Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

by Luke - TripleLights travel specialist

Japan is full of temples, and a country that still holds on to its traditional past. If you are looking to plan a day trip from Tokyo, and are seeking to soak up the beauty of temples, Japanese gardens, and to get a real feel of Zen Buddhism, then Kamakura is our recommended place for a tour. Read on for our Kamakura guide to the best ten temples in the area: 

Engaku-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Even among the Zen temples of the Kamakura Era when the samurai class flourished, Engaku-ji is a historic temple that has been ranked as the second of Kamakura’s Five Mountains. The gently-sloping vista is first-rate and the changing colors in the fall are especially splendid.

The construction of Engaku-ji began in 1278 during the Kamakura Era which was under the authority of the warrior class. At the time, the most powerful man in the nation, Tokimune Hojo, invited the Chinese monk Sogen Mugaku to establish Engaku-ji.

The origins of the temple lay in the desire to spread Zen Buddhism to the world and also to mourn for those who had died protecting the nation during the Mongol invasions. It was here that not only the Japanese soldiers who had sacrificed themselves but also the Mongol warriors who had died were mourned. Once past the Sanmon main gate which was built to make use of the small valley topography, you will face the Ohojo guest house and the Butsu-den main hall where the principal image of Buddha is enshrined as the slope gently rises. The beauty of the placement of the buildings is splendid and you can feel the breadth of the magnificent space.

Zen Buddhism was greatly supported during the Kamakura Era, and it is evident that the size of Engaku-ji reflected the size of Hojo’s largesse. Within the wide temple grounds, there are many buildings of great historic value such as a seminary for practicing monks, a similar Zen facility for laymen, and the National Treasures of Shari-den Hall and the Great Bell. The culture and art during the era was beloved for their realistic simplicity and fortitude reflective of warrior culture, so it is hoped that you will fully appreciate the texture of the simple yet beautiful construction of this old temple that retains the scent of Japan’s Middle Ages.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Engaku-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Engaku-ji Temple
Tours of Engaku-ji Temple

Hokoku-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

At the end of the 12th century, political rule by the military class took root in Kamakura and lasted until 1333. In the Kanto region at Kamakura, which was the capital city longer than Tokyo, even now retains many historical buildings giving an air of the old capital. In the background of those times, Hokoku-ji is a Zen temple belonging to the Kencho-ji school of the Rinzai sect that was built in 1334, after the demise of the Kamakura shogunate. Also known as the Bamboo Temple, it has attracted many tourists on weekends as a famous place with a beautiful bamboo garden forest.  

Once you pass the sanmon gate, head for the Hon-do main hall while viewing the beautiful moss garden. In the back, the famed bamboo grove of Hokoku-ji unfolds before you. The large grove is amazing with 2000 splendidly maintained bamboo stalks soaring up into the sky. If you walk on the narrow path along the forest, you’ll forget the hustle and bustle of the city through the chirping of small birds and the scent of the bamboo, and there will be a heartfelt serenity. There is a teahouse in the bamboo grove where you can enjoy a cup of matcha tea while leisurely looking at the garden. You will want to savor the tea as it is served on a tray made in the Kamakura-bori style, a type of traditional handicraft of Kamakura as you also enjoy it with your eyes.

Historically speaking, the Rinzai monk Tengan Eko established the teahouse Kyukoan as a place of study on the site which was the beginning for the temple, where he spent a quiet life as he indulged his taste in poetry. In addition, it was also the family temple for the Ashikaga clan. The Ashikagas were the ruling nobles in Kamakura for 90 years but were defeated in war, and with Yoshihisa Ashikaga committing ritual suicide at the temple, Hokoku-ji was the final stand for the Kanto Ashikagas before their time in history ended.  

This is a temple of the Zen world and tragic stories during troubled times. But its beauty continues to live on even with the passage of time.

