WHAT TO SEE IN KAMAKURA
Kamakura boasts attractions from the distant past and the present, giving travelers a glimpse of the old Japanese capital with its symbolic landmarks.
Complemented by the natural charm of a quiet, mountainous town next to the sea, Kamakura will surely delight lovers of nature, adventure, architecture and history. While visiting the top historical attractions is a must, remember that there’s always something unique about each temple and shrine waiting to be discovered by the more curious or knowledgeable traveler. Here are some ideas that can give you a headstart.
Find the Gempei Pond at Tsuruoka Hachiman Shrine
You can learn a lot about Kamakura’s history by visiting the centuries-old Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, a symbolic landmark built under the first shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo. One of the most visited temples in Japan during the New Year holidays, the shrine is full of historical symbolism. After entering the towering, vermillion torii (gateway), you’ll find the Gempei Pond bisected by two small humpback bridges, which depicts the rift between the Minamoto and Taira clans. The three islands in the pond represent Minamoto’s victory.
Enter the interior of the Kotoku (Great Buddha of Kamakura)
A colossal bronze statue that’s 11.3 meters high and weighs around 121 tons, the Great Buddha of Kamakura is a National Treasure surrounded by nature. Standing on the grounds of Kotoku-in temple for over 750 years, this landmark has an entrance behind it and can accommodate at least 15 guests at once. Pay at the ticket booth on the left side of the statue and enter the interior for a mere 20 yen.
Light a candle inside the Benten Cave at Hase-dera Temple
This serene and artfully landscaped temple on a hill could be the highlight of your walking tour. Spend at least an hour to see its sprawling gardens, koi ponds, Buddhist altars, the main temple housing the Kannon goddess statue, and the majestic view of the sea from the hill’s viewing deck. Near the stairs leading to the viewing deck is the Benten cave with a small vermillion torii. The ceiling is low so prepare to bend down inside the dark cave with numerous Benten statues carved into the walls and displayed with lit candles.
Unwind at the Kamakura Seaside Park Yuigahama
After a visit to Hase-dera and the Great Buddha, you might want to take a breather and get away from the tourists for a while. Take a leisurely walk, have a snack with a view or simply enjoy the ocean breeze on your face at the Seaside Park Yuigahama. Surfers chasing and riding the waves is also a thrilling sight. Finally, capture the setting sun before heading back to the busier side of the metropolis.
Visit the bamboo gardens at Hokokuji Temple
Hokokuji has an impressively landscaped garden that makes for a relaxing stroll, but we recommend spending most of your time at the bamboo gardens. Once you step into this lush and surreal ground, the cool breeze embraces you like a host would welcome a guest. You’ll find yourself in awe as you’re dwarfed by towering, slender bamboo trees. In the midst of this greenery also lies a wooden hut where matcha (green tea) is served and enjoyed by tired temple-goers looking for a quick respite.
Enjoy the finest views from Kenchoji Temple
The oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, Kenchoji Temple is a sprawling temple complex with rustic wooden structures, well-maintained gardens and historical shrines. What sets it apart is the bell considered as a National Treasure and two observatory decks behind the temple. The first one lets you enjoy the view of the sea and Mt. Fuji on the horizon, if you’re lucky. We suggest going for the higher observatory offering fine views of the entire temple grounds and the city of Kamakura.
Visit the war memorial area at Ofuna Kannon-ji Statue
As if she’s watching over the people of Kamakura and Enoshima, the 100-meter tall and 330-meter wide concrete statue of the Goddess of Mercy is atop a hill and can be seen from Ofuna station. A place worth exploring in the temple grounds is the atomic bomb memorial area that displays a rock disfigured by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and a rock from Nagasaki during WWII. Also, there is a lamp that remains burning since the atomic bombings.
See the hydrangeas in bloom at Meigetsu-in Temple
You might think Japanese gardens are all the same, but wait until you set foot in Meigetsuin, also known as, Hydrangea Temple, due to the great number of lovely blue hydrangeas in bloom here after the rainy season, from mid-June to early July. A visit to the iris garden would also be worth your time and 500 yen. If you’re not into flowers, this temple also has a historical side as it houses the tomb of a former Japanese supreme ruler, Hojo Tokiyori.