Tokyo is a large and busy city and if, while you are visiting it, you desire a break from its crowds and skyscrapers then I would recommend a day trip to the nearby seaside city of Kamakura. Kamakura was the political center of Japan for 150 years centered around the 1200s when the country was ruled by a Shogun who resided here. Because of its historic significance, the city is home to numerous Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines that have been collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Getting to Kamakura
Kamakura can be reached via a local JapanRail train from Tokyo station in about an hour. Take the JR Yokosuka line which passes through Yokohama on the way to Kamakura. The cost is 920 yen one way or can be covered by your Japan Rail Pass.
When you arrive at the Kamakura train station stop at the local tourism office in the train station for one of the better tourism brochures I saw in Japan. The brochure will describe all the main temples, shrines, and other sites of Kamakura and locate them on a helpful map.
Our first stop is Tsurugaoka Hachiman-g? which is the most important Shinto Shrine in Kamakura and the heart of the city. Exit the train station and walk straight to the main street of Kamakura until you can see the large orange Tori gate of the shine in the distance off to your left. For 1000 years a ginkgo tree stood to the left of the main staircase of the shrine but fell during a storm in 2010. Many of the town festivals happen in the open area in front of the shrine. You can find numerous food stalls there.
There is a small museum inside and to the left through the entrance of the shrine with items that date back to the 1200s and the Kamakura Shogunate. The entire museum can be visited in 5-10 minutes but is worth exploring.
My recommendation for your next stop is the Hokokuji Temple and its famous and peaceful bamboo grove. The temple is located a bit to the north of the Tsurugaoka shrine and for those who don’t love walking, you might consider taking an Uber or bus to get there. If you have time, I recommend a stop for tea at the tea house on the temple grounds. The number one question people asked me when they heard I had been to this temple was “did you stop for tea?”
There are numerous other shrines and temples near the Hokokuji Temple but for a one day trip, I am going to recommend your next stop be on the other side of town. Return to the main train station and then get on the Enoden Line train and take it 3 stations to the Hase station. As you exit the station on a sunny day you can turn left to walk to the beach or turn right to get to the Hase-dera Temple. The Hase-dera Temple has a beautiful view of Kamakura and would make a lovely picnic spot.
On the grounds of the temple, one of the more unusual features is a cave that winds under the temple. The cave is filled with statues dedicated to Benzaiten, the sea goddess. The cave should be avoided by people with claustrophobia and its low ceilings were a bit challenging to someone as tall as I am.
The many tiny Jiz? statues on the temple grounds mourn children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.
Our next stop is the Great Buddha at the K?toku-in Temple. This large bronze Buddha (probably) dates back to 1252. The statue used to be housed in a large building but three different buildings were destroyed by storms in 1334, 1369, and finally in the tsunami of 1498. The statue has been outside since 1498. It used to be cover with gold. The statue was featured in the poem “The Buddha at Kamakura” by Rudyard Kipling.
For around 5 yen you can climb inside the giant statue. No, there is not a particularly great view but how often can you say that you patted the inside of Buddha’s belly. I have to say that as a tall person this was a bit more challenging to do.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine
The last shrine I recommend visiting is the Zeniarai Benten. Up the hill from the Great Buddha is this shrine that is built around a mountain spring. Tradition holds that money washed in the spring will multiply. The name zeniarai means “coin washing”. The shrine is filled with the smell of incense and with Japanese people washing their coins and paper money in the spring.
Most of Japan’s population believe in Shinto with its many shrines to a million gods and in Buddhism with the many faces of Buddha. Buddhism Temples tends to be reserved for funerals and for dealing with death. Shinto shrines tend to be where you pray for practical things like the next exam or for, in this case, your money to double.
Even if none of the history and culture that Kamakura has will attract you, this is also a beach town. You can just go down to the beach and watch the surfers try and catch a wave.
This is just a taste of Kamakura. You can’t possibly visit its many shrines and temples in a single day, but in a day, with a fair amount of walking, you can visit some of the more remarkable ones before you take a train back to Tokyo and your next adventure.
Hear more of Kamakura and my first trip there in Travel to Japan – Amateur Traveler Episode 364