Kamakura (鎌倉市) is a small city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Kamakura is popular for its dozens of unique temples as well as its beaches with a relaxed atmosphere.
Evidence shows human settlement in Kamakura at least 10,000 years ago. Kamakura was the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate, from 1185 to 1333. On July 3, 1333, the reign of the Hōjō clan ended with the Siege of Kamakura. It is estimated that over 6,000 people committed suicide on that day. In 1956, 556 skeletons of people that died violently around that time were found.
After the Tokugawa clan moved the capital to present-day Tokyo, Kamakura continued its decline to become a mere fishing village. By 1910, the population had declined to 7,250 people.
Kamakura sustained significant damage during the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923.
Kamakura is 56km south of Tokyo and 27km south of Yokohama. It is usually visited as a day trip from Tokyo, sometimes along with Yokohama.
Narita Airport is 123km northeast of Kamakura.
N'EX Tokyo Round-Trip Ticket is the cheapest way for foreigners to travel from Narita Airport to cities in the greater Tokyo region. The ticket costs ¥4,000. JR commuter trains depart Narita Airport in the direction of Yokohama or Ofuna once per hour. Some trains offer direct service to Kamakura station, otherwise change at wherever the train terminates to the next train bound for Zushi, Yokosuka or Kurihama (About 2 1/2 hours, ¥2,210). These trains offer a Green Car seating upgrade for ¥950. Green cars have more comfortable seats and a drink and snack service.
From Haneda Airport, take any Keikyu Line Airport Express (エアポート急行) train bound for Shin-Zushi or Kanazawa-Bunko, and change at Yokohama station for the JR Yokosuka line (One hour, ¥800).
Accommodation is usually cheaper in Tokyo and it may be worthwhile to spend a night in Tokyo before traveling to Kamakura.
The fastest way to Kamakura Station is by JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station (one hour, ¥920) or Yokohama (25 minutes, ¥330). The JR Kamakura-Enoshima Pass gets you a round trip in this area with unlimited use of JR, Enoden and Shonan Monorail lines. You can buy the ticket at Ofuna, Fujisawa, Kamakura or Kita-Kamakura Station.
An 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 terminates in Kamakura (90 minutes total). The longer travel time is compensated for by views of Enoshima island and the Shonan coast. The Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass will get you a roundtrip from Shinjuku (or other Odakyu, Seibu and Sotetsu stations) and unlimited use of the Enoden line for one day.
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. Another option is to rent a bicycle.
For the energetic ones, there is a nice hike starting from Jōchiiji temple 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. If you are on a day-trip, doing the hike limits a bit the chances of visiting some of the less reachable temples. An easy way to get to Jōchiiji temple is to take the JR Line train from Kamakura station to Kitakamakura Station where the temple can be found by exiting the station, turning left and walking 500m up the road. The walk starts to the left of the temple and you are not required to pay the ¥200 entrance fee to the temple to start the hike.
Bicycles can be rented from several locations, though rates are expensive.
- Kamakura Rental Cycles (鎌倉レンタサイクル店), 小町１丁目１ (Take the east exit of JR Kamakura Station and go 50m south.), ☎ +81 467-24-2319. 8:30AM-5PM daily, closed Jan 1-3. This rental shop has standard Japanese bicycles for rent, including battery-assisted bikes. 1 hour ¥800, additional hours ¥250 each; bicycles with batteries extra. (35.318544,139.550816) edit
- Rental MTB, . High-end bicycle rental. ¥2,000-3,000/day. edit
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. The Tourist Information office outside the East exit of the station gives out an English map with popular recommended routes including a 4-hour hiking route.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine
- 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). About 1km 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. edit
- Myohonji Temple (妙本寺). The cemetery contains the grave of Eiji Tsuburaya, the creator of Ultraman (a popular 1960s tv show whose sequels are still running) and a pioneer in Japanese science-fiction shows. Fans who visit the grave place toy Ultraman action figures on Tsuburaya's grave. edit
Western Kamakura (Hase)
The following sights are in western Kamakura, mostly near the Enoden Hase station.
- Kōtokuin (高徳院). 7AM-5:30PM. Home of the famous Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that at 13.35 meters is the third largest in Japan (after the Buddha's in Katsuyama and Nara). Thought to be cast in 1252, the statue was originally housed in a giant temple hall, but the building was washed away in a tsunami. Entrance to temple ¥200, entrance to inside of Buddha statue ¥20. edit
- Hasedera (長谷寺), . This temple, also called "Hase Kannon", is home to the largest wooden statue in Japan, representing Buddhist deity Kannon. There is an excellent view over the bay from the Observation platform. An interesting if somewhat claustrophobic grotto on the grounds is filled with statues of Benzaiten. ¥300. edit
- 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 Kōtokuin. edit
The artist Isamu Noguchi lived and created ceramics in Kita (North) Kamakura in 1952.
- 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).
- 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) . 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 ume (Japanese plum).
- Meigetsuin (明月院). A lot of hydrangeas are planted in the precincts, and it is called "Hydrangea Temple." On the other hand, it is known for the grave of Hojo Tokiyori and the Meigetsuin Temple tower that assumed to be the biggest in tunnel type grave. It takes 10 minutes on foot from JR Kita-Kamakura Station. It is open from 9 am to 4 pm. ¥300.
