Remote Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture Japan Published on: 01-04-2016
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Why Kamakura is special ?
Kamakura was the place where, in the twelfth century, the leader of the almost annihilated Minamoto clan, Yoritomo, established himself in 1180 in his struggle against his clan's great rival, the Taira. Upon his final victory in 1192, Kamakura became the center of the nation's power.
Kamakura was to remain the seat of warrior power for the whole of the thirteenth century and the first part of the 14th, lending its name to the era.
The Hojo clan - successors to the legendary Minamoto clan - exercised several generations of strict military rule over the country, including the imperial court in Kyoto which, as the ceremonial center of power, was reduced to puppet status.
In 1333 the successors to the Hojo, were routed by forces representing the Court in Kyoto, and the Kamakura era was over. As a focus of power Kamakura was inevitably the scene of political and military struggles and much blood has been shed there.
Stroll through the town's narrow inclined streets and alleys today, and you won't hear even an echo of the warrior's cry. The only things that shoot now are cameras, and the only sounds are of tourist feet.
This thriving, pleasantly laid out city is notable - beside its crowds of tourists - for its wood and garden atmosphere and its many vistas of Buddhist inspired architecture and statuary.
What to explore at Kamakura?
Weekends are extremely crowded and the waiting time to enter any sightseeing spot, including temples, is likely to be very long.
Kamakura has two main sightseeing areas, to the west and one to the east of the Yokosuka Line railway that runs through the town.
West of Kamakura station
Kamakura Daibutsu Great Buddha, through the spring azaleas.
Kotoku-in Temple and the Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha): Kamakura is famous as home of the "Daibutsu" or "Great Buddha", an 11.4 meter (37 ft), 121 ton bronze statue of the Buddha, constructed in 1252 at the height of Hojo power. While not as big as the Buddha in Todaiji Temple, Nara, that inspired it, it is considered better in terms of artistry.
Kotokuin Temple, which houses the Daibutsu, is an 8-minute bus ride from Kamakura Station or a 10-minute walk from Hase Station on the Enoshima Electric Railway (AKA Enoden) Line. Kotokuin is a rather atypical Japanese Buddhist temple in that it has no cemetery, and the temple building itself is off-limits to casual visitors.
About 800m south and slightly west of Kotoku-in is Hase-dera Temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. It is distinctive for the trees that feature at its entrance: a tortured pine that looks for all the world like a pumped-up bonsai and that presides over its gate like a many-armed protector, and nearby a grotesquely lumpy camphor tree.
Five minutes on from Hase Kannon Temple is Kosokuji (literally 'light gauging') Temple. Kosokuji is associated with the 13th century priest Nichiren, the fierce asserter of the Lotus Sutra against all other forms of Buddhism.
Only 10 minutes walk from Kosokuji directly south is Yuigahama Beach. It is a beautiful, wide 2km (1.2 miles) sweep of beach. Its gentle gradient makes it ideal for swimming. Care is advised, however, as it is also popular with windsurfers.
Engakuji Temple is the head of a branch school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It is very close to Kita-Kamakura station and houses the largest bell in Kamakura.
On the other side of the railway from Engakuji is Tokeiji Temple, also a Rinzai Zen temple, founded in 1285 as a convent by the widow of the Hojo Regent Sadatoki, and who by birth was a member of the Adachi clan that the Hojo defeated. It was known as the 'Divorce Temple' as it offered refuge to women who took advantage of laws promulgated by Sadatoki allowing them respite from abusive husbands and mothers-in-law. The law was eventually changed in 1873 by the reforming Meiji government allowing women to initiate divorce.
Until the very beginning of the 20th century it was a Buddhist nunnery. It is characterized by particularly beautiful and meticulously tended gardens, elegantly laid-out in a natural style and showcasing a wide variety of exquisite blooms.
Jochiji Temple is right next to Tokeiji. Founded in 1238, it is a branch temple of Engakuji, and is ranked fourth of Kamakura's Five Great Zen Temples. It is most famous for its "Kanro-no-Ido" or "Nectar Well", as the water that it gives is said to be free of the saltiness of most wells in the area.
As the image on the right shows, the temple is serenely set on a hillside in a cedar forest. The original temple buildings were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but on the central altar you can still see three surviving original wooden statues of Nyorai, Shaka and Mitoku (the Buddhas of the Past, Present and Future), designated as Important Cultural Assets.
About 650m south-east of Jochiji Temple is the grandfather of Zen temples, Kenchoji Temple: Kamakura's first Zen temple, the first of the city's Great Five, and Japanese Zen Buddhism's virtual headquarters.
Kenchoji was founded by the fifth Hojo Regent, Tokiyori, in the early days of Zen in Japan - so early that a Chinese Zen priest had to be invited to head it, taking up his position there in the 1250s.
Like nearly all the other temples in Kamakura, it underwent the many vicissitudes of fire, earthquakes, and politics, but is now restored as one of the cities most visited sights.
Zen-Arai Benten Shrine is dedicated to Benten, goddess of art and music and one of the Seven Lucky Gods or Shichifukujin. In a cave spring at the shrine, visitors can wash their cash in the hope of doubling it.
