Kamakura is a small place about an hour outside of Tokyo. There are roughly 20 shrines in Kamakura and more than sixty temples – so it’s a town rich in history.
Leaving the extremely cute Kita-Kamakura station, cross over the road and right in front of you is the Shokozan Tokeiji Temple. It was founded in 1285 and is nicknamed ‘Divorce Temple’ because women used to have no right to ask for divorces. The Tokeiji Temple was a sanctuary for those who wanted to separate from their husbands. The temple is known for its pretty flowers and delicate blossoms on the trees; the gardens are stunningly composed. Around the back the garden fades into a forest of towering trees which grow up the hillside, patches of trees giving way to graves in the scattered cemetery.
The Daibutsu Hiking Course was a short walk away, and being not much more than 2km, it’s a gentle sort of hike. A fairly steep start taking you to the top of a hill, opening onto a popular picnic area. For 100 Yen you can try Ma Saru Ishi (negative factors in life – depart – rock) where you purchase a miniature clay plate and throw it directly onto a rock. The plate symbolizes the bad influences in your life and smashing it symbolizes getting over the problems in your life.
Not far from the picnic area there is a statue of Minamoto no Yoritomo (源 頼朝), the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate, ruling from 1192 until 1199. Down the road is the Zeniarai Benzaiten Ugafuku Jinja Shrine, where you can wash money in water. Strings of origami cranes hang from the ceiling of the water washing cave, and the air is heavy with wisps of incense.
Another walk upwards up and over the last hill before you decent towards the Daibutsu (Great Buddha). It’s the most famous landmark of Kamakura. Work began on the bronze statue in 1252 and it took about ten years to finish. It damaged by a storm in 1248, and the hall it lived in was completely destroyed, so the replacement statue was made of bronze. It is more than 13 meters tall and weighs over 90 tonnes.
Across the road from the Buddha is the Hase-dera Temple. The temple is known for its statue of Kannon. It was a lovely temple, with precisely designed gardens of rock and ponds. All around the temple were statues called Jizō statues, which are bought by parents mourning children lost in miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. The statues live at the temple for a year before being removed to clear space for more statues; it’s thought that around 50,000 Jizō statues have been put at Hase-dera since World War II. Some are small enough to nestle within your hand, the biggest were about half a meter tall.
The Kamakura hiking trail is a great mix of nature, history, beauty, and endurance. A great cultural experience and well worth a day trip.