Admission: ¥ 200 

Guidebook from Planetyze about Hokoku-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hokoku-ji Temple
Tours of Hokoku-ji Temple

Myohon-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura(image by flickr.com)

Myohon-ji Temple is one of the oldest Nichiren temples of Japan, alongside Kuon-ji and Ikegami Honmon-ji. Walking along the cedar-lined temple path from the gravitas-laden main gate, you will encounter Niten-mon Gate. Jikokuten and Tamonten, two of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism, are enshrined within. If you clap your hands in front of the dragon carving above at the front of the gate, there is a legend that you can hear the cry of the dragon. In back of Niten-mon, there is a plant known as the Chinese trumpet vine, and in the summer, it has splendid orange blossoms. Beyond the gate stands Soshi-do, the largest wooden structure in Kamakura.

Constructed in the Edo Era, a statue of Nichiren is enshrined there. Within the temple grounds, the Hall crabapple is one of the three main types of crabapple in Kamakura, and its pale pink flowers signify the beginnings of spring. The peak time to see the Hall crabapple is also the best time to see the weeping cherry trees in front of the main hall. The gingko trees have been designated as Natural Monuments by the city of Kamakura. During autumn, there are brilliant colors from the trees such as the maple. But the secret to the temple’s popularity is its silence. The site facing Mt. Gion has an atmosphere deep in mountains. The long temple path surrounded by mountains has an increasing stillness as you walk along it. A 10-minute walk from the station, time passes quietly such that it is hard to believe that a tragedy had taken place there. 

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Myohon-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Myohon-ji Temple
Tours of Myohon-ji Temple

Zuisen-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by flickr.com)

The Zen Buddhist monk who designed the temple, Soseki Muso, is a famed gardener who had also taken care of the gardens at temples such as Kyoto’s Saion-ji and Tenryu-ji. The wild rock garden has been designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty by the national government.

Soseki Muso was an extremely venerated monk who was called “The Teacher to Seven Emperors” as a national teacher of Zen through 7 generations of Emperors. He was also revered as a designer of gardens for many temples. At Zuisen-ji, he created the garden through sculpturing techniques by making a hill behind the main hall and a waterfall and pond halfway up the bedrock, placing a bridge where he had scooped out a part of the central island and creating a reservoir for the waterfall. Since the large hole, known as Tennyoto, and the pond had been buried in mud for a long time, the area was excavated and restored to basically its original state when it was first constructed according to old drawings. It is also said that the building of the shoin (study) garden began by being aware of the scenery to be seen from inside the building. Because a majority of the temples of Kamakura do not have gardens, the rock garden at Zuisen-ji, representing nature with only rocks and water, is well worth seeing.

As the place name “Momiji-ga-Yatsu” (Valley of Autumn Maple Leaves) would indicate, the area is known for its beautiful fall foliage. The highlight is from late November to early December when even in Kamakura, it’s fairly late for the fall colors. The whole of the temple grounds is a national Historic Site in which the temple path in superb combination with the depth of the forest, the optimally-sized grounds, and the trees making use of the mountain scenery are points of attraction. The plum trees share the same level of fame with the autumn leaves. Going past the entrance gate are lines of plum trees. With the peak time being from mid-February, there is the enjoyment of viewing Japanese allspice, the Natural Monument of winter jasmine, weeping plum, red-blossomed plum, white plum and various other types of plum blossoms.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Zuisen-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Zuisen-ji Temple
Tours of Zuisen-ji Temple

Tokei-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

In an era when women could not divorce, Tokei-ji gave refuge to many women who fled to the temple under a law allowing divorce. Currently surrounded by lush greenery, it has been given three stars in the Michelin Green Guide.

Kakusan-ni, the wife of the 8th shogun regent in the Kamakura Era, Tokimune Hojo, established the temple in 1285. The second-ranked institution in a network of five nunneries known as Amagozan, an Emperor’s daughter, a female member of the Toyotomi family and other noblewomen worked as chief priestesses at the temple. Kakusan-ni ran the temple under a divorce law through which if women suffering from spousal abuse remain at the temple for 3 years, then the marriage could be nullified. Since there were many instances in which women would seek refuge from their husbands by entering the temple, Tokei-ji was referred to as the “refuge temple” or the “divorce temple”. Countless numbers of women were saved for 500 years up to 1872 through this women’s claim to divorce. When the temple ended this role, male monks took over and spread the word of Zen as a Zen temple.

