Kamakura is a nice seaside town with a relaxed atmosphere. Hard to believe it was the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura shogunate, from 1185 to 1333. It is a very popular destination among Tokyoites for its beaches, lively center and many temples. It is the perfect place to take a day off from Tokyo's stress.
Kamakura is a very popular day trip from Tokyo for locals and tourists alike, and there are plenty of transportation options.
From Narita Airport, the fastest and most expensive way to reach Kamakura is to take the Narita Express in the direction of Yokohama or Ofuna, and then change to the JR Yokosuka line for the run to Kamakura. This takes approximately 2 hours and costs ¥4500, although for foreigners the one-way cost can be brought down to ¥1500 by purchasing a N'EX Tokyo Direct Ticket (From March 2015 this ticket will only be sold in a round-trip version for ¥4000). It may be more convenient to change to the Yokosuka Line at intermediate stations, where it is as simple as a same-platform or cross-platform transfer: If the Narita Express terminates at Yokohama, change at Musashi-Kosugi; if it terminates at Ofuna, change at Totsuka.
Regular JR commuter trains depart Narita Airport once per hour: some trains offer one-seat rides to Kamakura station, or else change at wherever the train terminates to the next train bound for Zushi, Yokosuka or Kurihama (About 2 1/2 hours, ¥2210). These trains offer a ¥950 Green Car seating upgrade; Green cars feature more comfortable seats and a drink and snack service.
From Haneda Airport, take any Keikyu Line Airport Express (エアポート急行) train bound for Shin-Zushi or Kanazawa-Bunko, and change at Yokohama station for the JR Yokosuka line (One hour, ¥800).
If you plan on staying at a Ryokan it may be a good idea, unless your plane lands in the morning, to spend your first evening in Tokyo or Yokohama, or else you might miss out on (and be charged for) dinner at the ryokan, or worse, you may be locked out of (and be charged for) your room at the ryokan's curfew time, if there is one. If you plan to stay at a budget accommodation, check to see whether or not it has a curfew time.
The fastest way to Kamakura Station is by JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station (one hour, ¥920) or Yokohama (25 minutes, ¥330). The JR Kamakura-Enoshima Pass gets you a round trip in this area with unlimited use of JR, Enoden and Shonan Monorail lines. You can buy the ticket at Ofuna, Fujisawa, Kamakura or Kita-Kamakura Station.
An alternative is to take the private Odakyu line from Shinjuku to Fujisawa, then change onto the rattling old Enoden (江ノ電) half-train/half-streetcar line that terminates in Kamakura. The longer (about 90-minute) travel time is compensated for by views of Enoshima island and the Shonan coast. The Enoshima-Kamakura Free Pass will get you a roundtrip from Shinjuku (or other Odakyu, Seibu and Sotetsu stations) and unlimited use of the Enoden line for one day.
Kamakura is just a little too big to cover on foot, but a network of buses radiates out from the train station. Kotokuin and Hasedera can also be reached by taking the Enoden line three stops out to Hase station. Another option is to rent a bicycle for your tour.
Nevertheless, for the energetic ones, there is a nice hike starting from Jōchiiji temple and ending near the Kōtokuin. You will walk, with some climbing, through forest. The hike also passes through Zeniarai Benten Shrine, if you are curious about the money washing ceremony. The hike takes about 3 hours, if you also stop and visit the temples along the way. Even in summer, the shade on the path manages to keep the temperature bearable. If you are on a day-trip, doing the hike limits a bit the chances of visiting some of the less reachable temples. An easy way to get to Jōchiiji temple is to take the JR Line train from Kamakura station to Kitakamakura Station where the temple can be found by exiting the station, turning left and walking 500m up the road. The walk starts to the left of the temple and you are not required to pay the 200yen entrance fee to the temple to start the hike.
Bicycles can be rented from several locations, though rates are expensive.
- 1 Kamakura Rental Cycles (鎌倉レンタサイクル店), 小町１丁目１ (Take the east exit of JR Kamakura Station and go 50m south.), ☏ . 8:30AM-5PM daily, closed Jan 1-3. This rental shop has standard Japanese bicycles for rent, including battery-assisted bikes. 1 hour ¥800, additional hours ¥250 each; bicycles with batteries extra.
Kamakura's sights are scattered around the city. Most visitors make a beeline for the Great Buddha and stop off at Hase Kannon on the way; these sights can be very crowded on weekends and holidays.
- 1 Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine (鶴岡八幡宮), ☏ . 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). Just a bit 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 (舞殿) 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 Hachimangū. A large portion of the site is not wheelchair accessible.
- 2 Myohonji Temple (妙本寺), ☏ . The cemetery contains the grave of the creator of Ultraman, a popular 1960s tv show. Fans who visit the grave place toy Ultraman action figures on his grave.
