If you are in Tokyo and want to take a day trip, then Kamakura is a great place to start. Famous for Buddhism, and packed with temples, Kamakura has a wealth of spiritual history. Shrines, mountains, beaches and caves add to the adventure, and with Kamakura being just a 50 minute train ride from Japan's capital, it makes the perfect location for a one day excursion. Here are five suggestions:
1. Meet the dragon god of Enoshima Island
(image by flickr.com)
The Iwaya caves of Enoshima, formed through wave erosion from ancient times, had been places of Buddhist training for the monks. Afterwards, the first shogun of the Kamakura Era, Yoritomo Minamoto, established Enoshima Shrine so that generations of shogun would visit it to pray. The enshrined god of water was also made to be the guardian deity for kabuki, so people of culture also visited the shrine, and gradually it developed into a resort area for the common people. Currently, not just Enoshima but the surrounding beaches and aquarium have made the area into a huge tourist spot.
There is a tourist information office once you get off at Katase-Enoshima Station on the Odakyu Express Line and cross over the bridge in front of the station. Stopping off there before walking over to Enoshima, you can obtain some useful pamphlets. When you cross over to the island via the Bentenbashi Bridge, you will encounter a bronze torii gate at the entrance. Beyond the gate, there is the path going toward Enoshima Shrine. On either side, there are souvenir shops lined up. Going up the sloped path toward the shrine and through the red torii, you will see Zuishinmon Gate which is said to resemble Ryugu-jo Castle. Enoshima Shrine is one of The Three Great Shrines of Benzaiten in Japan which have enshrined three sister goddesses. There are three shrines which are located on the island. At the very back of the island where Okutsumiya Shrine is located, walking from there for 10 minutes will bring you to the Iwaya caves. There are the First Cave (length 152m) and the Second Cave (length 56m), and with a purchase of a ticket, you can enter them by candlelight. A group of stone formations and a dragon god among other things are enshrined there. There is a mystic atmosphere to go along with the naturally-created scenery.
Admission: ¥ 1,470
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Enoshima
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Enoshima
- Tours of Enoshima
2. Enter a giant Buddha
Kamakura is famous as a summer spot where many people enjoy surfing and marine sports along the coast. With its many historical temples and shrines, it’s a place that has an abundance of nature including the hydrangeas during the rainy season. The local Enoshima Railway linking many of the tourist spots is also popular. Kamakura is one of the recommended tourist spots where you can spend a leisurely time. Also, Kamakura is the site where the Kamakura shogunate was positioned. It is a place that had an enormously important role to play in Japanese politics. The Kamakura Era lasted from 1185 to 1333, and the area has retained temples and historic sites from that time which have been protected under The Ancient Capitals Preservation Law. Kamakura is also a city that has made an effort as a tourist area which has also attracted many visitors from overseas.
The large Buddha at Kotoku-in is an attraction that tourists unfailingly take time to visit while in Kamakura. Towering at 13.35 meters and weighing 121 tons, the colossal statue is indeed worthy of its title as the seated image of Amitabha. Although the exact dates as to when it was constructed are unknown, the statue and its surrounding grounds have recently been designated as National Historical Sites. One of the appealing aspects of the statue is that you are able to enter the statue and observe the interior. You can check out many of its iron seams which are remnants of the several dozen examples of casting that the statue underwent. As a result of the surge in foreign visitors, an English website for the temple has been released.
Admission: Adult ¥ 200 / Child ¥ 150
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Great Buddha(Kotoku-in)
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Great Buddha(Kotoku-in)
- Tours of Great Buddha(Kotoku-in)
3. Go hiking in the mountains
(image by flickr.com)
To the north, east and west of Kamakura lie hills that are 50-100m in altitude. Facing the ocean is the south which has numerous valleys at the foot of the hills and there is a topography that is rich in nature. The hiking trails are ideal since there are many parks and shrines & temples. If including the walking courses, there are up to 14 model courses. There are two of them which are especially popular. One is the Tenzon hiking course which is a 3-hour course that includes Kencho-ji Temple, the No. 1 temple among the Great Five Zen Temples of Kamakura which display the temple formalities; the highest mountain in Kamakura, Mt. Ohhirayama; and Komachi-dori in front of Kamakura Station. You can simultaneously enjoy shopping along the streets of Kamakura while taking in the view of Mt. Fuji and Sagami Bay. If you have time, you should also visit Tsuruoka-Hachimangu Shrine before going shopping. The dove (hato) was made into a divine messenger and the Japanese number for eight, “hachi”, written on the gate of the main shrine has been patterned after the dove. It has also been the origin for the famous Kamakura cookie “Hato Sabure”. Regardless of the season, you can visit at any time of the year.
