Kamakura is a tourist spot for foreigners and Japanese alike. Nestled just southwest of Tokyo in the Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura is home to over 50 Buddhist temples and over a dozen shinto shrines. With religion, culture, beaches, and so many more avenues of fun, it’s hard to narrow down what to do if you are only there for a day. While I intend on doing a deeper dive into Kamakura, this is a quick trip from Tokyo where you can fit in the best sights in the space of a day.
Kamakura Station and Tsurugaoka Hachimangū
From the Kamakura Station East Exit, you can either go up the main road down with the giant torii (鳥居) gates or the smaller road with the smaller torii gates. Either one is full of different experiences. If you take the main center street, you will take a pathway between the main roads and come up to Kamakura’s pride and joy – Tsurugaoka Hachimangū (鶴岡八幡宮).
Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is an Edo-style shrine that dates back to 1063, and falls not only in the cultural but geographical center of Kamakura City. It’s beautiful red shrine sits atop a hill and when you reach the top, you can turn and look behind you at the grounds. While Shrine is no longer Buddhist, the grounds do accentuate the Buddhist history of the shared space of the two religions – Shinto and Buddhism. The shrine is far more than just a beauty mark in Kamakura. There are coffee shops, beautiful peony gardens (seasonal), dōjō (道場), two museums, and various festivals. Twice a year archery from horseback is performed on the grounds – yabusame (流鏑馬). Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is a beautiful spot throughout all the seasons, but my personal favorites are the autumn with the leaves, and the spring peonies.
Hase Station and Hasedera
Upon your return to Kamakura Station, you will take the Enoden line down to Hase Station. Hase Station is farther out into the western portion of Kamakura, and when you leave the station you will take a right down the main road. From there follow the signs to the next important site in Kamakura – Hasedera (長谷寺). A temple that seems to be missed by many foreigners, but is worth the visit.
Nestled into the mountainside Hasedera is a Buddhist temple full of history, breathtaking views, and religion. The grounds of the temple have different flowers that bloom every month of the year, and a schedule of when they bloom on their website. In the main temple itself, Kannon-do (観音堂) Hall, is quiet and heavily scented with incense as you walk up to the “Eleven-headed Kannon” (十一面観音). Legend is the statue was carved out of a single sacred tree, leaving the statue to stand at 9.18 meters tall. The Eleven-headed Kannon is one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan, and as you walk in she towers over you and renders you to silence. As with many temples and shrines, be respectful and quiet to those praying and do not take any photos within the temple. The Kannon museum is near the exit of the temple with a small admission fee. Kannon is not the only force that pulls people to Hasedera for there are various smaller temples, a cave, a cafe, a restaurant, an observation point for the sea, one shrine, a karesansui (枯山水) (Zen) garden, and an information desk for you to get maps/pamphlets in English.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
It is impossible to discuss Kamakura without discussing one of the most impressive statues – Kamakura Daibutsu (鎌倉大仏). After taking a left down the main road by Hasedera, you will come up to Kotoku-in (高徳院) by following the flags of the Buddha’s face on the road. The bronze statue of the sitting buddha (from base to top 13.35m) dates from 1252 and the maker is still unknown to this day. Being unique to many buddhist statues of this size, it is left to the open air and all of the elements that come with it. On cooler days, I encourage spending the extra yen to see the interior of the great statue, but when it is hot be warned that it is very hot within the statue. With stone monuments and commemorative trees from around the world, please take the time at the end of your day to explore the grounds at a leisurely pace and enjoy their two stores.
Kamakura Station is roughly an hour from Shinagawa Station by the JR lines.
- Website: http://www.tsurugaoka-hachimangu.jp/
- Admission: No fee
- Hours: 6:00 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.
- Address: 2-1-31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-8588
- Website: http://www.hasedera.jp/en/
- Admission: 300 yen
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m
- Address: 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016
The Great Buddha (Kotoku-in)
- Website: http://www.kotoku-in.jp/en/
- Admission: 200 yen
- Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
- Address: 4-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016