Less than an hour by train from the neon and noise of mega city Tokyo lies the awe-inspiring historic little coastal town of Kamakura. Known locally as the Kyoto of the East, Kamakura is a popular day trip from Tokyo and easily reachable using your Japan Rail pass (more details about how to get to Kamakura can be found at the bottom of this page) .
From unique eats to stunning temples that rival Kyoto and Nara, here are 5 reasons why a day trip to Kamakura should be on your Japanese itinerary.
1. Incredible Mt Fuji views.
Ah the elusive Fuji-san, the white whale of tourists. One of the most iconic images of Japan, and yet so darn tricky to actually see!! We'd strained our eyes from the top of the Skytree, sat with noses pressed to the bullet train window twice on our journeys from Tokyo to Kyoto, and apart from a teeny tiny glimpse of the very peak poking through a wall of cloud on the return leg, Mt Fuji was playing hard to get! With our Kamakura day trip booked for the last day of itinerary, the pressure was mounting. Surely we wouldn't be flying home that night without a decent view??
The weather was promising as we boarded the electric train from Hase to Enoshima, a crisp sunny January day with clear blue skies. With everything crossed we kept our eyes glued to the left hand windows as we trundled along the coast and around the headland, and as we rounded a bend, there it was! Looming bright white against the sky and SO much bigger than we'd ever imagined... we gasped so loudly that all of the other passengers in our carriage jumped!
We had been planning on getting some lunch before heading to Katase Nishihama, the beach next to Enoshima island, but with views this good, we didn't want to risk clouds moving in. We half power walked, half jogged from the station to the beach, and stopped, jaws dropped in wonder at the magnificent mountain across the bay. In the end we grabbed some onigiri from a nearby Lanson and ate them on the beach wall, not wanting miss a second of Fuji's appearance.
Weather permitting, there are a few other great spots to watch Fuji in Kamakura:
Inamuragasaki headland (hop off the electric train at Inamuragasaki and walk to the cape) on a clear day gives gorgeous views of both the mountain and Enoshima island in the foreground, especially at sunset.
Pause as you cross Enoshima Bentenbashi Bridge (the causeway to Enoshima island) for uninterrupted views of Fuji across the water.
The viewing terrace at the very top of Enoshima island, Kamegaoka Square, is a fantastic spot to watch the sun go down with swooping black hawks and Fuji silhouetted against the night sky colours in front of you.
Also on Kamegaoka Square, the Sea Candle observation tower is the highest point in the area and gives clear views of Mt Fuji, without the hills and trees in front of the free viewing platform in the last bullet point. There is an entry fee to go up the tower, and you can also visit the Samuel Cocking Garden - a beautiful botanical garden with amazing winter illuminations from November to January.
2. Unbelievable temples and shrines.
Kamakura has so many beautiful, historic temples that could each be a reason to visit all by themselves, but here are our 5 favourites:
Kotoko-in: the Great Buddha.
Kamakura’s most recognisable landmark is the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha. 48ft high and weighing over 120 tons, this statue is a survivor – since 1252 it has survived typhoons, earthquakes, and the building that used to surround it was even washed away by a tsunami! But the statue still sits there.
Standing in front of this statue and look up into its calm, beautiful face is a quick way to immediately feel very small in the world. For 20 yen you can even go inside it!
Open every day from 8:00 to 17:30 (until 17:00 from October to March), 300 Yen entry.
Zeniarai Benzaiten shrine: the money washing shrine.
About a 20 minute walk from Kamakura station is the intriguing Zeniarai Benzaiten shrine. Enter through a tunnel carved through the cliff face into a beautiful clearing, and at the back beyond the cauldron of smoking incense sticks is a dark cave, where people have been washing money in a sacred spring since 1257.
Little wicker baskets are available to hold your coins and notes, and you can use the scoops provided to pour water over them. It is said that if you do this, your money will multiply and come back to you once you’ve spent it! Worth a go…
Open every day from 8:00 to 16:30, entry is free.
Hasa Dera: beautiful blooms and ocean views
This stunning hillside temple is only about a 10 minute walk from the Daibutsu. Key highlights include an important 32ft wooden statue of Kannon Bosatsu, a cave shrine dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten, and the Jizo-do hall, with hundreds of small statues dedicated to helping lost babies reach paradise.
