What to see in Kamakura, Japan
- Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. The largest Shinto shrine in otherwise almost solidly Buddhist Kamakura, built by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) founder of the Kamakura Shogunate and the first Shogun in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333). About 1km north of the station, this shrine attracts a million visitors on New Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year (Japan Rail runs trains all night long). If you’re lucky, you may see a traditional wedding going on in the plaza in front of the main shrine. The Ritual Dance Stage is the spot where Yoritomo forced the hunted Yoshitsune’s Lady Shizuka to perform a dance for him. Rather than celebrating Yoritomo, Lady Shizuka’s dance expressed her love for Yoshitsune and her sorrow at his plight. This event is commemorated during the Kamakura Festival in April. Twice each year, in the spring and fall, you can watch demonstrations of Yabusame (archery from galloping horseback, in full samurai regalia) at Hachiman-gu.
- Myohonji Temple. The cemetery contains the grave of Eiji Tsuburaya, the creator of Ultraman (a popular 1960s tv show whose sequels are still running) and a pioneer in Japanese science-fiction shows. Fans who visit the grave place toy Ultraman action figures on Tsuburaya’s grave.
Western Kamakura (Hase)
- Kōtokuin. 7AM-5:30PM. Home of the famous Great Buddha(Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that at 13.35 meters is the third largest in Japan (after the Buddha’s in Katsuyama and Nara). Thought to be cast in 1252, the statue was originally housed in a giant temple hall, but the building was washed away in a tsunami.
- Hasedera. This temple, also called “Hase Kannon”, is home to the largest wooden statue in Japan, representing Buddhist deity Kannon. There is an excellent view over the bay from the Observation platform. An interesting if somewhat claustrophobic grotto on the grounds is filled with statues of Benzaiten.
- Zeniarai Benten Shrine. An atmospheric shrine in the hills dedicated to the deity Benzaiten, but popularly named after the most common activity: according to legend, any money (zeni) washed (arai) in the cave here will be doubled. You can also purchase o-mamori (protective charm) and have a kannushi (shinto priest) strike sparks from a flint over it to increase its power. It is about a kilometer away from Kamakura station. As there is no direct bus service, those in a hurry should take a taxi. Otherwise, the undemanding 20-minute stroll gives pleasant views of residential areas with quiet gardens. The shrine itself is reached via a long, but well-illuminated tunnel bored right through the rock. The hill above, Genjiyama, has a park with excellent views over the city. It is also a popular place for viewing the cherry blossoms in early spring. From here you can reach the hiking trail running from Tokeiji to the Kōtokuin.
The artist Isamu Noguchi lived and created ceramics in Kita (North) Kamakura in 1952.
- Engakuji. Number two of Kamakura’s Five Zen Temples, founded in 1282 to commemorate soldiers who fell fighting off the Mongol invasion the previous year. The Sharidenbuilding on the grounds is reputed to contain one of the teeth of the Buddha. Atop a hill near the temple is the temple’s large bell and next to it a teahouse famous for its tokoroten (sweet cold noodles).
- Kenchōji. Number one of Kamakura’s Five Zen Temples, the oldest in Kamakura (built 1253) and one of the oldest in all Japan. The temple bell here too has been designated a National Treasure, and there’s a nice Zen garden as well.
- Tōkeiji. A nunnery famous in the feudal days for sheltering abused women, who could obtain a divorce by staying here for three years. Has a large and atmospheric graveyard. Also called “Kakekomidera” (the fugitive temple), and famous for its ume (Japanese plum).
- Meigetsuin. A lot of hydrangeas are planted in the precincts, and it is called “Hydrangea Temple.” On the other hand, it is known for the grave of Hojo Tokiyori and the Meigetsuin Temple tower that assumed to be the biggest in tunnel type grave. It takes 10 minutes on foot from JR Kita-Kamakura Station. It is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
The temples of eastern Kamakura lie off the beaten tourist track and are for that very reason worth a visit. While you can reach these on foot, it’s probably wiser to take a bus as there’s still a fair bit of climbing to do just to get around the temples.
- Jōmyōji. Sample tea ceremony with a cup of matcha tea in the gardens.
- Sugimotodera. Tranquil hillside temple with a newer stone stairway to the left of the even steeper, worn-out original one, and views over the town. The oldest temple in Kamakura, founded 734. Eleven-faced statue of Kannon.
- Shakado Kiritoshi. Fifteen min walk from Sugimoto Kannon. Kamakura is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. Very narrow roads were cut through the mountains, to make for easy defense. The Shakado Kiritoshi (pass) is cut through solid rock, and very impressive even today. Unfortunately it has been impassable since April 2010 due to a large rockfall.
- Hōkokuji. Notable for its lovely bamboo grove. You can get matcha here too.
- Taya Cavern(Taya no Dookutsu), Josenji Temple, Sakae-ku, Taya-machi 1501. Daily 9AM-4:30PM. This is actually in Yokohama, but is closer to Kamakura both geographically and historically. From about the year 1200 to 1700, Shingon Buddhist monks gradually excavated this underground maze of tunnels as a site for spiritual training. You will be given a candle which you slip onto a wooden holder outside the entrance, and light at the candle inside the doorway. Damp, silent corridors lead to small, domed meditation chambers with walls and ceilings carved with fantastic creatures and Buddhist images, and on down to the spring room with a great turtle and birds carved on the walls. A small flashlight would be useful to see the images that candlelight doesn’t reach.
- Suenosato, Taya-machi 1483. A studio displaying beautiful and expensive handcrafted pottery and glassware that range from whimsical to Wabi-sabi.
- Yukai Sokai Taya, Taya-machi 1463 (Exit the cavern temple and turn left along the road.). daily 10AM-3AM. A spa housed in a building with the large neon character for bath on the roof.
- Enoshima, just 10 kilometers away at the other end of the Enoden line, is a popular beach for beginner surfers. Local shops along the beach offer lessons and bars and restaurants provide a surfing “scene” at which to hang out. The surf here is not considered to be as high quality as in Kyushu or Okinawa, or even Chiba.
- Odawara— houses the only Japanese castle in greater Tokyo area