Kamakura, known as ‘the Kyoto of Kanto region’ is a coastal town located in the Kanagawa prefecture. One of the most popular day trips from Tokyo, Kamakura is an easy hour’s train ride away from the bustling metropolis.
As soon as you step foot off the train at Kamakura Station, you’re likely to see a steady flow of people towards one of the city’s main shrines, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. At the same time, they will be ducking into kimono rental shops to don traditional garb for their stroll among the shrines, or savoring a sweet treat of ice cream and mochi acquired at one of the many street food vendors and cafes that line the thoroughfares adjacent to the station.
This is just the beginning of all there is to explore in Kamakura, a much-beloved seaside haven for tourists and locals alike.
A Bit of History
Kamakura often draws comparisons to Kyoto on account of its similar history as a former capital of Japan, and center of much military and political activity.
It was here that the Hōjō clan governed as regents of the Kamakura shogunate, shaping the course of Japanese history by helping to expel Mongol invaders during the late 13th century, and shepherding the growth of Zen Buddhism in this region of eastern Japan. Though the clan’s influence would eventually dwindle and Kamakura’s importance as a holdfast would wax and wane through the centuries, it remained a significant cultural center in Kanto.
The Kamakura travelers can explore today is the product of ancient settlement, Hōjō and Kamakura shogunate prestige, and tumultuous periods of violent dispute through the Edo period. When the Meiji restoration came around, Kamakura had become a place of some renown, and had an established mystique to it for the very reasons that people still visit: the seaside beauty, the tranquility of adjacent mountains, and its historical repute.
The Character of Kamakura
Awash in the sunshine of Sagami bay, Kamakura draws the most tourists at very similar times as other hotspots in Japan. The spring sakura blooms and autumn colors bring with them the driest and most moderate weather, so the streets are abuzz with those coming to admire nature’s display.
If you don’t mind a bit of rain, the rainy season in the middle of summer from June to July is when the less-hyped (though still quite popular) hydrangeas bloom. This makes for a wonderful, slightly off-peak time to pass through Kamakura. The temples and gardens take on a moody, mystical character in the rain that might just inspire you more than when they’re bright and bustling with crowds.
Stay for a day with good visibility and from Enoshima island, a 25-minute side-trip from Kamakura via a quaint electric train that runs along the coast, you can get views of Mt. Fuji looming on the distant western horizon.
Once the sun sets, settle into any number of seafood restaurants or yakitori spots to rub shoulders with the locals and enjoy a drink after a long day of exploring the winding streets. If all of this sounds inviting, you can choose to hop down here from Tokyo like many other visitors or extend your visit to a few days.
The Great Buddha
The Great Buddha is a bronze statue of Amitabha Buddha and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kamakura, located at the Kotoku-in Temple. Originally built in 1252 and standing at 37 feet (11 meters) tall, it’s the second largest Buddha statue in Japan. Fun fact: you can enter from inside the Buddha!
The Great Buddha is a mere 5–10 minute walk from Hase Station, three stops from Kamakura Station on the Enoden line.
The Hasedera Temple complex has a giant statue of Kannon (the goddess of mercy), and is located on the top of a hill in Kamakura city, just a five-minute walk from Hase Station just down Endo Line from Kamakura Station. It’s hilltop position means it has a spectacular view of the city and Sagami Bay.
The busiest time for the temple is during the rainy season in June and July. During this period, the hydrangeas are in full bloom, and the temple also holds the Ajisai Matsuri (Hydrangea Festival) during the rainy season. If you’re a flower lover, you might want to check out the blooms in Fukuoka too.
Nestled within the hills in eastern Kamakura, the Hokokuji Temple is a small zen temple famous for its dense bamboo garden, comprising around 2,000 bamboo trees and a teahouse that offers traditional tea ceremonies. The Hokokuji temple was built during the Muromachi period and was the family temple of the then-ruling Ashikaga Clan. It later became the family temple of the Uesugi Clan.
The temple is only a short walk from Jomyoji bus stop, which you can reach in 10 minutes from Kamakura bus station on bus number 23. Otherwise, it’s roughly a 30–40 minute walk from Kamakura Station.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Famous for its red torii front gate and its main hall, Tsurugaoka is easily the most popular shrine in Kamakura. This sanctum was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063 on a completely different site, and was moved to its current location by Minamoto Yoritomo (who founded the Kamakura government) in 1180.
