In this article we will talk in depth about Kamakura, one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo among tourists and Japanese!
What kind of place is Kamakura?
Today Kamakura is among the most visited resorts by foreigners in Japan, who take advantage of its proximity to Tokyo, about 50 km: tourists flock to what are its iconic places, namely the Great Buddha (dabutsu) and the temples Hase-dera and Enkaku-ji.
Kamakura is surrounded by hills on three sides (similar to Kyoto), while the southern part overlooks Sagami Bay.
The reason it was chosen as the center of the bakufu government lies precisely in its geographical features that make it a place protected from any sieges.
Because of the morphology of the area, at the time Kamakura was difficult to reach: the paths that were opened between the hills were called Kamakura Nanakuchi, or the seven mouths of Kamakura.
Temples and shrines
After Kamakura was designated as the second capital (following Kyoto), its architectural and monumental heritage grew beyond measure, and the figure that best represents this era is undoubtedly that of Nichiren.
Founder of the Buddhist school of the same name, he carried out missionary activities in what was the political heart of Japan at the time.
It was here that he wrote the famous Rissho Ankoku-ron, where he affirmed the importance of following what he called true Buddhism (based solely on the teachings contained in the Loto Sutra) for the nation’s security. Witnessing the role of Buddhism in the political life of the time is the large number of temples belonging to his school, such as ankokuron-ji and Koke-dera.
The holy symbol of the city is the Tsuruoka Hachiman-ga, where the figure of Hachiman, god of war, is venerated. This is a Shinto shrine, but at the same time also a Buddhist temple of the Tendai school, which is intuited by its appearance.
In the past, along the long 1800-meter road that leads here, there was a thousand-year-old ginko tree, In 2006 the plant unfortunately could not withstand a strong tropical storm, and was felled.
The temple is located in the western part of Kamakura and is known for the famous statue of the Great Buddha, Daibutsu in Japanese.
This one, depicting the Buddha Amida, dates back to 1252. Its height is 13.35 meters, making it the second highest in Japan, after the Great Buddha of Nara.
Nara’s is different, however, because it is a rushana Buddha.
Kamakura’s Dabutsu, like Nara’s, was once covered by a large wooden structure. This, after numerous fires and earthquakes, was rebuilt several times. A tsunami wiped out it in the 15th century, and since then the Great Buddha has sat outside.
Not far from Kita-Kamakura station is the Enkaku-ji, a temple also known by its full name of Zuirokuzan Enkaku Koshshzen-ji.
It is tucked into a small valley in a hilly area called Yato. This is the Zen temple par excellence, where the relic of a Buddha tooth is kept, inspired by the customs of the Chinese Song dynasty.
Sea and nature
In addition to temples and shrines, Kamakura has a long shoreline! A 20-minute walk from the station, a small river flows into the ocean and thus creates the division between the two city beaches.
The eastern one is Zaimokuza-hama beach, while to the west is the famous Yui-ga-hama beach.
In summer many tourists flock to the area and you can find several stalls and shops; many come here to surf, seeing the creation of high waves at certain times.
Going further west is the island of Enoshima.
This is connected to the mainland by a thin tongue of sand and on weekends you can also get there by boat. The tourist facilities are many, there are caves and temples, in addition to the famous aquarium. The southern part of the island is jagged with rocks and rock formations, immersed in a wonderful scenery.
The local dish is shirasu-don, made from rice and small fish (similar to the whites used in Italian seafaring cuisine), but we will talk about Enoshima in a separate article!
Kamakura has more to offer, besides historic temples and shopping, such as hillwalks!
There are many routes that allow visitors to explore the city’s hills: from Gion-yama you can enjoy great views of the city and the ocean.
In this area is the tomb of the famous Hajo Masako, as well as the Harakiri turret and the Myhon-ji temple of the Nichiren school.
Near the K’toku-in (Great Buddha), we recommend the route that heads to the so-called Zeni Arai Benten, where they traditionally wash coins in order to increase their earnings.
The longest route (about an hour and a half) starts from the Ench-ji temple, which is especially worth it in autumn: after a long walk through large trees, you arrive at the Zuisen-ji temple, famous for its rock garden.
How to get to Kamakura
Click here to see how to get to this beautiful city (article in preparation).
Kamakura is one of our favorite cities in Japan and we have visited it many times, the first with an organized tour and then always individually arriving by train.
On weekends and national holidays, tourists flock to Kamakura: keep this in mind as, in case you want to use the lockers you might find them all busy.
This happened too, that time we asked the station staff for advice, who pointed us to a camera shop along the street of shops that starts from the west exit, where we could leave our luggage!
Kamakura is a bustling city, starting at the station. The trade route from the east exit leads to the shrine of Tsuruoka Hachiman-ga.
Here you will find mainly souvenir shops and restaurants, where you will find fashion shops and others that sell more traditional products, such as kanzashi (hair stops to match with female kimonos).
In the vast area of the sanctuary there are always many tourists. Here you can admire ponds (a total of 7, symbolizing the battle between the Taira and Minamoto clans of the Heian era) and a ceremonial stage, where we had the opportunity to attend a Shinto wedding: several tourists, especially foreigners, They took pictures of the newlyweds, who were thrilled to have accidentally stumbled across the traditional atmosphere.
In addition to the ceremonial stage there is a long staircase, once finished you could see to your right the famous thousand-year-old ginko tree. What you see today has been planted recently.
In front of the staircase is the upper shrine: this wooden building is really big and many leave an offer, then clapping their hands. The number of faithful is so large that it can sometimes seem almost like a round of applause.
Leaving the sanctuary you can head to the ocean along a wide avenue with a long row of cherry trees. Spring here is obviously magnificent, with an explosion of colors.
At the bottom you are on Yui-ga-hama beach, from which you can see the Izu Peninsula on clear days. Back in town, it’s time to head to the Great Buddha of the temple.
To get there, you can take the retro train of the Eno-den line and get off at Hase station. From here you walk for 5 minutes along another shopping street, and to your left is the temple of Hase (Hase-dera): this place is really gorgeous in autumn, when its garden is tinged with warm colors.
The temple also houses a wooden statue of the deity Kannon, 10 meters high and covered in gold leaves.
The entrance to the temple is paid for: after buying a ticket and entering the sacred area, the huge statue shows up in front of visitors.
Here we have been several times, but we remember well the emotion of our first meeting with the Great Buddha of Kamakura, difficult to express in words.
Selling its austere and solemn form left us breathless. You can also enter inside the statue at a symbolic price of 20 yen.
In the northern part of Kamakura is the Enkaku-ji temple, outside the tourist area of the city and thus enveloped in a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere thanks to the surrounding green hills.
Kamakura has a really large number of places that are worth a visit, seeing them all in one day is impossible.
This is also due to the huge number of tourists: Kamakura is in fact the closest historic city to Tokyo and everyone chooses it as a destination for an excursion from the capital.
If you want to enjoy Kamakura calmly, we recommend spending a night there, perhaps in a temple in its hills!