The Kamakura Mega Guide

Lily Crossley-Baxter


Whether you want a day of hiking from shrine to temple through beautiful mountains and valleys, a day at the beach or a stroll around a bustling town with its fair share of culture, Kamakura (just south of Tokyo) is perfect. A long-ago political capital alongside Nara and Kyoto, Kamakura shares many of the traditional features and is a great place to get your taste of ancient Japan if you can’t reach Kansai.

kamakura
Photo by bryan... used under CC

Once a great fortress town thanks to the surrounding mountains and open sea, it is now  thriving city filled with quaint shopping streets, stunning temples and peaceful shrines, along with the famous Buddha of course. With a history of inhabitants stretching back 10,000 years, Kamakura developed into the political capital of medieval Japan and was the site of numerous battles, mainly during the Kamakura period, which ended in 1333 with a brutal siege. The city originally had 7 entrances, also known as the seven mouths of Kamakura, but has since been opened up with roads and tunnels for a more city-like feel, and less of a battlefield stronghold. These days there is plenty to explore for everyone, but we have listed a few ideas for a great day in one of our favorite cities!

7 Top Historical Sights

Ok, so there are plenty to choose from, but these are some of the loveliest! We have divided them by the nearest station to help with planning.  If you are arriving by JR, we suggest you first stop at Kita Kamakura, then either walk the Daibutsu Trail (below) to Hase and catch the Enoden line back into Kamakura, or head to Kamakura by train and then catch the Enoden to Hase. There are plenty of ways to do it however, so choose your own adventure!

There is a multi-lingual audio guide available for a 500 yen rental fee in Kamakura—it is automatically activated when it nears a sightseeing location. If you’re keen, you can rent one from the Tourism Information Center at JR Kamakura Station, East Exit. From 9:15 – 16:30.

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Start at Kita-Kamakura Station

1. Explore the forests of Engakuji Temple

Engakuji Temple was built in 1282 to console the souls of the fallen soldiers following the second invasion attempt by the Mongols and is one of the leading Zen temples in Japan.

Engakuji Temple Kamakura
Photo by Soranyan used under CC

It stands surrounded by impressive sloping cedar forests and has a series of stunning structures leading to the main hall (the Butsuden) which houses a wooden statue of the Shaka Buddha. Beyond the hall is the Shariden; a hall which enshrines the tooth of Buddha and can only be seen from a distance for the majority of the year. There is a particularly beautiful spot by the large bell—with a tea house where you can try traditional tea and sweets. It is particularly popular in autumn as it is surrounded by beautiful autumn leaves which peak in early December.

This one day tour takes you to historical Kamakura and the historical island Enoshima by bus with an English-speaking guide. Extend your trip to Tokyo click here for details
 Suggested Activity 

Access: A few steps from Kita-Kamakura Station
Hours: 8am – 4:30pm (Closes at 4pm Dec-Feb)
Admission: 300 yen (adults) 100 yen (children)

2. Admire the gardens and grounds of Tokeiji and Jochiji Temples

Tokeiji was once known as the Divorce Temple as it offered refuge to women escaping abusive husbands and mother-in-law before women could initiate divorce. The former nunnery (now a monastery) is the only remaining one of the original network of five called the Amagozan. As well as being known for it’s pyramidal roof, it has particularly beautiful gardens with a wide variety of flowers which blossom throughout the year (list available here).

Access: 4-minute walk from Kita-kamakura Station
Hours: March-Oct 8:30am – 5pm | Nov-Feb 8:30am – 4pm  

Admission: 200 yen (adults) 100 yen (children)

Jochiji Zen Buddhist Temple is right next door and nestled in a hill-side cedar forest. Although it was badly damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake,  you can still see the three surviving wooden statues of the Buddhas of Past, Present and Future which have been designated as important cultural assets. Follow the moss-covered stairs to the beautiful bell tower and explore the grounds.



Access: 6-minute walk from Kita-kamakura Station
Hours: 9am – 4:30pm
Admission: 200 yen (adults) 100 yen (children)


Hike to Hase Station (About 60-90 minutes)

3. Marvel at the Great Daibutsu at Kotoku-in

Originally housed in a temple hall, the impressive 93-ton Amida Buddha has been out in the open air for over 500 years, sitting tall at just over 13 meters. One of the most famous icons of Japan, the Buddha is only out-sized by its counterpart in Nara, but is still stunning.

Daibutsu Kamakura
Photo by Trevor Dobson used under CC

The original statue was wooden and destroyed in a storm a few years after being finished in 1243. It’s bronze replacement was funded and finally finished ten years later, with three halls being destroyed around it over the years. Once upon a time the statue was gilded, and you can still see flecks of gold around the ears, and against the bright blue skies it makes for a very pretty picture indeed.