Western Kamakura (Hase)
The following sights are in western Kamakura, mostly near the Enoden Hase station.
- 3 Kōtokuin (高徳院), ☏ . 7AM-5:30PM. Home of the famous Great Buddha (大仏 Daibutsu), a bronze statue of Amida that at 13.35 meters is the second largest bronze statue in Japan (second only to that in Nara's Todaiji). 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. Entrance to temple ¥200, entrance to inside of Buddha statue ¥20.
- 4 Hasedera (長谷寺), ☏ . This temple, also called "Hase Kannon", is home to the largest wooden statue in Japan, representing Buddhist deity Kannon. An interesting if somewhat claustrophobic grotto on the grounds is filled with statues of Benzaiten. ¥300.
- 5 Zeniarai Benten Shrine (銭洗い弁天), ☏ . 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.
- Kenchōji (建長寺). The temple is the first of Kamakura's Five Zen Temples, being the oldest in Kamakura (built 1253) and among the oldest in all of Japan. The temple bell has been designated a National Treasure. Also prized is the Zen garden on the grounds.
- Engakuji (円覚寺). The temple is ranked second among Kamakura's Five Zen Temples, founded in 1282 to commemorate soldiers who fell fighting the Mongol invasion the previous year. The Shariden on the temple grounds houses a holy relic, reputed to be a tooth of the Buddha. Atop a nearby hill is the bell tower and the tea house famous for its tokoroten (sweet cold noodles) — an acquired taste to overseas visitors as many would find the dish salty and slimy.
- Tōkeiji. (東慶寺). Originally established as a nunnery, the temple was famous during the feudal era for sheltering abused women, fleeing their families. It thus earned the nickname "Kakekomidera" (the fugitive temple). Those who remained at the temple for three years could then obtain a divorce. Tōkeiji's large atmospheric graveyard and blooming ume (Japanese plum) are also major attractions.
- Meigetsuin (明月院). The temple is nicknamed the "Hydrangea Temple" with the surrounding grounds amply planted with the flowers. The temple is also renown for the grave of Hojo Tokiyori, approached by a tunnel, the largest of its type in Japan. It is a 10-minute walk from JR Kita-Kamakura Station. The temple is open 09:00 to 16:00. Cost of admission: 300 yen.
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 (浄妙寺). Sample tea ceremony on the cheap here with a ¥500 cup of matcha tea in the gardens.
- Sugimotodera (杉本寺). Located on a tranquil hillside, the temple is accessed by a newer stone stairway to the left of the even steeper, original steps, well-worn by countless pilgrims through the ages. The altitude affords sweeping views of the town. The temple holds the title as the oldest temple in Kamakura, having been founded in 734. Among its treasures is the eleven-faced statue of Kannon.
- Shakado Kiritoshi (釈迦堂切り通し). Fifteen min walk from Sugimotodera. As Kamakura is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth, the town was easily defended in times of unrest, but the geography also left the town cut-off from neighboring valleys. A network of narrow roads were cut through the mountains, providing the connections but keeping the site defensible. The Shakado Kiritoshi (pass) is one of the roads cut through solid rock. It remains impressive even by today's standards. Unfortunately it has been impassable since April 2010 due to a large rockslide.
- Hōkokuji (報国寺). Notable for its lovely bamboo grove. You can get matcha here too.
- Taya Cavern (田谷の洞窟, Taya no Dookutsu), Josenji Temple, Sakae-ku, Taya-machi 1501 (Take the JR Yokosuka Line two stops north of Kamakura to Ofuna Station; take a bus bound for Totsuka Bus Center; after about 8 minutes, get off at Dookutsu-mae bus stop; the temple is just to the right of the large radon spa building), ☏ . 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. Adults ¥400, HS/JHS students ¥200, children ¥100.
Near Taya Cavern, there are some other attractions to see.
- Suenosato, Taya-machi 1483 (A short walk up the hill to the left of the radon spa building.), ☏ . 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. M-F ¥600, Sa Sun ¥700.
- Fueda Park (Keihinkyuko bus from Kamakura station to Fueda). This park has a baseball field, 4 tennis courts and a large multipurpose field. Sports equipment is available for rental. A soccer ball, basketball, or tennis racket costs 100 yen for 2 hours. 4 Gloves, 2 bats and 4 balls cost 3000 yen per 2 hours including the field charge. Also, many people enjoy walking, jogging or riding around the park seeing the nice scenery. As this park is located at the high spot, you can enjoy nice views of Mt.Fuji and the sea.