In this area are Chojuji Temple (like Tokeiji, actually just to the west of the railway line), Ennoji Temple, and Meigetsu-in Temple.
Meigetsu-in Temple, aka the "Hydrangea Temple" known for its ajisai or hydrangea which draw many visitors to the small Zen temple in June. In May, the rear garden is opened so visitors can admire the irises.
Josenji & Taya Cave
While actually part of neighboring Yokohama, only one stop further north of Kita-Kamakura, near Ofuna station (which serves both the Tokaido and Yokosuka lines) is the Josenji and the Taya Cave complex dating back to the 12th century and Kamakura's Golden Age. The elaborate caves contain 17 exercise halls, total 1,500m (i.e. just under a mile) in length and were built for the monks of the Shingon sect to meditate and fast in. The caves contain Buddhist statues, numerous wall and ceiling paintings and are supplied with ventilation shafts and water.
Access: From JR Ofuna Station take the Kanachu bus bound for Totsuka Bus Center and alight at Dokutsu Radon-mae. 2 minutes walk.
Hours: 9.00am-4.30pm year round.
Tel: 045 851 2392 Adults: 400 yen.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Head back down to Kamakura station and there is another area of temples and shrines starting from very near the station and stretching out east in a radius of over a kilometer. By far the major sight in this area is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
The Kamakura National Treasure House Museum
The Kamakura National Treasure House Museum (Kamakura Kokuhokan; 鎌倉国宝館 ) contains the many treasures of Kamakura's various temples as well as items that originated in China. The museum was opened in 1928 to protect the many statues, paintings, ritual objects, calligraphy scrolls, samurai armor and weapons after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The museum contains five National Treasures.
The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura
Within the precincts of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura. Designed by the internationally acclaimed Japanese architect, Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969), it overlooks the Shrine's Heike Pond. The museum's buildings include the original main building and an annex. The museum's collection of over 13,000 exhibits includes western and Japanese-style paintings, prints, craft-works, sculptures and photographs
In the area are Daigyoji Temple, Egara Tenjin Shrine, Hokaiji Temple, Hokokuji Temple, Jomyoji Temple, Kakuonji Temple, Kamakuragu Shrine, Kosokuji Temple at Juniso, Myo-o-in Temple, Myoryuji Temple, Raikoji Temple at Nishi Mikado, Sugimotodera Temple, and Zuisenji Temple.
Hokokuji Temple has modern buildings but stands out for its lovely bamboo grove and Zen rock and gravel garden.
Sugimotodera Temple is Kamakura's oldest temple, founded in 734. The thatched main hall holds three statues of the 11-faced Kannon protected by fearsome Nio guardians at the gate.
Zuisenji Temple is a secluded temple with a fine garden with a lake, waterfall and a Zen meditation cave cut into the cliffs.
Myohon-ji Temple is the largest of Kamakura's Nichiren-sect temples and dates from 1260.
Around Kamakura Station
Kamakura Beer, Japan
The road leading from Tsuruagoka Hachimangu back to the station and the parallel Komachi-dori street are lined with expensive souvenir shops and places to eat and drink. Below the McDonald's in the station square is the Kawagoe-ya soba restaurant with over 120 years of history. Check out the local Kamakura beer ale on offer to wash down their appetizing and reasonably-priced meal sets.
How to get to Kamakura?
From Tokyo take the JR Yokosuka Line. Takes about 54 minutes.
From Osaka get on the Tokaido "Hikari" Shinkansen (bullet train) at Shin Osaka and change at Shin Yokohama to the JR Yokohama Line.
Change at Higashi Kanagawa to the JR Keihin Tohoku Line.
Change at Yokohama to JR Yokosuka Line and alight at Kamakura. Takes about 3 hours 30 minutes.
A cheaper, but longer, option from Shin Osaka is to take the JR Tokaido "Kodama" Shinkansen (bullet train) and change at Odawara to the JR Tokaido Line. Change at Ofuna to the JR Yokosuka Line and alight at Kamakura. Takes about 4 hours and 45 minutes.
From Tokyo take the Shuto Expressway along the Yokohane/Kariba Line. Change at the Kariba Interchange to Yokohama-Yokosuka Road. Change at the Asahina Interchange and go as far as Kamakura.
From Osaka turn at the Suita Interchange onto the Meishin Expressway. Change at the Komaki Junction onto the Tomei Expressway. Change at the Yokohama Interchange to the Hodogaya Bypass. Change at the Kariba Interchange to the Yokohama-Yokosuka Road. Change at the Asahina Interchange and go as far as Kamakura.
From Tokyo's Haneda Airport take the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho and change to the JR Yamanote Line. Change at Shinagawa to the JR Yokosuka Line. Alight at Kamakura. Takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
From Narita Airport the JR Rapid Airport Express all the way to Kamakura. Takes about 3 hours.
- Charming Town
- Nice place to visit
- Lots of nice things to do
- Beautiful landscape
- Wonderful experience
Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture Japan