reach Kawasaki from the western end of the Yamanote Loop (i.e. Shinjuku, Shibuya), is to take the Yamanote to Shinagawa and change to the JR or Keikyu line.
Kawasaki has a ferry terminal which previously offered services to Kochi and Miyazaki. These services have been "suspended" since June 2005 but still appear in timetables. For the latest information, contact Miyazaki Car Ferry, 03-5540-6921.
The surprisingly rustic Keikyū Daishi Line (京急大師線) putters through people's backyards, and is useful for the three-stop trip from Keikyu Kawasaki to Kawasaki Daishi. From Shinagawa, it takes about 20 minutes total at a cost of ¥230.
The Legend of Kanamara-sama
Once upon a time, but in a land not very far away if you happen to live in Tokyo, there lived a beautiful princess. (Well, actually she was an innkeeper's daughter, but close enough.) But alas, an evil demon with sharp teeth had taken a liking to her. The demon had courted the girl, but she had stayed pure, and one day the demon learned that the girl was engaged to be married the very next day. So that night, the demon snuck into her house and crawled right up inside her! Our heroine, terrified but helpless, told no-one and the marriage ceremony went ahead as planned... but on the night of the wedding, when her new husband tried to perform his conjugal duties for the first time, the demon's sharp teeth went snickety-snack! and the poor man was turned into a eunuch. And the tale tells us that her next husband met the same fate, although the details of how they conned the village idiot into marrying her have not passed down to us.
It was clear that things could not go on like this, and the whole village met to discuss the, shall we say, prickly issue. After extensive deliberations, a candle lit up over the blacksmith's head: "Why not," he said, "why not deflower the girl with an iron phallus?" The metal tool was duly made and tested, and upon chomping down the demon found that it had bitten off more than it could chew; whimpering, it crawled out and slunk off to hide in a dark corner and nurse its broken teeth. The blacksmith married the girl and they all lived happily ever after... except the demon and the two eunuchs, that is.
Kawasaki is largely an industrial area and residential suburb — as typical in Japan, not much distinction between the two is made. But there's one very large temple and one very offbeat shrine to draw in the occasional curious tourist.
- Kawasaki Daishi (川崎大師), officially Heikenji (平間寺).  (in Japanese). A large temple dedicated to famed monk and scholar Kobo Daishi (see Mt. Koya). Featuring a 8-sided, 5-storied pagoda and more large temple buildings than you can shake a stick at, Kawasaki Daishi is a textbook example of a Japanese temple and remarkable primarily for the fact that on a weekday you can pretty much have the place to yourself. Easily reached on foot from Kawasaki Daishi station, a 10-minute stroll through a shopping arcade.
- Wakamiya Hachiman-gū Shrine (若宮八幡宮), . A quiet Shinto shrine that would be indistinguishable from your average neighborhood shrine if not for one thing: this happens to be one of Japan's few remaining fertility shrines, and the deity venerated here assumes the form of a meter-long iron phallus, known as Kanamara-sama (金まら様, lit. "Iron Big Penis Lord"). There are a number of stories behind this, and while the most entertaining one is certainly the official legend (see box), the more likely explanation seems that prostitutes from nearby brothels — still a large industry in Kawasaki — used to pray here for protection. To get to the shrine, take the only exit from Kawasaki Daishi station, cross the intersection and follow the road that branches off second from the right. There is a hospital on the corner visible from the station, and the shrine is just beyond it. Definitely best visited during festival time (see Do).
- In the shrine building you can also find a small sex museum, showcasing mostly Japanese erotic art. A few notable exhibits include a version of the Three Monkeys with two extra monkeys and life-sized brass model of a vagina; if you buy an amulet from the shop (see Buy), you're supposed to rub it against this. Opening hours are erratic, but the shrine shop attendant will usually be happy to open it up on request. Entry is free, but donations are accepted.
- Nihon Minka-En (日本民家園), or Japan Open-Air Folk House Museum . The large grounds display over twenty traditional Japanese houses, dating from the late 17th to early 20th century and transplanted from around the country. Rarely crowded, and costing only ¥500 admission, the museum is a 12 min. walk from Mukogaoka-yuen station on the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku, or 20 min. from Noborito on the JR Nanbu Line.
- If you like to gamble, Kawasaki is also home to a horse racing track and a keirin (bicycle racing) track. The horse track is located next to the Keikyu Daishi Line Minatomachi station, while the keirin track is a 15 minute walk from the JR and Keikyu Kawasaki train stations.