Though it is a Shinto shrine, the massive influence of Japanese Buddhist traditions, including Zen, Nichiren, and Tendai, is apparent in its design and layout.
During Hatsumoude (New Year’s first visit) between 1 and 3 January, the shrine sees almost two million visitors. Between April and September, yabusame (horseback archery) is performed on the main walkway towards the shrine.
Besides the shrine itself, there is a sub-shrine for the deity Inari with a cascade of torii gates. The sakura and torii-lined 1.1 mile (1.8 kilometer) approach is called Wakamiya Oji, and extends all the past the Kamakura Station and the stump of the great ginkgo tree that stood here for more than 1,000 years, and on to the ocean.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine
The Zeniarai Benten Shrine is believed by many to make worshippers rich when they wash their money using the spring water from the shrine. Although it’s position between Kita Kamakura and Kamakura Station means there isn’t any public transport available from these stations, time and distance will pass quickly on the 20- to 30-minute walk.
This shrine is a rare living example of the fusion between Buddhism and Shinto, as many other shrines were made to remove their Buddhist connections when the Meiji government was determined to separate Shinto from Buddhism from 1868 onwards.
Komachi Street is a shopper’s hub next to Kamakura Station that stretches towards Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, this street has the best places to eat and shop in the area.
Venturing towards the south coast in Kamakura city, you’ll find Yuigahama Beach, one of the best bathing beaches in Japan. stretching across 3.2 kilometers.
This 2-mile (3.2-kilometer) beach can easily be reached with a 20 minute walk from Kamakura Station. The summer months sees the beach being very crowded with beach houses serving drinks and food.
If you can extend your trip slightly from Kamakura, visiting Enoshima Island is most definitely worth it. This little island has beautiful shrines, an observatory and many shops and restaurants. There’s also the Enoshima Aquarium near the island too.
The shrine buildings dotted around the island are dedicated to Benten, goddess of good fortune, wealth, music and knowledge. It is believed that Benten created Enoshima before vanquishing a five headed dragon who was taking over the area.
Taking only 20 minutes by train, you can access Enoshima from Kamakura Station.
This is the first of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples, and the oldest in the area. A quick 15-minute walk from either Kamakura Station or the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, visitors will be welcomed by the sight of the Bonsho (temple bell), which has been labelled a national treasure, on arrival.
Built during the Kencho Era under the ruling Hojo Tokiyori, Kenchō-ji consists of many temple buildings and subtemples that dot the land, starting from the entrance gate by the bottom of the valley and into the forestry behind.
Finding Calm and Hiking in Kamakura
People have long come to Kamakura to set out on their own path and live a more peaceful or bohemian lifestyle, but the seaside is not the only place to do this. Kamakura is surrounded by steep mountains full of forested groves and small caves where monks and magistrates alike have come to find serenity.
In the northern hills of the city, you can begin the Ten-en hiking course at Zuisen-ji temple and complete the approximately 90-minute trek at Kencho-ji up to the observation deck to view Mt. Fuji on days with a clear view.
To the south of the Ten-en entrance at Zuisen-ji, there are two other Buddhist temples steeped in history and with unique settings that will instantly transport you back in time. Sugimotodera Buddhist Temple is a small and ancient site said to date to the 700s. With moss-covered stairs at its approach that certainly help stake that claim. Flanked by dense vegetation, flags adorned with calligraphy, and small statues, it’s worth the visit if you have extra time in Kamakura.
Colorful and Quaint, Kamakura Awaits You
From worldly cafes with fresh-baked croissants to welcoming izakayas, sushi restaurants, and tea houses, kimono rental shops to matcha ice cream spots, to ancient history and hidden gems, Kamakura is a delightful destination that is perfect for the day-trip from Tokyo or for longer, more languorous visits spent in reflection among Zen gardens and atop hilly vistas.
Whether you want to know more about the Land of the Rising Sun’s great outdoors or life in its big cities, our Japan Travel Guide will show you all you need to know.
This content was created in partnership with the Japan National Tourism Organization and Japan Airlines.