Visiting Kamakura

Take a trip to a historic capital

Visiting Kamakura

For 150 years, from the 12th to the 14th centuries, Kamakura was Japan’s military and administrative capital. The factors that made it a strategic location for the first military government – hills on three sides, Sagami Bay on the other – have also protected it from the encroaching sprawl of Yokohama. It’s less than an hour by train from central Tokyo, but the atmosphere is a world away. There are more than 70 active temples and shrines dotted around Kamakura, from the large and eminent to the small and secluded. Few buildings remain intact from the Kamakura period, but many temples and shrines appear unspoilt, giving visitors a rare glimpse of old Japan. The Minamoto family picked Kamakura for its new base after vanquishing the Taira clan in 1185 and setting up Japan’s first military government – marking the start of 700 years of domination by shoguns. The new military rulers encouraged Zen Buddhism, which appealed due to its strict self-discipline, and temples of various sects were established in the area. While traces of the government and military rule faded quickly after the Minamoto clan and their regents were defeated in 1333, the religious influence endures to this day. Kamakura is now a major tourist destination, and the temples are well looked after – although most require a small entry fee (¥100-¥300). The main attractions are scattered, but most are within walking distance of Kamakura or Kita-Kamakura stations, and can be covered in a day trip from Tokyo. You can pick up a free map from the tourist information window at Kamakura Station. Most temples are open daily, from 9am until 4pm, but museums and treasure houses are usually closed on Mondays.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Kamakura’s main shrine, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, is a ten-minute walk from Kamakura Station. Hachiman is seen today as the god of war, but in the past he was regarded as the guardian of the whole nation. As one of the most important Shinto shrines in eastern Japan, this is an essential stop for all visitors. To reach the shrine, head for the red torii in the left corner of the square outside the station’s east exit. This leads into Komachi Dori, a narrow pedestrian street lined with souvenir and craft shops, boutiques, food stalls and shops. At the far end of this street, turn right to the shrine entrance. Alternatively, walk directly away from the station to Wakamiya Oji. This broad avenue forms a north–south axis from central Kamakura down to the sea. Turning left, make your way along the cherry-lined walkway up the centre of the street; when the trees blossom here in April, it’s gorgeous. The shrine and grounds of Tsurugaoka (Hill of Cranes) were built to subtle and strict specifications. The main shrine at the top is reached through a gate with two guardian figures (Yadaijin and Sadaijin). The steps descending to the right lead to other buildings and the treasure house, where historic, religious artworks from the area are displayed. (Full details & map)

West of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Museum of Modern Art

A few minutes’ walk from Hachiman-gu is the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura (2-1-53 Yukinoshita, Kamakura, 0467 22 5000, closed Mon). In a time of political, economic, social and moral upheaval, local artists and critics thought Japan needed a forum for new art, and, six decades later, Japan’s first museum of modern art is still one of its best. (Full details & map)


Further west is Eisho-ji, the only active Buddhist nunnery in the area. It allows access to parts of its grounds, as does nearby Jufuku-ji, reached by a long, maple-lined approach. The quiet ancient cemetery behind, reached by the path to the left of the gate, has many burial caves, some dating from the Kamakura period. (Full details & map)

Zeniarai Benten

A 20-minute stroll into the hills on this side of the city will bring you to the atmospheric Zeniarai Benten, the ‘Money-Washing Shrine’ dedicated to one of the seven lucky gods. A tunnel going through the mountainside leads into a mysterious area with waterfalls, ponds and small shrines carved into the cliff face, the air filled with incense and ethereal music. Inside the main cave, place your money, notes and all, into bamboo baskets that you then dip in the water. The truly faithful will find their assets have doubled in value. (Full details & map)

Kotokuin Temple

From here, a 20-minute walk will bring you to Kotokuin Temple, home of the Daibutsu statue, aka the Great Buddha – the best known of Kamakura’s attractions. The temple dates from 741, and the bronze statue of Buddha from 1252. Over 36 feet (11 metres) high and weighing 121 tonnes, the figure appears ungainly and top-heavy from a distance, but from close up the proportions seem perfect. For ¥20 you can go inside the statue. (Full details & map)


