Kamakura is only an hour from Tokyo. Located near the ocean, it is one of Japan's best sightseeing areas. Kamakura is where “samurai” first came into power, and established the “Bakufu (Shogunate)”. You can see remnants of its former prosperity in the old temples and historic spots. Why not relax and stroll around this ancient city?
Kamakura is a historical city! Get to know the Kamakura period
Kamakura took center stage in Japan at the end of the 12th century. It was a time when samurai families, who were mere subordinates of court noble aristocrats during the Heian period, began to take power. First, the Taira family became aristocrats, and grabbed power within the original political framework, whereas their rival, the Minamoto no Yoritomo, after being defeated once, gathered samurai who were feudal lords and brought the Taira family down. Yoritomo then left the traditional court noble and opened a shogunate in Kamakura, in the Kanto area, which was still a reclaimed land as a center of administration at the time.
This is the start of the Kamakura period in Japanese history. From there, for over 150 years, Kamakura continued to be one of Japan’s political center. A great number of roads were built from Kamakura called “Kamakura Kaido (highways),” and the phrase “Iza Kamakura,” which means to take care of things in times of need, is still used today as a Japanese language.
Ancient Kyoto was still the capital of the imperial court, but in Kamakura, a more simple and plain culture had begun to grow, and through trade with Sung, continental cultures were also introduced into Japan. Religiously, new Buddhism such as the Zen Buddhism was imported and spread, and new denominations sprouted from old Buddhism. Even to this day, famous temples of each of these new religious ideas are still with us.
Kamakura was still the center of the Kanto area after the fall of the Kamakura Shogunate, but it temporarily lost prosperity during the civil war period, and later began to revive after the start of the Edo period. Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine was revived as a guardian god by the Edo Shogunate, and as a temple town and a sightseeing area along with nearby Enoshima Island, Kamakura has been flourishing to this day.
From the end of the Edo period, as it was close to Yokohama, which had opened their port, more foreign tourists started to visit Kamakura. After the start of the 20th century, Kamakura became known as an area where many literary people lived, and developed into an exclusive residential district. Yuigahama and Zaimoku-za became popular as beaches, too. Today, Kamakura is visited by many tourists all year, as Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine has more than 2,500,000 visitors during New Year’s, during spring there are cherry blossoms, and gardens of ancient temples have beautiful flowers bloom for each season, and more.
Attractions of Kamakura! This is where you can see the Buddha of Kamakura
As the place that experienced novel development in Japanese Buddhism, there are many old temples in Kamakura, preserving quite a few powerful and realistic Buddhist statues sculptured in Kamakura period style. A representative temple would be the Great Buddha of Kotoku-in Temple. It is also called with affection, “Great Buddha of Kamakura” and “Great Buddha of Hase,” and it is the only Buddhist statue in Kamakura that is registered as a national treasure. Its height is 11.3 meters. Although it is smaller than the Buddhist statue in Nara (14.98 meters) which is registered as a World Heritage Site, you will see how spectacular it is when you look up to the statue under the blue sky. It is said that the statue was originally gilded, and you can see traces of gold leaf on the right cheek.
Like the statue in Nara, the Great Buddha of Kamakura was once enshrined in a building, but it was destroyed by typhoon and tsunami from early on, and by the Edo period, it is said that it was sitting in the open air as it is today. The biggest feature of the statue is that visitors are able to go inside it. Sunlight comes in from the windows of its back. They are remnants of holes used to take out the clay, which was the mold, from inside when they were in the casting process.
One other thing. If you are going to visit the Great Buddha, also visit the “Kamakura Kokuhokan Museum (Kamakura National Treasure Museum)” within the Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine premises. It is a municipal museum built to manage valuable cultural assets, and the ecclesiastical architecture style building established in 1928 itself is registered as a cultural asset. Their collection of Buddhist statues, swords, paintings, and Ukiyo-e from various temples of Kamakura are also well-known.
“Kamakura Kokuhokan Museum”https://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/kokuhoukan/
Which temples and shrines in Kamakura are must-sees?
The first recommendation is the “Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine.” The shrine was the guardian deity of the Minamoto family which became the uppermost class of the samurai, and also Minamoto no Yoritomo, who opened the Kamakura Shogunate. It is also at the center of Kamakura as a whole. The vermillion-lacquered Haiden (worship hall) is beautiful against the backdrop of the forest which is a deep green, even during wintertime. The precincts are vast, as seasonal flowers and trees add color, such as peony during winter and spring, lotus flowers during summer, and coloring leaves during autumn.
“Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine”http://www.tsurugaoka-hachimangu.jp/
After visiting the Kamakura Buddha, by walking towards the sea, you can go to “Hase-dera Temple,” which is within walking distance. The temple has many hot spots such as the hall that keeps the statue of the Eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy), the Benten Cave that enshrines the Benzaiten (Goddess of Music), and a lookout where you can look down upon the sea. During early summer, 2,500 Hydrangea bloom along the walking trail. Between the Great Buddha and Hase-dera Temple, there is Kosoku-ji Temple if you turn right, which is one of Kamakura’s best temples with the most beautiful flowers.
