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Kamakura Travel Guide

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    The historic and hilly town of Kamakura was the political center of Japan for more than a century. Join us as we visit the stately temples and shrines, eat nagashi somen, and pray to the giant Buddha in this Kamakura Travel Guide.

    giant Buddha statue on top of stone pedestal

    Kamakura is one of our family’s favorite destinations in Japan. It’s a short 40 min train ride or by car from Yokohama (Nami’s home in Japan) and offers plenty of sightseeing and things to do. We’ll take you to some of our favorite temples and shrines as well as hidden local gems in this Kamakura travel guide.

    Where is Kamakura Japan

    Kamakura is located on the southern coast of Kanagawa Prefecture on Sagami Bay. It is southwest of Tokyo and takes about 1 hour by train on Yokosuka line or by car.

    Why Visit Kamakura

    Kamakura was the political center of Japan for more than a century from 1192 – 1333. It was the home of the first shogun (Minamoto Yorimoto) after taking over power from the imperial family in Kyoto. At the time, religion and politics were intertwined so many of Kamakura’s temples and shrines have ties to the ruling Yoritomo and Hojo families.

    a girl next to a stone jizo statue

    With a rich history, Kamakura offers an escape from modern Japan. The city is surrounded by a green hilly landscape and borders Sagami Bay to the south.

    It’s a small town but there are many things to discover. Walking on charming old shopping streets (Komachi Dori), enjoying peaceful sceneries, and praying at historic temples and shrines are some of the activities our family loves.

    We recommend spending 2 days and 1 night in Kamakura if your time allows. Also, get an early start if you want to avoid the crowds as Kamakura is really popular with visitors.

    Kamakura Where to Go

    There are many significant temples in Kamakura so it’s very difficult to visit them all on one trip. The recommendations below are some of our favorite spots and most popular for visitors:

    1. Kotokuin 高徳院 – the temple with the giant Buddha statue
    2. Hasedera 長谷寺 – the temple with giant Kannon statue
    3. Kamakura Music Box Museum 鎌倉オルゴール堂
    4. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu 鶴岡八幡宮 – Shinto shrine dating back to the 1100s
    5. Chayakado Restaurant 茶屋かど – seasonal nagashi somen specialty restaurant
    6. Kenchoji 建長寺 – first rank Buddhist temple in Kamakura
    7. Hokokuji 報国寺 – known as the bamboo temple

    Kotokuin 高徳院

    One of the iconic images representing Kamakura is the giant sitting Buddha statue (Kamakura Daibutsu). The statue was made in the 1200s and sits in Kotokuin’s courtyard. It is one of the largest sitting Buddha statues in Japan.

    two children standing on a stone path in front of temple gate

    The Buddha statue is made from bronze, over 40 feet tall (13.35 meters), and weighs 103 tons. The inner part of Buddha is hollowed and visitors can enter and view the statue from the inside.

    From the 1200s through 1500 there were structures housing the statue. However, they were either destroyed or damaged throughout the time and the statue has been outdoor since then.

    two children standing in front of a giant Buddha statue

    Hasedera 長谷寺

    Just down the road from Kotokuin is the beautiful and scenic Hasedera temple. The temple is known for a large 30 feet tall Kannon statue (9.18 meters) but there are many other features that make it a worthy destination.

    wood temple gate at Hasedera

    Unlike the majority of temples which have a few halls, Hasedera is much larger and has over 10 buildings for religious purposes, a Kannon museum, and a restaurant on site.

    map of Hasedera

    The walking path at Hasedera is surrounded by lush green moss and the grounds are filled with many different types of colorful flowers and plants. It is known for blooming hydrangea in June.

    moss garden with a stone lamp next to walking path

    3 jizo statues on moss
    Ryo-en jizo

    The main feature of the temple is the tall Kannon statue (no photos allowed) but there are many deities worshipped in the other halls. In these halls, visitors can pray for health, business success, and dispel misfortunes.

