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Great Buddha of Kotokuin
Great Buddha of Kotokuin

Kamakura (鎌倉) [1] is a small town to the south of Tokyo, Japan.


[edit] Understand

It's hard to believe that this quiet little town with its many temples was the capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate, from 1185 to 1333.

[edit] Get in

Kamakura is a very popular day trip from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike, and there are plenty of transportation options.

[edit] By train

The fastest way in is by JR Yokosuka Line from Yokohama or Tokyo Station (55 minutes from the latter, ¥890). The JR Kamakura-Enoshima Free Kippu (¥1,110 from Yokohama, ¥1,970 from Tokyo) gets you a round trip to/from Kamakura (local trains only) plus unlimited use of Enoden and Shonan Monorail lines.

A cheaper alternative is to take the private Odakyu line from Shinjuku to Fujisawa, then change onto the rattling old Enoden (江ノ電) half-train/half-streetcar line that connects Kamakura to Enoshima. This takes closer to an hour and a half though. The Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass (¥1,430) will get you a roundtrip from Shinjuku and unlimited use of the Enoden line for one day.

[edit] Get around

Kamakura is just a little too big to cover on foot, but a network of buses radiates out from the train station. Kotokuin and Hasedera can also be reached by taking the Enoden line three stops out to Hase station.

Nevertheless, for the energetic ones, there is a nice hike starting from the Tōkeiji and ending near the Kōtokuin. You will walk, with some climbing, through forest. The hike also passes through Zeniarai Benten Shrine, if you are curious about the money washing ceremony. The hike takes about 3 hours, if you also stop and visit the temples along the way. Even in Summer, the shade on the path manages to keep the temperature bearable (you still are in Japan in Summer, anyway!). If you are on a day-trip, doing the hike of course limits a bit the chances of visiting some of the less reachable temples.

[edit] See

Kamakura's sights are scattered around the city. Most visitors make a beeline for the Great Buddha and stop off at Hase Kannon on the way; these sights can be very crowded on weekends and holidays.

[edit] Central Kamakura

  • Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine (鶴岡八幡宮). The largest Shinto shrine in otherwise almost solidly Buddhist Kamakura, built by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) founder of the Kamakura Shogunate and the first Shogun in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). Just a bit north of the station, this shrine attracts a million visitors on New Year's Day to see the first sunrise of the year (Japan Rail runs trains all night long). If you're lucky, you may see a traditional wedding going on in the plaza in front of the main shrine. The Ritual Dance Stage (舞殿) is the spot where Yoritomo forced the hunted Yoshitsune's Lady Shizuka to perform a dance for him. Rather than celebrating Yoritomo, Lady Shizuka's dance expressed her love for Yoshitsune and her sorrow at his plight. This event is commemorated during the Kamakura Festival in April. Twice each year, in the spring and fall, you can watch demonstrations of Yabusame (archery from galloping horseback, in full samurai regalia) at Hachiman-gu.
  • Myohonji Temple (妙本寺). The cemetery contains the grave of the creator of Ultraman, a popular 1960s tv show. Fans who visit the grave place toy Ultraman action figures on his grave.

[edit] Western Kamakura (Hase)

The following sights are in western Kamakura, mostly near the Enoden Hase station.

  • Kōtokuin (高徳院). Home of the famous Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that at 13.35 meters is the second largest in Japan (second only to that in Nara's Todaiji). Thought to be cast in 1252, the statue was originally housed in a giant temple hall, but the building was washed away in a tidal wave. Entry to temple grounds is ¥200, while an additional ¥20 will allow you inside the statue itself where you can take in the view from the statue's back, open 7 AM to 5:30 PM daily.
  • Hasedera (長谷寺), also Hase Kannon [2]. Home to the largest wooden statue in Japan, representing Buddhist deity Kannon. An interesting if somewhat claustrophobic grotto on the grounds is filled with statues of Benzaiten. Entry ¥300.
  • Zeniarai Benten Shrine (銭洗い弁天). An atmospheric shrine in the hills dedicated to the deity Benzaiten, but popularly named after the most common activity: according to legend, any money (zeni) washed (arai) in the cave here will be doubled. You can also purchase o-mamori (protective charm) and have a kannushi (shinto priest) strike sparks from a flint over it to increase its power. It is about a kilometer away from Kamakura station. As there is no direct bus service, those in a hurry should take a taxi. Otherwise, the undemanding 20-minute stroll gives pleasant views of residential areas with quiet gardens. The shrine itself is reached via a long, but well-illuminated tunnel bored right through the rock. The hill above, Genjiyama, has a park with excellent views over the city. It is also a popular place for viewing the cherry blossoms in early spring. From here you can reach the hiking trail running from Tokeiji to the Kōtokuin133.127.68.253 04:41, 3 April 2007 (EDT).

[edit] North Kamakura

The following temples are near JR Kitakamakura station.