Within the temple, there is the Matsugaoka Treasury which displays the valuable assets of the temple. You can learn a variety of knowledge about the divorce temple through its history and exhibits such as the Mikudarihan, a divorce letter. From February to March every year, the customary Tokei-ji Buddhist Statue Exhibition is held. During this period, you can view without making any reservations the statue of the Suigetsu Kannon, known for its feminine beauty; usually reservations would be needed at other times of the year. Tokei-ji is known as a temple of flowers, and a variety of flowers bloom throughout the year. Especially during June when irises and conandron bloom, the teahouse Byakuren-sha is open where special seating is provided for guests who cannot normally sit in the formal seiza style during the tea ceremony. You can enjoy the flowers at leisure.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Tokei-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Tokei-ji Temple
Tours of Tokei-ji Temple

Kencho-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(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

Hasedera Temple
 Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

If you set aside time to visit Kamakura during your trip to Japan, Hasedera Temple is one of the spots that must be visited during your time in Kamakura city. The wooden carving of the Kannon Bosatsu in the main hall, also known as the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, towers at a colossal height of 9.8 meters and is the largest of its kind domestically. The eleven-faced wooden seated statue of the Kannon Bosatsu has been designated as an important cultural property in Japan. In addition to the significant cultural properties present at the temple, there is also a gazebo from where you can catch stunning views of the city and ocean of Kamakura city. Moreover, the beautiful garden with its flowers blooming all year long makes the temple a paradise. In particular, the blooms of the hydrangeas and iris flowers are considerably exquisite.

After you take the time to explore Hasedera Temple and its surroundings, you could perhaps take on the challenge of participating in the copying of sutras (shakyo) and tracing of Buddhist images (shabutsu). This activity is an everyday occurrence at the temple. The former activity refers to the copying by hand the sutras of the Buddha and similarly, the latter refers to the drawing of images of the Buddha. As you will only need to trace the rough copy of the scripture or drawing with a writing brush, there is no need to worry if you cannot write Japanese to participate in this activity. Historically, the transfer of sutras and images was practiced to reach enlightenment but in recent years and in the modern context, these two practices have risen in popularity for its relaxing effects. After finishing the copying of the sutras and images, you have the option to give your finished work as an offering to the temple.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Hasedera Temple 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hasedera Temple 
Tours of Hasedera Temple 

Ankokuron-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Ankokuron-ji is highly popular for beautiful flowers all year round even in Kamakura. Many people visit for the peach, weeping cherry blossoms and hydrangea in early spring and for the changing colors in fall. From early June, the hydrangeas in full bloom are planted all over the temple grounds, and the path to the temple from the Sanmon gate, the area in front of the main hall and even at the Nanmenkutsu cave at the rear of the temple are surrounded by colorful hydrangeas.

The unusual Myohozakura mountain cherry trees that have been designated as a Natural Monument have an age of 760 years. Even during the peak season, there are relatively few visitors so it is popular as a little-known spot. Early to mid-April is the best time to come. If you walk up the stone steps beside the Gohokutsu cave, you will reach Fujimidai, a sightseeing point where you can view the city of Kamakura, the seaside and even Mt. Fuji. Nichiren apparently read Buddhist scriptures from this point while facing Mt. Fuji. Ahead of Fujimidai, there is a mountain road among the thick forest. It’s said that whenever he felt besieged in his thatched hut, he would escape along that road and head into the back mountains. 

