If you are somewhat familiar with Japanese history, the word “Kamakura” would remind you of the period in Japanese history between 12th and 14th century. During this period, Kamakura was the political center of Japan and where its feudal system was established. Kamakura today is one of the most popular sightseeing and weekend hot spots within a reasonable distance from Tokyo. A huge bronze statue of Buddha, a beautiful range of temples and a stunning seaside offers a great variety of options for tourism and leisure.
You can reach Kamakura either from Kamakura station or Kita-Kamakura station depending on where you would like to start your tour. Both stations are served by JR Yokosuka line and Shonan-Shinjuku line. Kamakura station, however, is bigger and Enoshima Electric Railway (Eno-den) can also be accessed from there. There is also an Information Center with English-speaking staff, located just near to the Kamakura station exit. At Kamakura station, you can also borrow a “Kikitabi”, a portable audio guide service in English for 500 yen (plus 500 yen for deposit, 10:30-16:00). The rental office is located near the Information Center inside the bicycle rental area.
There are different ways to do sightseeing in Kamakura: If the weather is good and you do not mind walking, the walking tour is recommended for visiting temples in the East Kamakura area (Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, Kenchoji Temple, Kamakura museum). The tip here is to get a walking tour map from information center with different variations of recommended routes.
If you would like to see the Great Buddha and Hasedera temple (Hase Area), commuting by train is more convenient. You can also reach Enoshima island by train. In this case, purchasing a one-day Kamakura-Enoshima pass might be a good option (680 yen for adults and 340 yen for children).
One more option is to rent a bike and to do a bicycle tour in Kamakura. The Bicycle rental office is located near to the Tourist information center at Kamakura station.
Buses are also an easy way to commute to sightseeing spots.
Please note that sightseeing tours by rickshaws are also available near the entrance to Hasedera temple, but their English guidance is limited.
East Kamakura area
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine
To reach Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, you should go to the east exit of Kamakura station and follow Komachi-dori street, which starts right after the traditional Japanese red “tori” gates. On the way try senbei (Japanese rice crackers) or kamaboko (fish patties) and enjoy buying traditional Japanese souvenirs.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine was built in 1063, but moved to its present location in 1180. It is the largest Shinto shrine in Kamakura. This shrine used to serve as the guardian deity of the samurai government and as a stage for politics and ceremonies. Nowadays, many festivals are carried out in this temple, such as the Fire festival in January, the Bean-throwing ceremony in February, the Iris festival in May, the Paper Lantern Festival in August, the Annual festival and the Horseback Archery festival in September and the Chrysanthemum blossom festival in November.
Kamakura museum of National Treasures
This museum is located just near the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and exhibits very interesting national treasures from the Kamakura period. Although it is not very big, it’s worth dropping by, especially if you are interested in Japanese history.
Kenchoji temple is located within walking distance of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, but it can also be reached from Kita-Kamakura station. It is the top one among the Great Five Zen Temples in Kamakura.
Zazen practice in English is also offered in this temple, but prior reservation is required by sending an e-mail. It is 2 hours 30 minutes experience of Zazen including learning the right posture, meditating, reading sutra and a tea ceremony. The price is 1000 yen including the price for Japanese tea and sweets.
Meigetsu-in is also close to Kita-Kamakura station. It is known to be the temple of flowers. Most of the hydrangea, found here, is “princess hydrangea” (“hime-ajisai” in Japanese). It was named so for its small and graceful appearance. When hydrangea blossoms, it changes gradually from light blue to clear blue, finally reaching a dark-ocean blue color. The blossoming season is also rainy season in Japan, so watching hydrangea fully blossom with raindrops on, gives a special esthetic pleasure.
The special places to look for in Meigetsu-in are arhat cave (“yagura” in Japanese) and traditional wells. Arhat cave is 7 m high, 7 m wide and 6 m deep cave tomb, built in the medieval Kamakura period. The one located in Meigetsu-in is one of the biggest ones in Kamakura. The significance of this well is that traditionally it is not easy to find pure water in Kamakura, and Kame-no-I was one of those few places.