Access: 10 minutes from Hase Station (or take a bus from gate 6 at the JR Kamakura Station)
Hours: April – Sept 8am – 5:30pm |Oct – March 8am – 5pm | Admission to the interior of the Daibutsu 8am – 4:30pm
Admission: 200 yen (adults) 150 yen (children)



4. Explore the many mysteries of Hasedera Temple

This Jodo-sect temple is home to Japan’s tallest wooden statue: the 11-headed Kannon Goddess of Mercy and known for it’s tree-guarded entrance.

Hasedera Temple Kamakura
Photo by Takayuki Shimizu used under CC

Standing 9 meters tall and gilded, the Kannon is an impressive sight and was supposedly originally carved from the same tree as the similar statue in Nara’s Hasedera Temple. The statue is housed in the main hall, and the surrounding grounds are beautiful. The Kannon hall is next door where you can see treasures such as temple bells, statues and scrolls (entry is an additional 300 yen, some information is available in English). There is also a wooden bookcase which, if rotated, promises to give you the knowledge of all the texts within.

Built on the slope of a wooded hill, the temple has a wooden terrace that offers amazing views of Kamakura. The temple entrance is at the bottom of the slope with a pretty, traditional garden, complete with ponds and a small temple hall and cave with dozens of statues dedicated to the Goddess of Health and Beauty, the Goddess of Music and of many fearsome protectors of Buddha.

Access: 5-minute walk from Hase Station on the Enoden line.
Hours: 8am – 5:30pm (5pm  from Oct – Feb)
Admission: 300 yen (adults) 100 yen (children)

5. Enjoy the apple blossom at Kosokuji Temple

Only a few minutes from Hasedera Temple, this temple has stunning natural gardens filled with flowers and birds and offers a quiet break from the nearby crowds.  The 200-year-old crab apple tree blossoms at the same time as cherry trees and is just as beautiful. If you walk out past the cemetery you can also see an old dungeon, where five disciples of Nichiren were once held by the owner Mitsunori Yadoya who later converted to Nichiren from Zen.

Also nearby: Goryo Jinja and Jojuin Temple—both famed for their beautiful hydrangeas and Amanawa Shinmei Shrine which is thought to be the oldest in Kamakura as it was founded in 710AD.

Access: 7-minute walk from Hase Station on the Enoden line.
Hours: 7:30am – sunset
Admission: 100 yen


Catch the Enoden back to JR Kamakura Station

6. Follow the path to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

The most important shrine in Kamakura, the Tsurugaoka Hachiman is as easy to miss as it is young. With a cherry-blossom-lined pathway leading through the city centre, you will be lead straight to its bridge.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine Kamakura
Photo by Jeff Laitila used under CC

You may notice two ponds on either side of the entrance: the left pond with three islands represents the Minamoto clan while the other represents their arch enemies, the Taira clan with 4 islands (four sounding like death in Japanese). The temple was founded in 1063 before being modified and moved to its current site in 1180 by the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government, Minamoto Yoritomo. Dedicated to Hachiman, the family’s patron god, the shrine grounds feature a stage, a main hall with a terrace, a shrine museum and a secondary shrine.

Access: 10-minute walk from the East Exit of JR Kamakura Station.
Hours: (The Treasure House): 8:30am – 4pm  
Admission: The Treasure House – 200 yen (adults) 100 yen (children)

7. Relax in Hokokuji Temple (aka Bamboo Temple)

This small and unassuming temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism may seem average on first impressions, but it has a secret. Beyond the simple gate and just behind the modest main hall lies a beautiful bamboo grove, with a forest of over 2000 surrounding the picturesque tea house nestled in the grounds of the temple.

Hokokuji Kamakura
Photo by Jeff RZ used under CC

Traditional matcha and sweets can be tried for 500 yen in the tea house. Although this temple is slightly out of the way from others, it can be a great place to take a breather and escape the crowds! It takes about 20 minutes from the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and you can catch a bus back to the station after.

Access: At JR Kamakura Station, take the bus at terminal 5 to Jomyoji—from there a 2-minute walk. 
Hours: 9am – 4:30pm  
Admission: 200 yen


Shopping

Komachi Street is a major shopping street in central Kamakura, filled with souvenirs, treats and restaurants—perfect after a day of exploring the shrines and temples.