Kamakura has several hiking trails that can provide relief from the crowds at the more popular shrines and temples. The Daibutsu hiking course starts a few hundred meters down the road from Kōtokuin. The trail has several offshoots that lead to various small shrines and temples. If it has rained recently, the trail could be muddy and there are several steep sections.
From Tokyo, an option is to get off the train at Kita-Kamakura and hike down to the city center or to the Great Buddha via the hills.
Kamakura is not just a historical city which has a lot of temples, shrines, and other historical buildings — there are also some popular beaches in Kamakura. You can feel the atmosphere of the Shonan Coast in the bright sunshine and have a good time there, especially in summer.
- 1 Yuigahama (由比ヶ浜) (Several hundred meters south of Yuigahama Station.). This is a representative beach in Kamakura, so many people visit in summer to enjoy the sea-bathing there. It is also a spot for a good view of the firework display held in summer. Kamakura is famous for aquatic fireworks. (Just remember when walking along this beach that it was not so long ago that a lot of dismembered heads buried in and near the sand were found. The heads were very old, from an era when Japan was not such a friendly place). On the far right side, you can see small wooden boats that fishermen carry to top of the beach. You can rent windsurfs and stand up paddle boards at the very right end of the beach. There are several surf rental shops, and one full-day rental with board and wetsuit included usually starts from 5000¥, half-days are available but not much cheaper.
- 2 Inamuragasaki (稲村ヶ崎) (A one minute walk S from Inamuragasaki Station.). This is also a famous beach. The Inamuragasaki Park (稲村ガ崎公園 Inamuragasaki Kōen) is located there and is well known for its sunsets. The film "Inamura Jane" (稲村ジェーン), directed by Keisuke Kuwata, was set there. The remains of the Hojo, Kamakura's government, was destroyed there in 1333. It follows along National Road 134.
- 3 Shichirigahama (七里ヶ浜) (Several hundred yards SE of Shichirigahama Station.). This is also a famous beach in Kamakura. Unfortunately, swimming is prohibited. But it's still a good beach to relax and have an enjoyable time. Many surfers enjoy surfing there.
Kamakura is famous for a biscuit called Hatosabure (鳩サブレー), a biscuit shaped like a pigeon. Sold next to Kamakura station and a very popular omiyage (souvenir) among the Japanese.
Alternatively, combine good taste with bad taste by purchasing a pack of Giant Buddha shaped pastries stuffed with red bean paste, sold at the souvenir stands in and near Kotokuin.
There are a large number of places to eat in the vicinity of the train station. For a snack, try the local specialty, purple potato soft ice cream (murasaki-imo sofuto), which tastes much better than it sounds (or looks). It is made from the purple sweet potato found throughout Japan.
In Komachi street, there is a rice cracker (senbei) shop where you can toast your own senbei. One cracker costs about ¥200.
- Horutohausu Husako. Café famous for its cheesecake.
- Kamakurayama Roast Beef. Famous for its roast beef. It's very fashionable, so can't wear rough clothes like jeans or short pants. Reservation is always needed and the cost is high at this restaurant.
- Raitei, Fueda. Soba restaurant. More expensive than other places, but delicious.
- 1 Saryo Inoue (茶寮いの上), 1-4-4 Komachi, ☏ . Tu-Su 10AM-6PM, open on Monday if it's a holiday. The set lunches of traditional Japanese food served here complement the historic atmosphere in Kamakura. Second-floor restaurant has a decent view and is in the plaza on the east side of the Kamakura station. English menus available. ¥800-1200.
During the summer months, many temporary bars are set up on the beach due south from the train station, some of them feature live bands and DJ's and it's generally a very good atmosphere. And don't miss the last train home if you are staying in Tokyo, last minute accommodation late in the evening is simply not an option during the busy summer months.
Most visitors daytrip from Tokyo, but there is a pretty good selection of accommodation if you want to spend the night.
- 1 Sotetsu Fresa Inn Kamakura Ofuna (1 min from JR Ofuna Station.), ☏ . Very comfortable. Most low cost ¥7400, Internet reservation ¥6500.
- 2 Kamejikan Guest House, 3-17-21 Zaimokuza, ☏ . Wonderful helpful staff English-speaking and delicious coffee shop. Quiet and a stroll away from the beach. ¥3500 and up.
Pick up a useful map of the temples and suggested walking routes from Kamakura station's tourist information office before you head out.
- 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.
|Routes through Kamakura|
|Shizuoka ← Fujisawa ←||W E||→ Yokohama → Tokyo|
|Yokosuka ← Zushi ←||S E||→ Yokohama → Tokyo|
|Fujisawa ← Enoshima ←||W E||→ END|
|Chigasaki ← Fujisawa ←||W E||→ Zushi → Yokosuka → Miura|