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. Unfortunately it has been impassable since April 2010 due to a large rockfall.
- Hōkokuji (報国寺). Notable for its lovely bamboo grove. You can get matcha here too.
- Taya Cavern (Taya no Dookutsu), Josenji Temple, Sakae-ku, Taya-machi 1501 (Take the JR Yokosuka Line two stops north of Kamakura to Ofuna Station; take a bus bound for Totsuka Bus Center; after about 8 minutes, get off at Dookutsu-mae bus stop; the temple is just to the right of the (site of the recently demolished) large radon spa building), ☎ +81 45 851-2392. Daily 9AM-4:30PM. This is actually in Yokohama, but is closer to Kamakura both geographically and historically. From about the year 1200 to 1700, Shingon Buddhist monks gradually excavated this underground maze of tunnels as a site for spiritual training. You will be given a candle which you slip onto a wooden holder outside the entrance, and light at the candle inside the doorway. Damp, silent corridors lead to small, domed meditation chambers with walls and ceilings carved with fantastic creatures and Buddhist images, and on down to the spring room with a great turtle and birds carved on the walls. A small flashlight would be useful to see the images that candlelight doesn't reach. Adults ¥400, HS/JHS students ¥200, children ¥100. edit
Near Taya Cavern, there are some other attractions:
- Suenosato, Taya-machi 1483 (A short walk up the hill to the left of the [site of the recently demolished] radon spa building.), ☎ +81 45 851-8855. A studio displaying beautiful and expensive handcrafted pottery and glassware that range from whimsical to Wabi-sabi. edit
- Yukai Sokai Taya, Taya-machi 1463 (Exit the cavern temple and turn left along the road.), ☎ +81 045 854-2641. daily 10AM-3AM. A spa housed in a building with the large neon character for bath on the roof. M-F ¥600, Sa Sun ¥700. edit
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.
An exceptionally clear view of Mount Fuji
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). This is a representative beach in Kamakura, so many people visit in summer to enjoy the sea-bathing there. It is also a spot for a good view of the firework display held in summer. Kamakura is famous for aquatic fireworks. (Just remember when walking along this beach that it was not so long ago that a lot of dismembered heads buried in and near the sand were found. The heads were very old, from an era when Japan was not such a friendly place). edit
- Inamuragasaki (稲村ヶ崎). This is also a famous beach. The Inamuragasaki Park (稲村ガ崎公園 Inamuragasaki Kōen) is located there and is well known for its sunsets. The film "Inamura Jane" (稲村ジェーン), directed by Keisuke Kuwata, was set there. The remains of the Hojo, Kamakura's government, was destroyed there in 1333. It follows along National Road 134. edit
- Shichirigahama (七里ヶ浜). This is also a famous beach in Kamakura. Unfortunately, swimming is prohibited. But it's still a good beach to relax and have an enjoyable time. Many surfers enjoy surfing there. edit
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.
There are many places to eat near 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). It is made from the purple sweet potato found throughout Japan.
In Komachi street, there is a rice cracker (o-senbei) shop where you can toast your own o-senbei. One cracker costs about ¥200.
- Saryo Inoue (茶寮いの上), 1-4-4 Komachi, ☎ +81 467-23-3112. Tu-Su 10AM-6PM, open on Monday if it's a holiday. 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 available. ¥800-1,200. edit
- Kamakurayama Roast Beef, 3-11-1 Kamakurayama, ☎ +81-467-31-5454, . Fashionable. Dress nicely. Reservation is recommended. edit
During the summer months, many temporary bars are set up on the beach due south from the train station, some of them feature live bands and DJ's and it's generally a very good atmosphere. And don't miss the last train home if you are staying in Tokyo, last minute accommodation late in the evening is simply not an option during the busy summer months.
Most people visit Kamakura as a day trip 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), . The owners have strict rules. All guests must leave the hotel between 10AM and 4PM. Members: ¥3,000; Non-members: ¥4,000; Breakfast ¥300; Dinner: ¥700. edit
- Kamejikan Guest House, 3-17-21 Zaimokuza, kamakura-city, ☎ +81 467251166, . Wonderful helpful staff english speaking and delicious coffeshop. Quiet and a stroll away from the beach. From ¥3,500. edit
- Sotetsu FRESA INN Kamakura Ofuna, (1 min from JR Ofuna station), ☎ +81 467 42-2031, . Near the Ofuna station business hotel. Very comfortable. ¥6,500 if booked online. edit
- Kamakura Prince Hotel, 1 Chome-2-18, ☎ +81 467-32-1111, . edit
Pick up a useful map of the temples and suggested walking routes from Kamakura station's tourist information office before you head out.
- Enoshima, just 10 kilometers away at the other end of the Enoden line, is a popular beach for beginner surfers. Local shops along the beach offer lessons and bars and restaurants provide a surfing "scene" at which to hang out. The surf here is not considered to be as high quality as in Kyushu or Okinawa, or even Chiba.
- Odawara — houses the only Japanese castle in greater Tokyo area
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