If you start to walk from JR Kitakamakura Station, you will see many famous Zen temples that were prosperous during the Kamakura period such as “Enkaku-ji Temple,” “Jochi-ji Temple,” and “Kencho-ji Temple.” The reliquary hall of Enkaku-ji Temple has been designated as Japan’s national treasure. At “Kencho-ji Temple,” although you cannot see it up close, the arrangement of Zen temple buildings is how it was in the olden times, as the Buddhist sanctum, lecture hall, and the Oguri (large priests' quarters) all stand in a straight line. You can go inside the Buddhist sanctum to look around.
1. Shopping in Kamakura
The city of Kamakura is not so large, so wherever you go, most are within walking distance. If you walk the Wakamiya-oji Street which stretches to Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine, and its back street, the Komachi-dori Street, which runs parallel with Wakamiya–oji Street, you can have most of the souvenirs of Kamakura. You can enjoy a leisurely window shopping experience. There are many attractive items such as Japanese and Western style confectionaries created in Kamakura, artifacts, and more!
Established more than a century ago, “Toshimaya” has its main shop on the Wakamiya–oji Street of Kamakura. Their pigeon-shaped sable first created in the Meiji era, is the standard among standard Kamakura souvenirs.
“Hato Sable / Toshimaya”https://www.hato.co.jp/
“Kamakura Beniya” sells a popular confectionary, which is homemade caramel stuffed with walnuts, and then wrapped in buttery dough. They have two shops near Tsuruoka Hachimangu Shrine, and another near the Great Buddha. The main shop near Hachimangu plans to start its renewal construction in August.
“Kurumicco / Kamakura Beniya”https://www.beniya-ajisai.co.jp/
“Kamakurabori Kaikan” is a museum for Kamakurabori (Kamakura style carving), which is a carving style that has its origin in the Kamakura period. Within the museum is a café, shop, gallery, etc. You can actually use a Kamakurabori container in the café, and then buy some at the shop.
Japanese swords are weapons, yet their beauty has reached the domain of art. “Masamune” can be said it is synonymous with “Japanese sword” and the 24th owner of “Masamune Sword and Blade” inherits the spirit of “Masamune.” To this day, he continues to create swords, and using his technique of creating beautiful and sharp swords, he creates/sells kitchen knives and scissors.
“Masamune Sword and Blade”http://www.sword-masamune.com/
2. Sightseeing in Kamakura
How about adding some experience to your day of sightseeing temples and shrines? The Kamakura area is not too large, quite close to Tokyo, so a day trip of sightseeing should leave you some extra time.
●Become familiar with art touring museums and art galleries
Kamakura used to be a place where many painters would move to. The “Kaburaki Kiyokata Memorial Art Museum” was constructed where the residence of Kiyokata Kaburaki, a master of traditional Japanese painting, used to stand. Kaburaki was known to be an accomplished painter of beautiful young women, and his artworks and reference material which are collections of the museum are exhibited here.
“Kaburaki Kiyokata Memorial Art Museum”http://www.kamakura-arts.or.jp/kaburaki/
“Kitakamakura Kominka Museum (Kitakamakura Old Private House Museum)” is a museum that was more than a century old private house which was removed and reconstructed. They sometimes hold exhibits under themes related to Japanese culture. They also have a permanent exhibit of a collection of old pottery among others.
“Kitakamakura Kominka Museum” (Kitakamakura Old Private House Museum)https://www.kominka-museum.com/
At the “Kitakamakura Yoh Shomei Art Museum,” they exhibit the original art, sketches, etc. of world renowned picture book author Yoh Shomei.
The art museum, which is a Western-style building, was built to look like a picture book in itself, so the beauty of both the exterior and interior are worth looking at.
“Kitakamakura Yoh Shomei Art Museum”https://www.yohshomei.com/
●Have matcha tea at a temple with a bamboo forest. You can also do meditation – “Hokoku-ji Temple”
Hokoku-ji Temple, with its beautiful bamboo forest, is also called “Take-dera (Bamboo Temple),” and is a three-star spot in the Michelin Green Guide. Within its precinct is “Kyukoan,” where you can have matcha while looking at the beautiful bamboo forest. They hold a zen meditation time every Sunday from 7:30am, and anyone can join. (ends at 10:30. Joining midway or leaving early is not allowed. Basically, Japanese language only)
●Enjoy the beach – “Zaimoku-za and Yuigahama”
The beaches of Kamakura are places to swim during summer, but it is also great to walk around during other seasons, too.
“Zaimoku-za Beach Official Site”http://zaimokuza.net/
●Pilgrimage to Anime sacred places!
