Kamakura Travel Guide

Kamakura Travel Guide

By CarolUpdated Sep. 8, 2021

Kamakura is a city located in the southern part of Kanagawa Prefecture. It is one of the most popular cities in Kanagawa Prefecture, visited by tourists as a day-trip because of its close distance from Tokyo. It is located about 50 km (31 miles) south-southwest of Tokyo.

It is the city of the Great Buddha, of many old temples and shrines which are in harmony with nature, and the city of tales of Samurai because it is the first city in Japan to have had a government controlled by the Samurai. It is surrounded by ocean and mountains, packed with many other traditional Japanese charms.

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Highlights

  • Kamakura-shi in Kanagawa Prefecture is, needless to say, a well-known tourist attraction.
  • Take the JR Yokosuka Line if you are coming from Tokyo, and it takes around 55 minutes to arrive.
  • Hokokuji Temple is said to be built around 1334 and is most famous for the spectacular bamboo garden, located near the main temple hall.
  • Hasedera Temple is notable for its bell, which has been deemed an Important Cultural Property.
  • The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine was dedicated to the Minamoto clan deity, Hachiman.

Travel to Kamakura

Kamakura, a city about one hour south of Tokyo, is rich in history and in beautiful landscape. Surrounded by mountains in the north, east and west of the city, Kamakura is also a hotspot for hikers. Add the beautiful beaches on the Sagami Bay into the picture, and Kamakura makes the perfect destination to escape from the hype and vibes of Tokyo.

Even if you are time-strapped, a day-trip to Kamakura from Tokyo will suffice. The city is also filled with numerous famous temples and shrines such as Hasedera Temple, the Great Buddha, Hokokuji Temple and many more.

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Top Attractions in Kamakura

Kamakura is a city immersed in history. Having once been a political center of Japan, it has its own share of unique shrines and temples, local traditions and stories to interest a curious traveler. Below are some of the most iconic places you need to see while visiting Kamakura.

Hasedera Temple

This is a beautiful temple, located on a hillside overlooking the ocean. The best part of Hasedera is seeing the hundreds of small statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva that line the walkways up the hillside. The Hasedera Temple has been well known as a famous spot for viewing hydrangea. There is an observation trail at the temple site, where you can view over 40 types and exceeding a total of 2500 hydrangea flowers.

Great Buddha (Daibutsu)

The Great Buddha, at Kotokuin Temple, is Kamakura’s most popular attraction. Also called Daibutsu, with a height of 11.3 meters and sitting in open air, it is indeed one of the greatest Buddha statues in Japan. It is the second tallest in the country.

The Buddha, first built with raised funds, was actually a wooden statue that was eventually destroyed in a storm. Its replacement, the present bronze one, was cast in 1252. It was originally housed in a large hall, but the hall was damaged by a storm in 1369, then washed away completely by a tidal wave in 1495. It has been in its present exposed position since then.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

This is the most important shrine in Kamakura. Its extensive grounds contain a number of sub-shrines and several museums. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine occupies a very large area and is characterized by a grandiose geometrical layout (based on geomancy) that reflects its political beginnings.

There are a number of smaller sub-shrines in the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu such as Wakamiya, Shirahatasha, Inari, and Hataage Benzaiten Shrine. All of these sub-shrines hold their own uniqueness and history. Other than shrines, you can visit the National Treasure Museum and the Museum of Modern Art within this place.

Myohonji Temple

Myohonji, founded by Nichiren Shonin, is one of the oldest Nichiren sect temples. The temple was erected by Hiki Daigaku Saburo Yoshimoto, the youngest child of Hiki Yoshikazu, and a Confucian who served Emperor Juntoku in 1260.

The temple is connected to some other nearby temples and a shrine via the Gionyama hiking trail. It leads through the wooded hills of Kamakura and should be explored only with good walking shoes and appropriate clothing.

Hokokuji Temple

Hokokuji is a secluded temple, tucked in the eastern hills of Kamakura. Currently belonging to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, it originally was the temple of the Ashikaga clan and was later also adopted as the family temple of the Uesugi clan.

Hokokuji Temple, is best known for the beautiful, small bamboo grove found behind the temple's main hall, which lies thick, with over 2000 dark green bamboo stalks. A few narrow pathways lead through the bamboo to a tea house, where, for a small fee, you can sit and enjoy a cup of matcha tea while enjoying views into the bamboo grove.

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Hiking Trails in Kamakura

The city is a thriving tourist destination because of its many attractions. There are even some people who love Kamakura because of its hiking trails. These trails offer amazing views of the surrounding landscape. There are three major hiking trails: Western Hills, Northern Hills and Eastern Hills.