    Another signature of the temple is the 50,000 jizo statues throughout the temple grounds. Jizo is believed to protect children and families.

    small jizo statues in a garden area

    hundreds of stone jizo statues lined up on a hill
    Thousand jizo (sentai jizo)
    a golden deity statue inside a temple
    Golden jizo statue
    statues of multiple deities on an alter
    Statue of Daikokuten carved in 1412 (give success to life and business)
    a large golden deity statue inside a temple
    Amida statue with largest mokugyo (wood fish) in Japan to the left
    temple with colorful curtains
    Kannon-do Hall (houses the giant Buddha statue)

    The walking path leads visitors up the hill and you can take in the view of Kamakura, surrounding hills, and the beaches nearby.

    view of Kamakura city and the beach

    mani-guruma and rinzo inside a wooden building
    Kyozo for storing Buddist scriptures
    a boy standing in front of torii gate
    Torii gate in front of benten-kutsu cave
    statues of deity inside a cave
    Benzaiten chiseled out of the rock walls (can wash money here)
    small jizo statues lined up inside a cave
    Visitors can place small Hono Benzaiten statues as offering

    Kamakura Music Box Museum 鎌倉オルゴール堂

    As you exit the entrance of Hasedera, you will see the Kamakura Music Box Museum. Even though it’s called a museum, it’s really a music box specialty shop. However, they do have thousands of music boxes and many of them are unique and difficult to find.

    entrance to Kamakura Music Box Museum

    Our family ended up buying the robot music box from Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky that played the theme songs from the movie. We absolutely adored the animation movie, so playing the music box at home brings huge smiles to our faces.

    jizo music boxes
    Jizo music boxes
    elaborate music boxes on a table
    Amusement park music boxes

    Tsurugaoka Hachimangu 鶴岡八幡宮

    The next stop is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. The shrine was first established in 1063 by Minamoto Yoriyoshi and moved to the current location in the center of the city by his descendent Minamoto Yoritomo around 1180.

    From Kamakura Station, there’s a long pedestrian walkway called dankazura leading visitors to the shrine.

    a pedestrian walking path lined with tree between two roads
    Dankazura

    Shops and restaurants lined the walkway and streets on both sides.

    exterior of a soba restaurant
    Soba shop
    exterior of a ceramic and pottery shop
    Kamakura wood carving shop

    At the end of the walkway, you’ll see the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine’s tall torii gate.

    large red torii gate

    You may be curious about the difference between shrines and temples in Japan. To clarify, shrines are for Shinto religion and temples are for Buddism.

    an old bridge with barricade next to trees
    Taiko-Bashi Bridge
    a room with large windows behind lotus pond
    Cafe Kazenomori next to the lotus pond
    maiden dance platform structure
    Maiden 舞殿 (for religious rituals)
    sake barrels for dedication to shrine
    Sakadaru 酒樽 (sake offering to the shrine)
    stone steps leading up to shrine at the top
    Steps to great gate (roman 楼門) and main shrine (hongu 本宮)
    Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine gate
    Romon 楼門 (great gate)

    There are no photos allowed after entering romon.

    Chayakado Restaurant 茶屋かど

    After Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, it would be a good time to stop for lunch. While there are many restaurants in Kamakura worthy of a visit, we recommend eating nagashi somen at Chayakado for a unique experience. It is a seasonal offering only available between April through October.

    exterior of a two story restaurant
    Chayakado Restaurant

    What’s nagashi somen? It’s somen noodle flowing down a bamboo pole cut in half and diners would catch it with chopsticks.

    somen flowing down a bamboo chute on top of a table

    Diners sit on two sides of a long table with the cut bamboo in front of them sloping downwards. Water is turned on at the higher end creating a stream of cool water and then small bundles of cooked somen will float down the stream towards the lower end.

    As the noodles flowing down, you would catch the somen with chopsticks and then dip in the tororo tsuyu sauce. It is really fun and refreshing to eat on a hot day.

    somen sauce next to green onion on a table

    Somen is one of our son’s favorite foods and we really enjoyed the experience. The price includes all you can eat somen. The restaurant also offers tempura and a few sides along with ice-cold beer. It’s very difficult to find nagashi somen restaurants in Japan now and there are only a few left in the entire Tokyo area. So don’t miss the opportunity to try!