  • Engakuji (円覚寺). Number two of Kamakura's Five Zen Temples, founded in 1282 to commemorate soldiers who fell fighting off the Mongol invasion the previous year. The Shariden building on the grounds is reputed to contain one of the teeth of the Buddha. Atop a hill near the temple is the temple's large bell and next to it a teahouse famous for its tokoroten (sweet cold noodles) — although foreigners tasting this peculiarly salty and slimy concoction may wonder why.
  • Kenchōji (建長寺). Number one of Kamakura's Five Zen Temples, the oldest in Kamakura (built 1253) and one of the oldest in all Japan. The temple bell here too has been designated a National Treasure, and there's a nice Zen garden as well.
  • Tōkeiji (東慶寺) [3]. A nunnery famous in the feudal days for sheltering abused women, who could obtain a divorce by staying here for three years. Has a large and atmospheric graveyard. Also called "Kakekomidera" (the fugitive temple), and famous for its hydrangeas.
  • The artist Isamu Noguchi lived and created ceramics in Kita (North) Kamakura in 1952.

[edit] East Kamakura

The temples of eastern Kamakura lie off the beaten tourist track and are for that very reason worth a visit. While you can reach these on foot, it's probably wiser to take a bus as there's still a fair bit of climbing to do just to get around the temples.

  • Jōmyōji (浄妙寺). Sample tea ceremony on the cheap here with a ¥500 cup of matcha tea in the gardens.
  • Sugimotodera (杉本寺). Tranquil hillside temple with a newer stone stairway to the left of the even steeper, worn-out original one, and views over the town. The oldest temple in Kamakura, founded 734. Eleven-faced statue of Kannon.
  • Shakado Kiritoshi (釈迦堂切り通し). Fifteen min walk from Sugimoto Kannon. Kamakura is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. Very narrow roads were cut through the mountains, to make for easy defense. The Shakado Kiritoshi (pass) is cut through solid rock, and very impressive even today.
  • Hōkokuji (報国寺). Notable for its lovely bamboo grove. You can get matcha here too.

[edit] Do

[edit] Hiking

Kamakura has several hiking trails that can provide relief from the crowds at the more popular shrines and temples. The Daibutsu hiking course starts a few hundred meters down the road from Kōtokuin. The trail has several offshoots that lead to various small shrines and temples. If it has rained recently, the trail could be muddy and there are several steep sections.

[edit] Beaches

Mt Fuji viewed from Shichirigihama Beach
Mt Fuji viewed from Shichirigihama Beach

Kamakura is not just a historical city which has a lot of temples, shrines, and other historical buildings — there are also some popular beaches in Kamakura. You can feel the atmosphere of the Shonan Coast in the bright sunshine and have a good time there, especially in summer.

  • Yuigahama (由比ヶ浜) is a representative beach in Kamakura. So many people visit here in summer. You can enjoy the sea-bathing here too. This is also a good spot to have a good sight of Kamakura firework display held in summer.

You can see fireworks in summer. Kamakura is famous for aquatic fireworks.

  • Inamuragasaki(稲村ヶ崎) is also a famous beach. The Inamuragasaki Park (稲村ガ崎公園 Inamuragasaki Kōen) is located here and is well known for its sunsets. The film "Inamura Jane" (稲村ジェーン), directed by Keisuke Kuwata, was set here.
  • Shichirigahama (七里ヶ浜) is also a famous beach in Kamakura. Sad to say, you can not swim here. But it's still a good beach to relax and have a good time. Many surfers enjoy surfing here.

[edit] Buy

Kamakura is famous for a biscuit called Hatosabure (鳩サブレー), a biscuit shaped like a pigeon. Sold next to Kamakura station and a very popular omiyage (souvenir) among the Japanese.

Alternatively, combine good taste with bad taste by purchasing a pack of Giant Buddha shaped pastries stuffed with red bean paste, sold at the souvenir stands in and near Kotokuin.

[edit] Eat

There are a large number of places to eat in the vicinity of the train station. For a snack, try the local specialty, purple potato soft ice cream (murasaki-imo sofuto), which tastes much better than it sounds (or looks).

In Komachi street, there is a rice cracker (o-senbei) shop where you can toast your own o-senbei. One cracker costs about 200 yen.

  • Saryo Inoue (茶寮いの上), : 1-4-4 Komachi, : 0467-23-3112. Open 10 AM to 6 PM, closed non-holiday Mondays. The set lunches of traditional Japanese food served here complement the historic atmosphere in Kamakura. Second-floor restaurant has a decent view and is in the plaza on the east side of the Kamakura station. English menus. ¥800-1200

[edit] Drink

[edit] Sleep

Most visitors daytrip from Tokyo, but there is a pretty good selection of accommodation if you want to spend the night.

  • Kamakura-Hase Youth Hostel (3 min from Enoden Hase station), Website: http://www.jyh.or.jp/english/kanto/hase/. As a word of warning, the owners of the guest house are very strict towards upholding their rules. ¥3200/4000 member/non-member

[edit] Contact

Pick up a useful map of the temples from Kamakura station's tourist information office before you head out.

[edit] Get out

  • Enoshima, just 10 kilometers away at the other end of the Enoden line, is the closest Japan gets to a California surfer scene and a complete change of pace and lifestyle.
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