Since Kamakura is close to Tokyo, it has been the setting of many movies and teenage TV dramas. The railroad crossing of Enoden’s Kamakura Koko-mae Station was the setting of a famous basketball Anime, and recently, it has been very popular among travelers mostly from Taiwan. Ride the Enoden from Kamakura and enjoy your travel.
3. Eating in Kamakura
Since the Meiji era, many great writers and painters, and foreigners from abroad have come to live in Kamakura, so the food is also very tasty. You can choose from genuine Japanese food, seafood, Italian food, French food, and more.
“Shunsai Shungyo Sakura” is a Japanese food restaurant serving fresh seafood bought by the owner chef himself. Their shirasu-don that uses small saridines, a Shonan-Kamakura specialty, is popular.
“Shunsai Shungyo Sakura”http://www.yukinoshita-sakura.jp/
“Kitakamakura En” is a kaiseki-ryori (tea‐ceremony dishes) specialty restaurant located right near the Kitakamakura Station. From its Japanese-style atmosphere of sukiya style building, you can see the Byakurochi Pond in front of the gates of Enkaku-ji Temple. Their kaiseki-ryori is beautiful, using seasonal ingredients, and they also have a course meal using Hayama-gyu Beef, a local brand. *Cash only.
“Ishigama Garden Terrace” is a solitary house restaurant within the precinct of the famous Jomyo-ji Temple, which is one of the five great Rinzai temples of Kamakura. Inside the remodeled building that was an old Western-style house, is a full scratch bakery. You can enjoy tea or lunch while viewing the English garden in front of you.
“Ishigama Garden Terrace”https://www.ishigama.info/menu.html
Behind the Kamakura Buddha, in the middle of the mountain, there is a café called “Itsuki Garden.” It has a terrace made of bricks, and surrounded by greenery. You can have drinks and a light meal. The Kamakura Sausage is recommended. On a sunny day, you can see Mt. Fuji. If you’re lucky, you may see squirrels running up a tree branch.
4. Accommodation of Kamakura
Since you can get easy access to Kamakura from the city center, most tourists enjoy a day trip. But if you want to forget the time and watch the sun set, or take a walk in a temple precinct when there are few people around, you should stay overnight for a more precious experience. We have chosen some places to stay that have unique accommodations.
“Kaihinso Kamakura” is located in Yuigahama’s exclusive residential district, and it is Kamakura’s only Japanese-style inn that serves purely Japanese food. The triangular roof of the Western-style building was built in 1924, and is a registered tangible cultural property. For dinner, try their beautiful kaiseki-ryori, which has many kinds of dishes.
“Kamakura Prince Hotel” is located on a hill looking down upon the Shichirigahama Seacoast, and you can have the best sweeping view of the Sagami-wan Bay from any room. Enjoy swimming in their outdoor pool during the summer.
“Kamakura Prince Hotel”https://www.princehotels.co.jp/kamakura/
“Kamejikan” is a guest house, which is a 92-year-old Japanese-style residence that has been remodeled. Managed by staff with a lot of experience overseas, it is a small inn with just two private rooms and one shared room. Enjoy a relaxing time.
Other places to stay in Kamakura can be found here.https://www.booking.com/city/jp/kamakura.html?aid=1336051
5. Other attractions
Most people use Enoden, buses, or on foot when traveling within Kamakura, but using the rickshaw for tourists can be a refreshing experience. Cool during the summer as they avoid the hot sun, and warm during the winter with a lap blanket. The rickshaw puller may tell you where little-known hot spots are.
How to go to Kamakura
It is best to go to Kamakura using trains, since most of the roads are narrow and car routes are limited. In order to reach JR Kamakura Station, you can take JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station, and JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station, taking about an hour from either station.
If you want to enjoy the train ride, you can use the Limited Express train Romancecar from Shinjuku Station and go to Fujisawa Station or Katase-Enoshima Station. From there, we recommend a leisurely ride on the Enoden and reach Kamakura.
If you want to use a car, you can park at the prefectural Yuigahama Underground Parking, and from there, use a bus or Enoden. At the management office of this underground parking, you can buy the “park and ride ticket,” which allows you to park for four hours, and enjoy unlimited rides all day on the shuttle bus and some of the fixed-route buses. Further, you can get discounts on admission fees at cooperative temples and shrines, and services at participating shops. (not available from January 1-3, July, and August)
Summary of Kamakura
Kamakura, the ancient samurai city, is a small area surrounded by ocean and mountains. It is possible to tour around sightseeing spots in a day, but if possible you should take more time. You can walk in a back alley with boarding fence while looking up at the laurel forest mountains, full of beautiful greenery even during wintertime, or drop in some small shops. If you follow the ocean breeze and find a beach, you can enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji. The view of Mt. Fuji and the flowers of gardens look different depending on the season. Since you can easily go to Kamakura from Tokyo, you can visit the area many times. We hope you will have the chance to thoroughly enjoy Kamakura.
“Kamakura City Tourist Association”http://en.kamakura-info.jp/
*The above information was last updated May 27, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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