Japan’s first feudal capital (1185 – 1333), Kamakura is dotted with stunning shrines and temples that reflect its buddhist legacy. Meander along quaint streets, explore bamboo groves or enjoy a scoop of soft-serve ice cream by the sea. A perfect blend of rich culture and laid-back surfer vibes, Kamakura is the ideal day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Read on to find out more about what Kamakura has to offer!
Daibutsu: The Great Buddha Statue
The Great Buddha Statue of Kotoku-in Temple stands as an iconic reminder of Kamakura’s importance in the development of Buddhism. Towering at 11.4 metres, the bronze figure was originally cast in 1252 and is said to have been inspired by Yoritomo’s visit to Nara (home to Japan’s largest Daibutsu).
Following a huge Tsunami in 1498, which washed away the temple hall, the Great Buddha Statue was relocated to the temple courtyard, where it now stands, surrounded by nature. Today, visitors can marvel at this spectacular open-air statue, and for an extra 200 yen, you can even go inside the sculpture itself. The Great Buddha Statue is a truly a must-see!
Up until the 1868 Buddhism and Shinto separation order, there was a great deal of overlap between these two religions and this is clearly reflected in the abundance of shinto shrines and temples in Kamakura that still have echoes of a buddhist influence. The most famous example of this is undoubtedly Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. Dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of warriors, this temple was nonetheless an important Buddhist shrine and many of its architectural features are Buddhist in origin.
Amble up the wide stairway to reach the main hall, where you can have your fortune told and admire the sprawling temple grounds. Indeed, the features and layout of the temple are rich in historical symbolism. The Gempei Pond, for example, which is bisected by bridges, is said to depict the rift between the Minamoto and Taira clans.
If you’re in need of a lunch break after all the temple exploring, head to Komachi-dori, a bustling street which offers a wonderful array of sweet treats and tourist souvenirs. Many of the restaurants offer whitebait, a local delicacy known as ‘Shirasu’, or if you’re more inclined to desserts and snacks, you’ll find a host of bakeries and sweetshops that are stocked full of candied beans and matcha ice cream.
Explore some of the side alleys off the main road to discover specialist fashion boutiques and themed tourist shops. Some stores will let you try on exquisite kimonos and hairpins, whilst others offer quality tourist gifts that won’t disappoint your friends and family. Donguri Republic is a great place to browse for Studio Ghibli paraphernalia, and if you can’t make it to the Ghibli Museum, this is a wonderful alternative to immerse yourself in Hayao Miyazaki’s charming world.
If you’re willing to venture further out from the city centre, then Hoko-kuji Temple in the East of Kamakura is a brilliant place to wander amidst Zen buddhist architecture set against a backdrop of towering bamboo.
Often compared to Arashiyama in Kyoto, the Hoko-kuji bamboo grove is home to over two thousand stalks that create a stunning forest of greenery. To make the most of your visit, buy a combined ticket (500 yen) and sip a cup of matcha while you take in your surroundings.
When you’ve had enough of sightseeing, head down to Yuigahama Beach and soak up the rays surrounded by surfers, sunbathers and quaint beach shacks. A beloved swim spot ever since the Meiji era, this beach is a great place to take a dip. If you visit during the Summer, you can also take body board or surf lessons and browse the pop-up vendor stores.
Kamakura is just an hour away on the JR Shonan Line from Shinjuku. Costing 920 yen each way, Kamakura is one of the cheaper day trips from Tokyo!
If you don’t have time for a day trip but still need an escape from the city, why not visit Todoroki Valley?