When you're finished in Kawasaki, visit the Keikyu Line platforms to watch the Keikyu train crews merge and divide trains. These operations, between main line trains and trains to/from Haneda Airport, are done at a very fast pace, and are done with passengers on board. The merger operation is more exciting, especially since you may think that one train is about to crash into the other. As of October 2006, merging can be viewed on the Yokohama-bound platform on weekdays in between rush hours, and all times on weekends, at 5, 25 and 45 past the hour. Splitting operations are done on the Shinagawa-bound platform at similar frequencies.
Kanamara-sama on his yearly outing
- Kawasaki's best-known event is the Kanamara Matsuri (金まら祭り), also known as the Iron Penis Festival, held on the first Sunday in April. Penis-laden temple floats (o-mikoshi) are paraded down the streets of Kawasaki and everybody gets sloshed. The festival has been to some extent hijacked by foreign tourists and Tokyo's transvestite ("new half") community, who often make up half the audience, but as you can imagine the people running the show aren't terribly uptight and nobody seems to mind.
Wakamiya Hachiman has a wonderful selection of amulets promising fertility, sexual prowess and protection from disease. Prices ¥500-1000, and some of the revenue goes to HIV/AIDS research.
In festival time, a little market selling penis-shaped candies and other sexual paraphernalia pops up on the shrine grounds.
Long thought of as a working-class, blue collar, industrial city with little to offer in terms of the sophistication of Tokyo or the internationalized flair of Yokohama, central Kawasaki has recently (last thirty years or so) undergone a revitalization and modernization around the station area that often leaves some Japanese surprised at the changes that have taken place. The area around the station is quite clean and modern, very safe and convenient and offers good value in terms of eating establishments. You will not find much in the way of notable or must-eat culinary restaurants but you will find very competent and reasonable dining particularly on the east side of the station and in the Azalea Underground Arcade connected to the east exit of the station. The other place to check out is the restaurant floor at the top of the Seibu Department Store building next to the Nikko Hotel which is a few minutes walking from the east exit of JR Kawasaki station.
- Dipper Dan, Kawasaki Lefront 1F, 1-11 Nittshintyo (Exit from JR kawasaki station ,then walk about 7 minutes. Can take service coupon from here), ☎ 044-245-3933, . 10AM-10PM. This`s the Crape and Gelato and pasta cafe
- HUB Kawasaki, Biko Bldg B1, Ekimaehoncho 5-1 (3 minute walk from JR Kawasaki Station), ☎ +81 044-223-5082, . Part of the HUB chain of British-style pubs. Picture menus with some English descriptions are available. Happy Hour specials every day from opening time until 7 PM.
There is no compelling reason to stay overnight and most visitors daytrip from Tokyo, but if you are splitting time between Tokyo and Yokohama and your destinations are on the JR Tokaido Line or the Keihin Kyuko Line and the hotels in Shinagawa are all sold out, Kawasaki might be a good alternative as there are many inexpensive business hotels in the Kawasaki area.
- Hotel Mets Kawasaki, 72-2 Horikawa-cho (1 minute from West Exit of JR Kawasaki Station), ☎ +81 44-540-1100 (fax: +81 44-533-7771), . checkin: 15:00; checkout: 11:00. You will be hard-pressed to find a hotel that is closer to a station on the Tokaido Line between Tokyo and Yokohama stations. Free broadband internet and breakfast (both Western and Japanese style available). Holders of the Japan Rail Pass and JR East Pass receive a discount. Singles from ¥9000, Twins from ¥13500, Doubles ¥16600.
- Kawasaki Grand Hotel, 6-2 Miyamotocho (6 minute walk from JR Kawasaki Station), ☎ +81 44-244-2111 (fax: +81 44-222-4979), . checkin: 14:00; checkout: 11:00. A bit old, but with friendly staff, most of whom speak some English. Rooms are a little more spacious than most other business hotels in Kawasaki at the price, and have wired high-speed internet access. There's a 7-11 type place on one corner and an Indian restaurant on the other; they also sell stuff in the lobby. A hearty breakfast (both Japanese and Western) with endless coffee from their espresso/coffee machine is included with free Japanese and English newspapers. Plenty of clubs and other such stuff within 2 minutes walk as well, if you have the time and the money. Singles from ¥8400, Twins/Doubles from ¥12600.
- Kawasaki Nikko Hotel, 1 Nisshin-cho (1 minute walk from East Exit of JR Kawasaki Station), ☎ +81 44-244-5941 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +81 44-244-4445), . checkin: 13:00; checkout: 11:00. Part of the prestigious Nikko chain of hotels. This means, be prepared to pay. Singles from ¥15000, Doubles from ¥23000.
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