Hasedera temple is located near Hase station on the Eno-den line. This temple is famous with its wooden Buddha statues, which have eleven heads. The reason for the 11 heads, as the legend explains, is to emphasize the superior power of the Buddha. It is only possible to count up to 10 using two hands, so there are 11 heads – more than one can count with fingers.
The wooden statues here are considered to be one of the finest ones in Japan. It is also very popular in June, during the blossoming of the hydrangeas (“ajisai” in Japanese), in which this temple contains more than 2000 pieces. Besides hydrangeas, the garden is home to many kinds of lotuses and other different kinds of flowers.
Besides the eleven-headed Buddha statues, the temple also has an eight-armed goddess of feminine beauty and wealth, called Benzaiten.
A beautiful observation deck, located inside the temple premises, gives a splendid view of the sea.
There is also a cave, inside which many different statues of gods are located. Depending on what one’s hopes and desires are, people put a candle or just pray near the god for success in study or work or anything else they desire. At the entrance you can also write and put up a small board, containing the inscriptions of your wishes.
Great Buddha (Kamakura Daibutsu) in Kotoku-in temple
The Great Buddha of Kamakura (“Kamakura Daibutsu” in Japanese) is located inside of the Kotoku-in temple, which can also be reached from Hase station. The entrance to the temple is 300 yen. This statue was cast in 30 separate stages, because of its enormous size. It was built in 1252, but was restored 2 times after a tidal wave in 1498 and a severe earthquake in 1923. The latest restoration was made in 1960-61. The statue is 13.35 m high and 9.10 m long (length from knee to knee). Its face is 2.35 m high, its face being 1 m. One can observe it not only from outside, but also enter inside of the bronze statue. The entrance is at the back of the statue and costs only 20 yen. This place is crowded with tourists throughout the year.
Other places to visit
If you have enough time, we recommend that you visit Egara-san Tenmangu Shrine as well, which is regarded as one of Japan’s three greatest Tenjin Shrines (the other two are in Fukuoka and Kyoto). Another shrine located within walking distance is Kamakura-gu Shrine. It is popular with Noh plays, performed in October every year. If you would also like to see the oldest temple in Kamakura, visit Sugimotodera temple. It was built 5 centuries before the Kamakura Shoganate. This place is known to be the first of the 33 pilgrimage places in the Bando area. There are 3 statues of the eleven-faced Goddess of Mercy and this place is designated as one of the Important National Cultural Properties. Jomyoji Temple is known for its Ceremonial Tea-house and Zen Rock Garden, which were restored in 1991. This temple used to be very big containing 23 temples, but today only some parts remain. Behind the main temple building, one can find Kamatari Inari Shrine, and it is believed that the name “Kamakura” was derived from the name of this shrine.
Kamakura Noh Theater
If you are interested in Japanese Noh performance, you would not want to miss this place.
Kamakura beach area
The beach area near Kamakura is crowded with visitors during the summer swimming season. Special amenities are arranged for those, resting at the beach.
Recommended food and places
The specialty food in Kamakura is called “shirasu” which is a small white fish, usually served on top of rice. One place where you can try it, is “Kamakura Wasai Yakura” – a cosy medium-budget restaurant, located just near the Kamakura station east exit.
If you would like to try even more authentic Japanese food in a special atmosphere, “Miyokawa” is the place for you. They specialize in a great variety of kaiseki – a set menu of selected traditional Japanese food. Its address is Kamakura-shi, Yuigahama 2-22-5 and it is 10 minutes walking distance from Kamakura station.
Around Kita-Kamakura station, the choice is rather limited. For Japanese food, our recommendation is “Iroha-sushi”, a small food store with a warm atmosphere.
Around Hase station, we would recommend you to try Kamakura sweet sets. There are a variety of small food shops along the road.