This is the first article of the series “Kamakura through time” written by Storyteller Yokosuka-With-Love. With Kamakura being host to over 100 temples, shrines, and other historic sites, this series guides you through the history of Kamakura while presenting some of the significant sites for travelers to visit.
Read more articles of the series “Kamakura through time”
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Buddhism was first introduced to Japan in 538 AD, changing the course of religion, architecture, and culture in Japan for centuries to come. This addition of Buddhism to the already animistic Shinto in Japan made an already creative culture blossom to new heights. Kamakura, a cultural and religious hub of Kanagawa Prefecture, was greatly influenced by Buddhist culture and it’s apparent in the presence of over 50 temples in the area. Right before the Kamakura period (1185-1333) was the Heian period, when the Japanese imperial court reigned supreme. While many of the temples in Kamakura came to be during its namesake period, some important and beautiful temples were constructed before or during the Heian period (794-1185).
Listed below are some of the significant temples sorted according to the year they were constructed in.
Sugimotodera Temple (杉本寺) (734 AD)
Sugimotodera is the oldest temple in Kamakura and the first stop in the Bando 33 Kannon Pilgrimage (坂東三十三観音). Dated at 734 AD, Sugimotodera is a beloved spot of historians and pilgrims funded by the Emperor Shōmu (聖武天皇). Another special aspect of the temple is that you can get very close to the multiple eleven-headed Kannon statues. As you walk up the first set of stairs, you pay a small fee at the admission booth, and continue up the stairs. The original stairs are no longer in use, covered in moss and worn by time. Although they show their age, they are beautiful with the prayer flags lining them.
Take the left staircase and you will reach the temple at the top. You are welcome to enter the main hall of the temple, where the tatami mats are (don’t forget to take off your shoes!). At the admission booth, there is an English and a Japanese pamphlet to read more on the temple, and the multiple mythoi surrounding it.
- Admission fee: ¥200
- Hours: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
- Website: https://www.city.kamakura.kanagawa.jp/visitkamakura/en/places-to-go/temples/sugimotodera.html
- Address: 903 Nikaido, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0002
Hasedera Temple (長谷寺) (736 AD)
The second oldest temple is off the Enoden Line (江ノ電) on Hase Station. In June, you can follow the line of hydrangeas in bloom up to the main temple, but first, don’t forget the admission ticket at the gate. The 9.18m Kannon statue in the main temple is compelling and according to legend, the statue was carved 1,300 years ago from a sacred tree.
Nestled inside the side of the mountain, Hasedera has the best observation spots of Kamakura and the beach. The temple grounds have a number of various shrines, temples, a small cave, a pond, gardens, and even some food. Every month of the year, there are flowers in bloom, so take time to appreciate them as you walk through the grounds.
After your first meeting of Kannon, if you are still curious, for an extra fee you can walk through the attached museum. Always stop at the info booth after entering to get a free pamphlet offered in many languages!
- Admission fee: ¥300
- Hours: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
- Website: http://www.hasedera.jp/en/
- Address: 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016
Goryo Jinja Shrine (御霊神社) (794-1184 AD)
After walking with my husband for quite some time, we finally made it to the Goryo Jinja Shrine. Another hydrangea viewing spot, the picturesque shrine is hidden within a residential neighborhood. Being a shrine to one of Kamakura’s Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin, 七福神), Fukurokuju (福禄寿), it is also known for its connection with the samurai warlord Kamakura Gongoro Kagemasa (鎌倉権五郎景正)!
Kagemasa was shot in battle by an arrow in the eye, and he took revenge with an arrow aimed at the same man. This all happened when he was 16 and in his first war campaign. This legend extended into the Edo period, when this shrine grew to be famous for healing various eye diseases. In front of the shrine, there are two large stones weighing 105kg and 60kg rumored to have been the great samurai’s ‘playthings’. It is to show that he was a man of great strength, tossing boulders like toys. A good photography spot is by the main torii gate, where you can wait for the scenic Enoden train to come by.
- Admission fee: Free
- Hours: Daylight hours
- Website: http://www.kamakurainfo.net/modules/myalbum/viewcat.php?cid=111
- Address: 4-9 Sakanoshita, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0021
If you have the chance to wander from Hasedera, then I would suggest stopping at Kamakura Hase Coffee & Galette for a cup of coffee and a savory (or sweet!) galette. Quiet, friendly, and above a historical street, it’s a good place to warm up or cool down after a long day. Enjoy their seasonal desserts, as well as their cakes, tarts, and – my personal favorite – affogato.
- Hours: 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
- Website: http://www.kamakura-hase-coffee.com/
- Address: Chang’s 566 2F, 3-1-16 Hase, Kamaura-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016