Hase-dera (also known as Hase Kannon) temple is just down the road. The main feature here is the 11-faced statue of Kannon (goddess of mercy and compassion). Over nine metres (30 feet) tall, it was carved in 721 out of a single camphor tree. The temple is also famous for its thousands of small Jizo figurines offered in memory of deceased children and babies (including those who were never carried to full term). Hase-dera also has a revolving library containing Buddhist sutras – worshippers causing the library to rotate receive merit equivalent to reading the entire Buddhist canon – and a small network of caves with statues carved out of the rock. The treasure house contains artefacts excavated from the temple during rebuilding. Hase-dera is also known for its hydrangea that bloom each June. From Hase-dera there’s a panoramic view of the town, the beach and Sagami Bay. (Full details & map)

East of Tsurugaoka Hachiman-Gu

Although none of the main sights are in this area, which thus attracts fewer crowds, there are still many smaller temples worth seeing. The first shrine as you come from Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu is Egara Tenjin, founded in 1104. Tenjin is the patron deity of scholarship and literature, and every January 25 there is a ritualistic burning of writing brushes. Nearby is the Kamakura-gu shrine, founded by the Meiji emperor in 1869. From here, turn left up a lane to Kakuon-ji. This small temple offers 45-minute tours by a priest (¥300) on the hour from 10am to 3pm (except noon on weekdays), unless it is raining. The tour is in Japanese only, but the thatched buildings and old wooden statues do not need much explanation.

A 15-minute walk from Kamakura-gu takes you to Zuisen-ji, famous for its trees and flowers, especially the plum blossoms in February. This small temple has a Zen garden created in the 14th century by the celebrated priest and landscape gardener Soseki Muso. From the intersection near Kamakura-gu, head along the main road to reach Sugimoto-dera, the oldest temple in Kamakura. It’s a beautiful place, with white banners lining either side of the well-worn stone steps. Both the gate and temple have thatched roofs and were originally built in 734.


Further along, on the other side of the road, is lovely Hokoku-ji, known as the ‘bamboo temple’ for its extensive grove of giant bamboo, where you can sit and contemplate while sipping whisked green tea. From here it’s a short walk to the Shakado tunnel. One of the original entrances to the ancient city cut through the hills, this dark (and reputedly haunted) spot is very atmospheric. Closer to the station is Hongaku-ji, a small temple whose ancient gate and guardian statues gaze out towards the entrance to Myohon-ji, the oldest and largest of the Nichiren sect temples in Kamakura. Founded in 1260, it nestles deep into a fold in the hills and is surprisingly quiet. Another 15 minutes or so away is Myoho-ji, also known as the Moss Temple, where the priest Nichiren once resided. The ancient steps lead up to a hilltop vantage point that remains a favourite spot. (Full details & map)


The only major temple close to the sea is Komyo-ji, established in 1243, which has a huge wooden sanmon gate and an attractive lotus pond with carp and terrapins. A path behind the main prayer hall (on the right next to the playground) leads up the hill, giving views on clear days down the coast to Enoshima island and the Izu Peninsula, with Mt Fuji behind. (Full details & map)


At this end of the bay are the remains of Wakaejima, the first artificial harbour in Japan. Built in 1232, it went into decline after the capital reverted to Kyoto, and now the stones are only visible at low tide. Zaimokuza Beach, the eastern half of the bay, is favoured by dinghy sailors, windsurfers and ever-hopeful weekend surfers (the waves are usually tiny). The western section, Yuigahama Beach, is more popular with sunbathers. In summer, temporary huts are built along the sand to provide showers, changing facilities and deckchair rentals, as well as snacks and drinks. Head to Kamakura on a summer weekend and you might find the beach jumping to parties by some of Tokyo’s top DJs. Check iflyer for dates and details.



This area north of the town centre is home to many Rinzai sect temples, among them the famous Engaku-ji, the largest Zen temple in Kamakura, situated bang in front of Kita-Kamakura Station. The temple was founded in 1282, although the main gate was reconstructed in 1780. The precincts, which extend a long way up into the hills, house more than 15 smaller sub-temples. To the left of the main entrance you can often see people practising Zen archery. On the hill to the right is the famous temple bell – the biggest in Kamakura.

Kamakura Old Pottery Museum

On the narrow road next to the railway tracks is the Kamakura Old Pottery Museum (10am-5pm Tue-Sun, ¥300-¥500), housed in a pleasant compound of old and reconstructed half-timbered buildings. Across the tracks is Tokei-ji, for a long time a nunnery that offered asylum to women seeking refuge from abusive husbands. It’s worth a visit for its lovely garden and grounds, as well as the treasure house (10am-3pm Tue-Sun, ¥300), which keeps old sutras and scrolls.