Another is the Daibutsu course which takes about 2 hours starting from Hase Station which has over 100 years of history as a trolley station. As a Buddhist statue, the Great Buddha at a height of 11.3m is the lone National Treasure of Kamakura. Only the Kamakura Great Buddha among the nation’s 3 Great Buddha can be entered. Even after major earthquakes, most of the Buddha has remained intact and is built to withstand collapse. Take a break at the marriage shrine, Kuzuharaoka Shrine. There are various goods related to romance such as ema votive pictures, bells, charms and omikuji fortune slips. It is outside of the course but if you have time, drop by Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine. It has one of the five famous springs in Kamakura, and it’s said that washing money in the water that gushes from the spring in the cave will multiply its value. Other courses, including one that goes by the sea and another that tours the remains of battlefields, can be hiked upon depending on your taste.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kamakura Hiking Trails
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kamakura Hiking Trails
- Tours of Kamakura Hiking Trails
4. Find peace at Japan's oldest Zen temple
(image by upload.wikimedia.org)
Kencho-ji is Japan’s oldest Zen temple which has been in existence since the 13th century. Calmly sense the world of Zen while walking through the large grounds of the solemn temple and viewing the garden of the chief priest.
Kencho-ji Temple is located between Kamakura and Kita-Kamakura Stations, surrounded by trees and nature in a quiet place. From the 12th century going into the 13th century, Kamakura was going through an age of control by the warrior and a time when learning, culture and religion were flourishing. It was in this region that numerous temples were being constructed. Among these temples, Kencho-ji is famous for being the first Zen temple in Japan to be built and is ranked the first among Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples. Tokiyori Hojo, who was the most politically powerful figure during that time, was also the founder of the temple. Hojo enthusiastically worshiped Buddhism and he tackled the still-new learning of Zen religion with a passion. At the time, he met Lanxi Daolong, a Buddhist monk who had come over from China and Hojo requested that a temple be founded, so Kencho-ji was started in 1253. Daolong admonished the practicing monks to place priority on the rituals based on strict regulations. The “Rules of Zen” are still importantly preserved as a National Treasure. Later, due to the 1293 Kamakura Earthquake and fires in 1315 and 1416, the original structures of the temple were almost all lost, but with repeated reconstruction, the temple has managed to survive and even now, Kencho-ji continues as a central presence in Zen Buddhism. There are a number of buildings upon the large temple grounds built upon the hilly mountain. Thanks to reconstruction, Japan’s first Zen temple has continued to be praised for its majesty. The placement of its structures: the outer gate, the main gate, the main hall, the lecture hall and the chief priest’s chambers were placed in a straight line as would be the case in Chinese Zen Buddhism and have been preserved in that state since the temple’s founding. In addition, the beautiful garden of the chief priest which was transported from Kyoto is a must-see. The story behind this garden is that it was designed by Soseki Muso. Muso had been behind the design of many famous gardens such as those for Kyoto’s World Heritage sites of Saiho-ji and Tenryu-ji Temples, and as a Zen Buddhist monk himself, he was known as a genius garden designer who revealed the world of Zen in his creations.
The world of Zen blossomed in Kamakura. If you have an interest in Zen, it’s recommended that you try participating in zazen (Zen meditation) sessions that are held for foreigners in English. At the sessions which last up to about 2 hours, you learn the basics from the monks of Kencho-ji after which you can experience a true zazen session. Since prior application is necessary, please check the details on the homepage for Kencho-ji before participating.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kencho-ji Temple
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kencho-ji Temple
- Tours of Kencho-ji Temple
5. Take some time out at the beach
(image by photozou.jp)
With the start of the swimming season in early July, a Shinto ritual is held at the beach to pray for marine safety. There are 3 swimming areas in Kamakura. In recent years, Yuigahama Beach has become popular for its famous restaurants, and beach houses that have been designed in collaboration with fashion brands. It has become a swimming area that even adults can enjoy.
At Zaimokusa Beach, Japan’s oldest man-made island that was built in the Kamakura Era, Wagae Island, still exists alongside. Up until the Edo Era, it had been used as a port. Designated as a National Historic Site, what little remains on the island can be checked in whole during low tide.
At Koshigoe Shore, there is a barbeque and beer garden that has an all-you-can-drink option for 150 minutes only during the summer. In the daytime, it’s a beach house while at night, it’s a bar so you can enjoy the whole day there.
Kamakura, accessible by train from Tokyo Station in 50 minutes, has been hailed by the media as the No. 1 date spot. You can take a stroll around the Kamakura area and then view the sunset by the beach so that in 1 day you will have been able to take a look at the sea, mountains and the city.
You can enjoy swimming and marine sports at Inamuragasaki. The cape that juts out from the coast is a park that has been chosen as a place of beauty in lists such as “The Top 100 Historical Parks in Japan”, “The Top 100 Views of Mt. Fuji in the Kanto Region”, and “The Top 50 Picturesque Sceneries in kanagawa Prefecture”. Mt. Fuji can be seen during good weather and it is the perfect photo spot. Also known as a beautiful place for sunsets, it has become popular with many people at that time. The sole natural hot spring in Kamakura, Inamuragasaki Onsen, is limited to adults over 18. In 2004, the hot spring was discovered by chance, and as a relatively new onsen facility, it is not that well known.