Tokyo is great. It is the only place where you can dress up as Sailor Moon in a crowded shopping district and no one will bat an eyelash. At least no one was giving me any problems. Tokyo is wonderful. However, sometimes you just want to get away from all the towering skyscrapers and the whole Gundam packed modern world. You want to get back to the great outdoors like John Candy, but can’t decide where to go or maybe you’re new to Japan and don’t know where to look. While a quick Google search will give you some clues, if you were to ask me for a fun and cheap idea, I’d point you no further than Kamakura.
Kamakura is one of Japan’s most popular tourist spots. It is wall-to-wall shrines, temples, shopping districts and history, and at just an hour away, it makes the perfect plan-b for those that want to experience traditional Japanese culture without footing the bill for a visit to Kyoto. In fact, Kamakura is so similar to Kyoto, that it has earned the nickname “Little Kyoto”.
As for the hiking trip, being that it is a free interest, the only thing you are really going to have to worry about paying for is the round trip from Tokyo to Kamakura. Of course this depends greatly on where you’re starting from, but assuming you are planning on taking the fastest routes to Kamakura, either by the JR Yokosuka Line or the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line, you are looking at around 890yen there and back again.
“1780yen on the train fare alone isn’t cheap!”
That’s very true. Especially since you can get to other great hiking spots, like Mt. Takao, for half the price. The fare can be a bit pricey, but you can also look into an Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass for 1430yen. This is the cheapest route for anyone wanting to travel between Tokyo and Kamakura. It also has the wonderful advantage of giving you free all day access to any of the stops between Fujisawa, Kamakura and Enoshima (an island deserving of its own article), so it can be a great option for those planning a big day. The downside is it’s also the slowest route. It adds about 30 minutes to your travel time and is more scenic than the others.
Once you’re at Kamakura, you have three famous trails to choose from: The Western Daibutsu Hiking Course, the Northern Tenen Hiking Course and the Eastern Gionyama Hiking Course. Each offers a different experience and level of difficulty. While hiking be on the look out for hidden shrines and forgotten tombs, no doubt ready to haunt your ass for intruding on sacred land because Japan is all about some haunting.
There are plenty of caves too, but you’ll have to check those out on your own because I don’t want to be eaten. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and if you plan it right, you should definitely hold out on the Eastern trail for last because it offers the best views of the coastal town at sunset.
While each trail can be completed in little over an hour, I personally like to take my time and enjoy what nature is offering me. In other words, I bruise like a banana and I’m terrified of nature, so it takes me hours of fumbling and panicking before I find my way out again.Finding the starting points of each trail is fairly easy. All are just a short walk (or bus ride if you’re lazy like me) away from Kamakura station and there are maps everywhere pointing you in the right direction. The best part is that all of them connect to some of Kamakura’s best and most well known sights. The Western trail for example, starts at the foot of Kamakura’s famous Great Buddha.
A really cool trait about the Western trail is that following it will lead you to the Café Itsuki, an open-air café terrace just sitting in the middle of the mountain offering food and drinks. I cannot tell you how surreal it is having a cute waitress bring me gourmet wieners and cola on top of a sacred mountain in Japan. I mean I’m from Arkansas. My weekends consisted of IHOP and the dollar theater. Just a heads up though, being that this is the only place at the top of the mountain where you can get water and rest without fear of being carried away by a bear, they jack up the prices (like all the cool places do). A coke was 500yen. It is a nice place to check out and maybe get a piece of cake, but it isn’t cheap. However, it is a great place to bust out on a date. Make her think you’ve dragged her out on a sweaty hiking trip and BAM! You’re suddenly Aladdin.
Be sure to read our Kamakura mega guide for more ways to have fun in the area.