Nearby is Jochi-ji, a Zen temple noted for the small, ancient bridge and steps at its entrance, its bell tower, the burial caves at the back and a tunnel between the cemeteries. A mountain path leading back to Kamakura station starts from the left of the entrance. On the other side of the main road is a pleasant street winding up to Meigetsu-in, a temple noted for its hydrangea gardens. Heading towards Kamakura brings you to Kencho-ji, the oldest Zen temple in Japan. It’s an imposing place with large buildings and grounds, although only ten of the 49 original sub-temples survive. Many of the halls have been rebuilt, but their arrangement hasn’t changed for over 700 years. The second floor of the majestic sanmon gate houses 500 statues of rakan (Buddha’s disciples), although they are not on view. Behind the last building there’s a garden (by Muso Soseki), from which a path leads to steps climbing to Hanso-bo, a shrine where the guardian of the temple resides. You will also see statues of tengu (goblins) lining the approach. From here you can follow the Ten-en hiking path, which follows the hilltop ridge as far as Zuisen-ji temple in the east of Kamakura. Back on the main road, a short flight of stairs near the tunnel marks the entrance to Enno-ji, a very small temple housing statues representing the ten judges of Hell.

Where to eat

Around Kamakura Station, there are many restaurants along Komachi Dori, the narrow shopping street near the east exit. Friendly T-Side (2-11-11 Komachi, 04 6724 9572, lunch sets ¥1,050- ¥1,575) serves great Indian food. Around the corner is Nakamura-an (1-7-6 Komachi, 04 6725 3500, from ¥700), a cosy noodle shop that serves hearty, hand-chopped soba.

In Kita-Kamakura, you can try a taste of Zen at Hachinoki Honten (7 Yamanouchi, 04 6722 8719, lunch from ¥300), which serves elegant shojin ryori vegan cuisine close to the main entrance of the Kencho-ji temple. Sasanoha (499 Yamanouchi, 04 6723 2068, from ¥1,500) offers delicious (but not entirely vegetarian) meals with brown rice.

Facing the ocean in Inamuragasaki (on the Enoden line) is Taverna Rondino (2-6-11 Inamuragasaki, 0467 25 4355, set meals from ¥1,680), an Italian restaurant as good as most in Tokyo. Reservations are recommended if you want a seat on the outside terrace.

Getting there

Kamakura is less than an hour by train from Tokyo. Both Kita-Kamakura and Kamakura stations are on the JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo (¥890 single), Shinbashi (¥780) and Shinagawa (¥690) stations; trains run every 10-15mins. There’s a more limited service on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line from Shinjuku (¥890), Shibuya (¥890) and Ebisu (¥780). A special two-day return, including unlimited rides on the Enoden line and Shonan Monorail, is the Kamakura-Enoshima Free Ticket (¥1,970). A cheaper but longer (90mins) option is to take the Odakyu line from Shinjuku to Enoshima (¥610; ¥1,210 by express), then transfer on to the Enoden line (¥250 to Kamakura). Day-trip tickets (also with unlimited rides on the Enoden) are available for ¥1,430.

Getting around

On foot

Walking is the best way to see the city. Narrow streets take you through quiet residential areas, while hiking routes along the ridges of the hills link different parts of town. After the initial ascent, they are generally fairly easy walks, some leading to picnic areas and parks. The starting points are indicated on the road, as are destinations and estimated durations.

By bike

Bikes can be rented from the rental cycle office (04 6724 2319) behind the police box on the right as you leave the east exit of Kamakura station (open 8.30am-5pm daily; ¥600 first hour, ¥250 extra hour, ¥1,600 full day; bring photo ID). Or you can rent a mountain bike for ¥2,500-¥3,000 a day from Grove (0467 23 6667), a specialist cycle shop on the left side of the main street (Wakamiya Oji) as you walk down towards the sea.

By rickshaw

For a more leisurely mode of transport, take a rickshaw – catch one outside the west exit of Kamakura station or on Wakamiya Oji, by the big torii (shrine gate). For half an hour, it costs ¥5,000 for one person, ¥8,000 for two.

By taxi

Taxis can be caught from either side of the station. There are also regular bus services departing from the east exit. And no visit to Kamakura can be considered complete without a short trip on the venerable tram cars of the Enoden line (Enoshima Electric Railway), which winds from Kamakura station, past Hase station (the stop for Hase Kannon and the Great Buddha), down along the coast to Enoshima island and Fujisawa.

Tourist information

For more information, visit Kamakura Today or Kamakura City Tourist Information Service, 1-1-1 Komachi, Kamakura Eki Konai, Kanagawa-ken (04 6722 3350). Open 9am-5pm daily.

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.



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