Western Hills

After admiring the Daibutsu (Great Buddha statue), you can go on this widely known walk. The overall distance of the hiking trail is estimated to be three kilometers and can be completed in 60-90 minutes. Its rating is easy, and anyone without any hiking experience can enjoy this walk.

The Zeniarai Benten Shrine and the Genjiyama public park, with a statue of Minamoto Yoritomo, can be found underway.

Northern Hills

On the northern hills of Kamakura lies the Tenen Hiking Course. This trail connects the Kenchoji Temple and the Zuisenji Temple. Along the way, you’re going to find tomb caves (locally known as Hyakuhachi Yagura). There are plenty of places where you can see great views of the surrounding scenery. This trail is estimated to be around six kilometers long and takes 90-120 minutes to complete.

Eastern Hills

The trail starts where the Tosho-Ji Temple used to be and ends at Yagumo-Jinja Shrine. The starting point of the hiking trail is close to the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The trail is 1.5 km long and it isn’t paved, and narrow and steep at times. Please wear appropriate clothing and comfortable shoes. If the weather is clear, you can get a good view of Mt. Fuji, the bay, and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

 

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How to Get to and around Kamakura

Kamakura is located between the Ofuna and the Zushi Line. The JR Yokosuka Line for Zushi is your easiest connection from Tokyo Stations to Kamakura. It takes 55 minutes to get to Kamakura Station, and if you do not have the JR Pass, it costs 920 yen per person one way. This train stops at Kita-Kamakura Station and usually leaves from track number 1 or 2 in Tokyo Station.

If you are coming from Yokohama, take the Narita Express, this Limited Express train connects Narita and Ofuna via Tokyo, Shinagawa and Yokohama.

Getting around Kamakura is simple, but you will need to purchase the Kamakura Free Kankyo Tegata Pass. This pass allows you to ride as much as you like within a defined area on five bus and train lines that run through the most famous tourist attractions of Kamakura. You will also be able to receive discounts from participating shrines, temples, and museums, and special service from participating stores in the area.

Guided Kamakura Day-Tours

Visiting this historical city during your visit in Japan is recommended. Asia Highlights offers one-day excursions to this beautiful city, with a professional local guide that can make your holiday enjoyable. This trip can be started from both, Tokyo and Yokohama, depending on your preferences.

Visit the famous Great Buddha with its rich history at the Kotokin Temple. Explore the Hasedera Temple, home to a 9.18-meter-tall gilded, wooden statue which is one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan. You can also see the well-known statue of Kannon (goddess of mercy) inside. The statue shows Kannon with eleven heads, each representing a characteristic of the goddess.

Wander around at the most-iconic place in Kamakura, dating from the 12th century: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It is the spiritual heart of Kamakura. You can appreciate the beauty of Japanese architecture as well as the beauty of nature within this place. The shrine was dedicated to Hachiman, the Shinto god of war and the patron of the Minamoto family.

End your day by shopping for local souvenirs and delicacies in Komachi Street, the best shopping street in Kamakura.

This tour is available every day, starting time is 9:00, with approximately 8 hours of duration.

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History of Kamakura

Once it was a political capital, along with Nara and Kyoto, and also the birthplace of Japan's first military government, the "Kamakura Bakufu." Warrior Minamoto no Yoritomo was appointed as Seii-Taishogun (shogun) by the Imperial Court in 1192, and it established the Kamakura Bakufu government.

After Yoritomo's death, the Hojo clan governed this area. Trade with the Sung and Yuan dynasties of China prospered in the 13th century, and various aspects of Chinese culture, including Zen (Buddhism), Zen-style architecture, Buddhist statues, and Chinese lacquer ware, were imported.

The Kamakura Bakufu ended in 1333. But the military culture of that era, in which the simple and strong spirit of warriors, traditional aristocratic culture, and the Chinese Sung and Yuan cultures were blended, has continued to greatly influence Japanese society down to the present day.

Kamakura began flourishing as a temple town in the 17th century. From the 19th century, it became popular for beaches, resort areas, and residential districts. Kawabata Yasunari, a writer who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, lived and wrote many works in Kamakura. Blessed with the beautiful nature of the ocean and surrounding green hills, Kamakura attracts a large number of tourists today.

Explore Kamakura with Asia Highlights

Discovering Kamakura can be stressful if you are not familiar with the language, geography and culture. Explore this ancient city with Asia Highlights and make amazing moments with your loved ones, without any hassles! Please contact us if you have any questions.

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  • Worry-free planning: Every step of your trip, you will be looked after by your 1:1 travel consultant based in Asia.
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