Admission: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Ankokuron-ji Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ankokuron-ji Temple
Tours of Ankokuron-ji Temple

Jochi-ji Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura (image by upload.wikimedia.org)

The temple was built to pray for the repose of the soul of the son of the 5th shogun during the Kamakura Era. At the arched bridge in front of the main gate, there is a well called the Kanro-no-I (Well of Sweet Dew). It is one of the Ten Wells of Kamakura whose water is reportedly as sweet as honey, thereby giving it the name, but currently it cannot be drunk. Going past the main gate, you can see the Shoromon gate. Designed in the Chinese style, it is an unusual gate that has a bell hanging on the 2nd level. Then, going beyond the Shoromon, you will see the Dongeden Buddhist temple to your right. Three wooden statues of Buddha representing the past, present and future are designated as the prefecture’s Important Cultural Properties. In the back, there is a shoin drawing room (interior is not open to the public). The straw-thatched roof is of simple design and can be enjoyed alongside the flowers of the season. Going around the shoin, the road branches off. There is a sign stating “The God of Happiness is waiting for you in the cave” and a small entrance in which once you enter, you will see a stone statue of one of the Seven Lucky Gods, Hotei-son, among the yagura tombs. It is said that rubbing his belly will bring happiness. Just 5 minutes’ walk from Kita-Kamakura Station, the temple is also the starting point for The Pilgrimage for the Seven Lucky Gods in Kamakura and Enoshima.

Jochi-ji Temple is a temple of flowers. Various flowers of many types bloom all year round. Even among these varieties, leisurely viewing the hydrangeas of Kamakura is comparatively more popular than the adjacent temple. The 120-year-old Tahitigan cherry tree has been selected as one of The Top 100 Famous Trees of Kanagawa. Beautiful yellow flowers of Japanese allspice bloom even in the winter. Even aside from the flowers, you can also see valuable examples of flora such as the Kamakura City Natural Monument of Chinese juniper and an umbrella pine that boasts a size that is tops in Kamakura.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 100

Guidebook from Planetyze about Jochi-ji Temple 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Jochi-ji Temple 
Tours of Jochi-ji Temple 

Meigetsu-in Temple

Ten of the Best Temples in Kamakura

(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

The hydrangea of Meigetsu-in are basically restricted to the ancient Japanese variety known as hime ajisai (princess hydrangea), and their blue blossoms at the beginning of June give a refined and mysterious atmosphere to the path from the main gate to the Chuumon gate. The initially light blue blossoms change into a deeper blue as the flowers enlarge. This beautiful appearance is called Meigetsu-in Blue and is greatly admired. The time that the hydrangea start blooming in conjunction with the blossoming of the irises in the rear garden behind the main hall which is only open to the public at that time is not to be missed.

The main hall has 2 gardens with a dry landscape garden in front and a rear garden. The dry landscape garden, unusual in Kamakura, is rich in seasonal colors which include cherry blossoms and azalea. The rear garden is only open in June for the irises and from late November to early December for the autumn leaves. There is a round window in the back of one room, the Satori-no-Mado, that has become synonymous with Meigetsu-in, and symbolically expresses truth and understanding through the circular shape of the cosmos. The normally inaccessible rear garden can only be seen from here. Kamakura’s largest yagura tomb is located in Meigetsu-in. With an entry width of 7m, a length of 6m and a height of 3m, it is the final resting place of Shigefusa Uesugi, the man who built Meigetsu-in, and on the wall face is carved the Buddha and the 16 Arhats (Buddhist saints). The Tsurube-no-I (Tsurube Well) is one of the Ten Wells of Kamakura (ten wells which have water of especially high quality) and its interior resembles the bulge of a water jar. It is a precious well that is being used even now.

Admission: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Meigetsu-in Temple
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Meigetsu-in Temple
Tours of Meigetsu-in Temple

 

Did you like my article?

If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Kamakura, You can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

In the TripleLights website you can find the best professional guides all over Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our local guides for Kamakura


26 Jun 2015

Plan your trip to Kamakura

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started

Recent Tour Reviews in Kamakura

“ Kamakura Historic Tour ”

Excellent
5 days ago Traveler: Gerard -   Tour Guide: Shoji

Shoji's tour of the Historic Kamakura was excelent. Being unfamiliar with traveling in Japan, Shoji picked me up from my hotel in Tokyo. We then traveled by public transport to Kamakura. He was friendly, very knowledgeable, and did his best to give me the best possible tour. It was excelent!!
read more

“ Very friendly guide ”

