A cultured seaside retreat right on the doorstep of the capital
Less than an hour south of Tokyo is Kamakura, once the political capital of Japan, famous for its temples and literary heritage, as well as its beaches and hiking trails.
- The Great Buddha of Kamakura
- Some of the oldest and most beautiful Zen temples in Japan
- The Museum of Modern Art
- Shopping along Komachi-dori, the street leading from Kamakura Station
- Enoshima and the Kamakura beaches
How to Get There
Kamakura Station is 55 minutes from Tokyo Station on the JR Yokosuka Line. From Kamakura Station, many of the attractions are within walking distance. A local railway and monorail service connect others.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
The symbol of Kamakura is the 11-meter tall 13th-century bronze statue of Amida Buddha , in Kotoku-in Temple. Initially housed in a huge wooden hall, the elements won out after the temple was destroyed multiple times by floods and earthquakes. Today it is the most popular site in Kamakura as well as the second largest seated Buddha in the country.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is the heart of Kamakura and the spot around which the city developed. Founded in 1180 by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the father of the Kamakura Shogunate and the city, it is a must-visit spot today.
Something always seems to be going on at the shrine, whether a festival, wedding or exhibition. The shrine is famous for its horseback archery festivals in the spring and autumn. The shrine houses a number of national treasures as well as beautiful ponds and gardens, and there are usually stalls selling sweets lining the main approach to the shrine. It is a short walk from Kamakura Station up a glorious, tree-lined, torii-filled approach.
Kamakura is overflowing with temples and shrines. Hasedera , near the sea and close to the Great Buddha , is the oldest, with a beautiful garden. Don't miss the Zeniarai Benten Shrine where people wash their money and pray for more.
Meigetsuin , Anyoin , and Ankokuronji are particularly famous for their flowers, while Tokeiji played a singular role in the history of women in Japan as one of only two temples where women could escape their husbands and get divorced. Hokokuji is famous for its bamboo, and a bowl of green tea in the bamboo forest is a meditative experience.
Museum of Modern Art Kamakura and Hayama
Split over two locations, this was the first Museum of Modern Art in Japan and is still one of the best. The permanent collection and Kamakura exhibition building are close by Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine while the Hayama exhibition space is a short bus ride to the south. With four or five exhibitions every year, it's always worth checking its website to see what's on.
Kamakura Festival and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Reitaisai Festival
Both festivals center around the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. The Kamakura Festival in April is a week-long mix of dancing and traditional performance. The Reitaisai in September is a celebration of the samurai art of horseback archery. The city gets very crowded during these times but should still be on your itinerary.
Running parallel with the approach to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu , this pedestrian shopping district is packed with traditional restaurants, hip cafes, sweet shops, souvenir stores, and everything fashionable—from funky boutiques to high-end kimono dealers.
Enoshima and the Shonan Beach
Connected to the mainland by a bridge, Enoshima has been a day-trip destination for Tokyoites for centuries. From the Enoshima Candle lighthouse, you can get a 360-degree panoramic view that includes Mount Fuji. The island is home to shrines devoted to Hadaka-Benten, the Naked Goddess, who is worshipped by entertainers hoping for success.
The Kamakura coastline boasts some great black sand beaches, including Yuigahama, Zaimokuza, and Koshigoe. In the summer these beaches can be crowded with people enjoying the sea, sun, surf, and plentiful fresh seafood. There are restaurants and cafes on the beach during the summer months.
This area is often compared to the beaches of Southern California for its lifestyle, particularly as the surfing community developed and flourished during the '50s, '60s, and through the '70s, along with popular music.
A leisurely visit to the area of Kamakura will easily fill a very busy day, but an overnight stay is highly recommended.