Kamakura, with its rich history, beautiful nature and numerous mystical spots, is potentially the most unique place in Japan. The city offers so much to see and do in every season, that once you’ve arrived, you may never want to leave. Kamakura is located about 50 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, and is easily accesible by train. If you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and experience something unique, Kamakura is an excellent choice! Listed below are some of the best things Kamakura has to offer:
Most people who have thought of visiting Kamakura want to go there to see the Great Buddha statue (or Kamakura Daibutsu in Japanese). You can find this famous work of art at the Kotoku-in temple. This bronze statue stands at over 13 meters and has quite a long history. The Great Buddha is believed to have been built in 1252 (during the Kamakura period) and if you go to visit it, you can read about the details of its construction. Many structures were built over time to house the Buddha, but they were all destroyed by storms and in the 1400s, a tsunami. Since the disaster, the Buddha has been out in the open. You are, of course, free to take pictures in front of the statue and for an extra 20 yen, you can take a tour of the inside! You can check the hours and fees on the Kotoku-in website.
On the subject of temples, there are plenty to visit in Kamakura! The two most interesting to most non-Japanese would probably be: Hase-dera, a temple famous for its Kannon statue with beautiful views of Kamakura and Hokokuji, a temple with a stunning bamboo garden.
Hase-dera is most well known for its wooden statue of Kannon, a Buddhist deity. The statue is 9 meters tall and is gilded in gold. In addition to the magnificent statue, you can find gorgeous gates and halls, a breathtaking view over Sagami bay, and even a cave that houses some statues of its own.
Hokokuji is less known for its statues than it is for its bamboo garden. This temple is even nicknamed “the Bamboo Temple”. The garden even has a teahouse within it that tourists often visit!
If you would like to see the Shinto traditions of Japan mixed with those of Buddhism, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a wonderful place to visit. Though it was built in a Buddhist style and used to include a Buddhist temple in addition to its many smaller shrines, it is the most important Shinto shrine in the city. There are numerous torii gates and buildings that make up this site. What is particularly interesting at this shrine are the displays of traditional Japanese history that you can watch. For example, you can see the two forms of Japanese archery practiced there – kyudo and yabusame (archery on horseback).
Kamakura is famous for having an abundance of hydrangea (ajisai) that bloom in the rainy season. You can view them at Meigetsu-in (famously nicknamed the Ajisai Temple), Hasedera or in many other parts of the city. If you would prefer to stay out of the rain to enjoy nature, Kamakura is a beautiful place to visit during the fall. At that time of year, the city is covered with trees with bright red and orange leaves. The colorful leaves at Kotoku-in are particularly beautiful at night! If you’re more active, Kamakura has several hiking trails as well, that allow you to hike around the grounds of the numerous shrines and temples in the city’s hills.
If you want to visit in the summer and get acquainted with the beach, Kamakura won’t disappoint! Yuigahama is quite close to the Great Buddha and is great for swimming or surfing in the summer. Its views can be enjoyed at any time of year, however, as you can catch some beautiful sunsets or lookout in the distance and see Enoshima and Mount Fuji!
You might be wondering how to get around Kamakura. Well, there happens to be a very quaint and enjoyable railway starting at Kamakura station and finishing at Fujisawa station. The Enoshima Electric Railway, or Enoden, has small, green trains whose retro appearance make this line rather popular with tourists. Along this line, you can stop at stations in several interesting areas including Inamuragasaki, Hase, Kamakura, and Kitakamakura.
There are many choices for what and where to eat anywhere in Kamakura. The city has plenty of restaurants as well as cafes with great atmospheres! Being close to the water, Kamakura is famous for its seafood, particularly shirasu (or whitebait). If you are in an adventurous mood and would like to try some shirasu-don, you can experience it at Shirasuya, just 3 minutes from Koshigoe station! If you’re not a seafood or even traditional Japanese food kind of person, there are several French and Italian restaurants in the area including Dolce far niente near Kamakura station. They should still have plenty of shirasu handy should your traveling buddy want to try some.
There you have it! The essential Kamakura experience. If you get the chance, you’ll definitely want to enjoy the many charms of this historic city. For more information, you can visit the Kamakura City Tourist Association website.