Very Good
6 days ago Traveler: Joel -   Tour Guide: Tomoko

We did a one day private excursion with Tomoko to Kamakura from Tokyo. The first thing we noticed is that our guide is a very friendly person by nature. Very social also. The tour was organised to perfection and she took very well care of us. We did a nice nature walk and visited some small shrines and a big one. Tomoko followed up the weather report in detail and adapted our schedule so that we c...
read more

“ Excellent tour of Kamakura! ”

Excellent
6 days ago Traveler: Julie -   Tour Guide: Junko

Junko provided a spectacular tour of Kamakura, being careful ahead of time to clarify what exact places we wanted to visit. While she had a list of suggested places, she was very open to our ideas. For example, when we requested to have lunch a particular restaurant (highly recommended on Tripadvisor), Junko made reservations for us. She was very warm and likable, organized, and helpful with pr...
read more

“ Tokyo and Kamakara ”

Excellent
1 week ago Traveler: ALFONSO -   Tour Guide: Shoko

Very good. Helpful and knowledgeable. Navigated us around efficiently. We saw a lot of interesting sights on our limited time. Highly recommended
read more

“ Kamakura 1 Day Trip ”

Very Good
1 week ago Traveler: Amanda -   Tour Guide: Yoko

My friend and I wanted to do some sightseeing outside of Tokyo during the last couple of days of our trip. After consulting with Yoko, we selected a day trip to Kamakura as Nikko would be too busy during the Kouyo (leaf changing) season. Neither of us had visited Kamakura before, so we were hoping to see some places that we couldn’t see by researching the city online prior to our visit. Yoko-...
read more

“ Polite,caring,knowledgeable, and always ready to please. ”

Excellent
2 weeks ago Traveler: Lewis -   Tour Guide: MICHIKO

We have spent five wonderful days with Michiko seeing as much of Japan as we could each day. We learned how to navigate the subway system. Michiko taught us the “ Japanese Weave “—how to move forward in the crowded underground subway corridors. That skill proved invaluable getting from point A to point B. One highlight of our various tours was a visit to the Bonsai Museum. Michiko is a member of t...
read more

“ Kamakura con Toshi ”

Excellent
2 weeks ago Traveler: CECILIO -   Tour Guide: Toshi

Un grupo de 6 amigos, 2 americanas y 4 mexicanos, pasamos un día con Toshi como nuestro guía, a fin de conocer Kamakura. El plan aprobado fue cumplido desde las 9:00 hrs hasta las 6:00 pm. Nuestra visita fue muy satisfactoria, llenándose las expectativas, por lo que lo recomendamos ampliamente.
read more

“ Tour a Kamakura ”

Very Good
2 weeks ago Traveler: Diana -   Tour Guide: Mitsuru

Tuvimos una experiencia muy agradable con Mitsuru, su español es lo suficientemente bueno para permitir una adecuada comunicación durante el tour. Se ofreció amablemente a tomar las fotos del grupo durante el día y estuvo abierto a cambiar el itinerario de acuerdo a nuestras preferencias, incluso incluyó una breve visita a Yokohama. Sin duda volvería a tomar el tour con Mitsuru y no dudo en recome...
read more

“ Excellent day in Kamakura and Enoshima ”

Excellent
4 weeks ago Traveler: Sharon -   Tour Guide: Eri

We had a wonderful day with Eri! She is so well prepared and knowledge able about the area and its history. We had a terrific time-it was just like taking a tour with a good friend. She was extremely easy to understand and communicate with. She is also flexible and willing to make additions or changes as the day progresses. You cannot go wrong if you choose her as your guide.
read more

“ Energetic, knowledgeable guide ”

Excellent
1 month ago Traveler: Larry -   Tour Guide: Takayasu

Tak could not have packed more information and sights into our day. He provides answers to every question and interjects much into the history of the Kamakura area. He is extremely personal and very energetic but carefully watched to make sure the pace he was setting was the correct one. He provided detailed information on the transportation from our hotel in Tokyo to the meeting place in Kita-K...
read more

Related cities

Plan your trip to Kamakura

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started