Be sure to visit the Kyozo, a small wooden building with a rotating bookcase containing sacred Buddhist texts. If you turn it once, you will receive the same blessings as of you had read all of the sutras. This is only unlocked on certain days, and so if you can’t turn it on the day you are visiting, you can spin the prayer wheels around the walls instead. Be careful to do this gently – too fast and they rattle very loudly! We got some serious glares when we spun the first one too enthusiastically…
If you’re visiting Kamakura in summer months, mid June to early July is hydrangea season, and Hasa Dera is famous for its collection. Be prepared to queue, these beautiful blooms are extremely popular, so try to visit on a weekday if you can! The hill behind the temple grows around 40 different kinds of hydrangea. If you’re not here in summer, the Temple is equally lovely in cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons.
Open 8:00 to 17:30 (until 17:00 from October to February), entry 400 Yen.
There is also a small museum on site which has its own entry fee, an additional 300 Yen.
Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū: Kamakura's most majestic shrine.
Magnificent Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, the symbol of Kamakura, has kept watch over the city since 1180 when it was the capital of Japan (is it us or has every ancient city in Japan had a turn at being the capital?). This important Shinto shrine has beautiful grounds and an impressive display of decorative sake barrels. At the top of the steps next to the main shrine is the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures, containing works of art, swords, scrolls and other religious artefacts from the Kamakura area.
Open 5 a.m. to 9 p.m from April to September (6 a.m. to 9 p.m October to March) Entry to the shrine grounds is free, the museum is around 200 Yen
Enoshima-jinja: the one in three parts.
Over the causeway on Enoshima Island, head underneath a large red torii gate and up the steep paved path that winds its way up past three shrines dedicated to three Shinto goddesses. The first shrine you will reach is Hetsu-no-Miya Jinja. Here you will find a statue of the sea goddess Benzaiten, the patron of Enoshima, inside a beautiful octagonal building (150 Yen entry fee).
Next up is the beautiful red Nakatsu-no-miya Jinja. Dating from the 9th century, this is the oldest of the three shrines and popular with Kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers. The stone lanterns that decorate the shrine were donated by entertainers from the Edo period, and you can see handprints from more contemporary Kabuki actors.
The final shrine is Okutsu-no-miya Jinja, which has a turtle painted on its ceiling. The climb between the three sites is steep (many many steps) and there are also escalators you can pay to use, but the views are well worth the effort.
Why not time your climb for the end of the day and reward yourself with sunset views over Mt Fuji from the top of the island?
3. Walk through the bamboo grove.
You’ve most likely heard about the beautiful bamboo grove of Arashiyama near Kyoto (and the huge crowds that visit it every day), but did you know that Kamakura has a much more zen equivalent? Behind the main hall of Hokoku-ji Temple, you can walk along a narrow path amongst towering bamboo to a teahouse.
High summer aside, this grove is usually much less busy than Arashiyama, and you can enjoy the serenity of the swaying greenery above you without dodging hundreds of selfie sticks.
Open 9:00 to 16:00, closed December 29th to January 3rd. Entry is 300 Yen, 600 Yen to include a cup of matcha in the tea house.
4. Ride the electric train to Enoshima Island.
The Enoshima electric railway has been running between Kamakura and Fujisawa since 1902. The short scenic journey runs along the coastline and on clear days offers beautiful views of Mt Fuji towering over the bay.
The cute green and cream vintage style trains make 15 stops along a 10km stretch of track, and are a really fun way to explore the area. We rode from Hase station (the closest stop to the Daibutsu) to Enoshima station (for Enoshima Island) which cost 260 Yen each way. If you’re going to make more than 2 journeys in a day, you can buy a Noriorikun day pass for 650 Yen which works out better value for money. You can use your Suica card, but if you don’t have one then the ticket machine only takes cash, no credit or debit cards.
5. Quirky snacks by the sea.
A Kamakura speciality, you have to seek out Tako Senbei! Strangely beautiful, almost like stained glass or a fossil, these thin sheets of batter have pressed octopus inside. They are on sale in a few places throughout Kamakura, and particularly up the hill on Enoshima island. Pretty to look at, pretty darn tasty!
How to get to Kamakura
Kamakura is a popular day trip from Tokyo and easily reachable using your Japan Rail pass.
Take the JR Yokosuka line train which arrives into Kamakura station in about 50 minutes. If you don’t have a JR pass, tickets cost around 940 Yen (about £6.50) one way.
You can also catch the Odakyu Enoshima line from Shinjuku, Tokyo to Katase-Enoshima Station. The Odakyu Enoshima-Kamakura Freepass (about £11) gives you a return journey from Shinjuku to Enoshima, plus unlimited use of the Enoshima electric railway, which you can take to Kamakura.
Have you been to Kamakura? We'd love to hear your favourite thing about the city below! Have we persuaded you to go? Let us know in the comments!
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