Located just an hour South of Tokyo, Kamakura is a “must-see” destination if you feel tired of the traffic congestions and crowds in the Megacity.
Catch one amongst the three trains that travel about an hour to Kamakura; JR Yokosuka line, JRShonan Shinjuku line or Enoshima Kamakura free pass. JR Yokosuka is the fastest means to reach Kamakura right from Tokyo station, taking a period of 1 hour. If you decide to use JR Shonan Shinjuku, you will spend the same period of 1 hour from Shinjuku station to Kamakura. The Yokosuka line is considered the cheapest way, providing you unlimited access between Shinjuku and Kamakura through Odakyu railway; in 1 hour 30 minutes.
Ranked as one of the most important historical sites in Japan, Kamakura is often described in history books as a former de facto capital of Japan. It has a rich historic heritage, with 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines spread throughout the town and surrounding hills.
Kamakura’s major sights are located in two areas: Kamakura Station, the town’s downtown with the tourist office, souvenir shops and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine; and Hase, with the Great Buddha and Hase Kannon Temple.
The Great Buddha
Also called Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, located at Kotokuin Temple is probably Kamakura’s most famous attraction you will love to visit. Cast in 1252, eleven meters high and weighing 93 tons, it is the second tallest bronze sculpture in Japan. Once the Kamakura Buddha was housed in a temple like the Nara Buddha, but a huge tidal wave destroyed the wooden structure. The Temple is open daily from 7am to 6pm (to 5:30pm Oct–Mar). Admission is 200 Yen for adults and 150 for children.
A short walk from the Daibutsu is Hase Kannon Temple (Hasedera) located on a hill with a stunning view over Kamakura and its scenic coastline. Photographer will love to visit this temple. The picturesque traditional Japanese garden with Koi ponds and hundreds of statues Jizo Bodhisattva (the guardian deity of children) standing beside each other, it is a perfect example of a Japanese gardening in a religious setting. Hase Kannon Temple is also the home of an 11-headed gilt statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, housed in the Kannon-do (Kannon Hall). Also in the Kannon-do is a museum with religious treasures from the Kamakura, Heian, Muromachi, and Edo periods. Hase-dera temple is open from March-Sept daily 8am to 5pm and Oct.-Feb. 8am-4pm. Admission is 300 Yen for adults and 100 for children.
Some of the more hidden treasures of Kamakura can be found along the hiking trails through dense wooded hills, such as the Daibutsu-Path, the Tenen-Path and the Gionyama-Path. Brochures and maps are available at the tourist office inside Kamakura Station.
Most of the trails on these hills are interconnected to some of the most popular temples. The Daibutsu Hiking-Path connects Joju-in Temple in Kita-Kamakura with the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in the west of the city. The Zeniarai Benten and the Genjiyama public park with a statue of Minamoto Yoritomo can be found on their way.
The Tenen Hiking-Path connects Kenchoji Temple in Kita-Kamakura with Zuisenji Temple in the east of the city, leading mostly along the ridge of the hills. The Gionyama Hiking-Path connects Myohonji Temple, Yagumo Shrine and the Harakiri Yagura, a cave tomb where the remains of the last Hojo regent are buried. Some nice views of the city can be enjoyed along the way. The trail is shorter than the other two, taking about 30 minutes to complete.
The most popular times to visit Kamakura are early spring, during end of March to early May when cherry trees bloom, and in autumn from mid November to late November, when colorful autumn leaves, known as koyo in Japanese, draw many visitors.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to cover all of Kamakura’s sightseeing and tourist spots. But next year I am planning to return to Kamakura again, this time in autumn. My stay will be longer, that I can cover the remaining tourist sites at the beautiful ancient city, as well as tourist spots around Nikko and Hakone.