    Kenchoji 建長寺

    Just a short walk from Chayakado Restaurant is Kenchoji, one of the most famous zen temples in Japan.

    There is a hierarchy for Buddhist temples called the 5 mountain system (we won’t get into the details here). In Japan, 5 temples each in Kyoto and Kamakura are at the very top of this hierarchy. In Kamakura, the first rank temple is Kenchoji.

    map of Kenchoji

    The construction of the Kenchoji temple was completed in 1253 and laid out in a Chinese temple format.

    large wooden temple structure 3 stories tall
    Sanmon gate (entering this gate is to free you from any form of desire and obsession)
    temple bell in a traditional structure
    Temple bell with a straw roof
    spiritual tree at Kenchōji
    760-year-old Chinese Juniper tree

    two wooden temples with walking paths to the left and another temple in the back

    an old two story wood temple
    Butsu-den

    Kenchoji is known as the temple that inspired the vegan soup, kenchinjiru.

    an old statue of deity sitting on lotus
    Statue of Buddha inside Butsu-den
    an old two story wood temple
    Hatto
    image of a dragon in clouds in a circle on the ceiling
    Dragon painting inside Hatto

    a dark statue of a boney deity meditating

    The Ryuoh-den in the back has a beautiful Japanese garden.

    an elaborate golden temple gate with white walls
    Kara-mon

    a wood temple with garden in front

    a deity statue on lotus on an altar

    a garden with a green grass and small pond in the center and trees in the back next to a temple

    Tenshinan 点心庵

    Near the entrance of Kenchoji is Tenshinan Restaurant. The restaurant serves popular Japanese food such as curry, shirasu, soba, omurice, and kenchinjiru. We stopped after visiting Kenchoji for an afternoon snack.

    entrance to a restaurant with white curtains and signs in front

    a wooden tray with powdered sugar on the left and Japanese purin on the right
    Honey pudding
    a wooden tray with matcha green tea on in a bowl on the left and sweets on the right
    Wagashi with matcha

    In the back of the restaurant, there is a tatami room for customers to practice zen and enjoy the garden view through a circular gateway.

    a Japanese room with tatami and a circle cut into a wall looking into a garden

    Hokokuji 報国寺

    The last stop in this Kamakura travel guide is Hokokuji, known for its bamboo forest. It’s a bit far from Kenchoji so hop into a cab if you want to save time. Otherwise, it’s a 30 min walk.

    a wooden gate with tiled roof over a stone path

    The temple’s history goes back to 1334. It was established to commemorate Ashikaga Ietoki (the Ashikaga clan ruled Japan from 1333 to 1573).

    moss covered garden with stone lantern and trees

    a temple bell hanging in a wooden structure
    temple bell

    Hokokuji is known for the beautiful bamboo forest in the back of the temple.

    two people praying in front of a one story temple
    The main hall

    a rock garden next to a temple with trees in the back

    Visitors can walk through the bamboo forest and enjoy the peaceful scenery.

    bamboo forest with a stone walkway

    stone statue of deities on stone pedestal in front of bamboo garden

    There are some caves carved into the hillside and it is said some of the Ashikaga family’s ashes are buried inside.

    caves carved inside of a hill

    Other Things to do in Kamakura

    We hope you enjoy the Kamakura Travel Guide and there are many more activities you can do besides what we’ve shared.

    two children with people covered in white paint
    with street performers at Kamakura Station

    If you are interested in visiting more temples, consider the prominent Engakuji or Jomyoji. Up for something a bit unusual? Check out Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine and learn about its money cleansing ritual. Explore local restaurants and bakeries as you never know what you’ll discover.

    ikura with shirasu over rice
    Ikura over egg and shirasu (local specialty)
    blueberry bread
    Blueberry stuffed bread

    If you’ve been to Kamakura, what are some of your favorite sites and activities? Share with us in the comment box below! Thank you as always for reading our travel post.

     

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