Sweets in Kamkura Komachidori
Photo by Rick Cogley used under CC

You’ll have no trouble finding it either, with the large red torii gate to your left when you leave Kamakura Station, you can follow the street straight up to Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine. Started as a market at the shrine, it now expands with myriad side streets and alleys, all offering local food and products


Hiking Trails

With this many temples, shrines mountains and valleys all so close together, it would be a shame not to make the most of them and explore the wild side of Kamakura. There are three main sections you can hike, depending on what you prefer to see and how much time you have in town.

Kamakura Hike
Photo by Randy Lane used under CC
  • The west side of town is home to the Daibutsu hiking trail which  stretches from Kita-kamakura Station, past Tokeiji and Jochiji temples, through the hills to The Great Buddha and Hasedera, taking about 1-1.5 hours to complete.The Gionyama Trail is the shortest of the three and takes only about half an hour to complete. It begins nearby Kamakura Station at the Myohonji Temple and leads to the Yagumo Shrine and the Harakiri Yagura (cave tombs) as well as lovely views of the city.
  • The Tenen Trail starts at Kenchoji and curves around the northern hills, past Shishimai Valley and ends at Zuisenji, taking about 1-1.5hrs to finish. There are more tombs along the way and plenty of chances to see beautiful autumnal leaves if you happen to be there in fall.

Beaches

Yuigahama and Zaimokuza are two of Kamakura’s most popular sandy beaches and can be enjoyed by sunbathers, swimmers and surfers alike! Since they are some of the closest to Tokyo and Yokohama, they do get very busy during beach season (July to August) and there will be a lot of people on the 1-km stretch of sand. There are plenty of cafes, shops and rental spots for swimming gear too!

Enoshima is a holiday island with some of the closest beaches to Tokyo as well as shrines, aquariums and even caves, so there’s something for everyone. It has so much to offer we gave it it’s own guide!


Festivals

While Kamakura has plenty to keep you busy on a regular day, it is never better than during a festival. The streets are lined with stalls, busy crowds and great displays make it a lively and exciting experience and there are plenty to see:

Yabusame Kamakura
Photo by Yuki Shimazu used under CC

January 4th – Chona-hajimeshiki:
A festival to celebrate the beginning of the working year for local construction workers who use traditional tools for the ceremony at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine.

April (2nd Sunday to the 3rd) – Kamakura Matsuri 
A week of events celebrating the city and its history.

May 5th – Kusajishi
Archers in samurai outfits fire arrows at straw deer while reciting old poems at the Kamakura Shrine.

August 10th: Summer fireworks
An hour-long fireworks display at Yuigihama Beach

September 14th-16th: Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Reitaisai
A famous festival featuring horseback archery.


Transport and Passes

Depending on your exact starting point, getting down to Kamakura from Tokyo takes about an hour and costs between 500 – 900yen each way. Cheapo tip: if you’re travelling from Shibuya, rather than the JR Shonan Shinjuku line, you can save a few yen using the Toyoko line: Shibuya, Tokyu Toyoko Line -> Change at Yokohama: JR Yokosuka Line -> Kamakura.

The city is so lovely, even the train is part of the experience! The Enoden electric railway was founded on Christmas day in 1900 and has kept every inch of its old-fashioned charm. Popular in anime, manga and tv dramas, it adds a touch of nostalgia—be it from your childhood reading or the blackpool trams. There are plenty of buses as well as the JR line, so if you don’t fancy walking, you will still be able to see plenty of sights!

Enoden
Photo by Square(tea) used under CC

The Enoden Line (The Enoshima Electric Line)

Many stations are unmanned and tickets can be bought from vending machines. If you are unable to buy one in time, you can purchase one from the on-board conductor. Pasmo and Suica cards can also be used!

Travel Pass: The Kamakura Free Kankyo Tegata

With this pass you can ride as much as you like on the 5 bus routes that run through Kamakura as well as the Enoden Line (within a certain radius). The ticket costs 550 yen for adults and 280 yen for children and can be bought at tourist information centers at Kamakura Station, Enoden Kamakura (east exit), Hase Station, Shonan Keikyu bus station and from certain locations in town (Engakuji Souveneir shop, Kitakamakura Old Private House Museum, Tamagoya Shoten Shop).

  • Train:
    • Enoden Line: From Kamakura Station to Hase Station.
  • Bus:
    • Kamakura Sta. East Exit Bus Terminal No.2—Kitakamakura Sta.
    • Kamakura Sta. East Exit Bus Terminal No.4—Daitonomiya
    • Kamakura Sta. East Exit Bus Terminal No.5—Jomyoji
    • Kamakura Sta. East Exit Bus Terminal No.1, 6—Daibutsumae
    • Kamakura Sta. East Exit Bus Terminal No.3—Nagoe

For general bus tickets, take a numbered ticket as you board and then simply pay the amount signified on the board above the exit as you leave.

Location Map:


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