One of Japan’s ancient capitals first governed by a shogun and the birthplace of wabi sabi (appreciation of imperfection), Kamakura is packed with distinctive attractions of Japan that make it a great field of exploration for both local and international visitors.
Within the historical site there are temples and shrines dating back to the 12th century, collections of creative art and culture, plenty of delicacies to try at chic restaurants, cafés and bars, along with breathtaking sceneries of nature and ocean views. Even better, with all of these elements accessible only within an hour from Tokyo, Kamakura certainly deserves to be one of the most attractive destinations of Japan.
Here is a recommended one-day itinerary covering the must-sees and -dos of Kamakura.
Arrive at Kita Kamakura and explore Engakuji
Let’s start the journey on the JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo station and head to Kita Kamakura station. While most people are tempted to get off straight at Kamakura Station, spare some time to explore Kita Kamakura, an equally fascinating location where many of the vestiges of Zen Buddhism are found unspoiled.
Zen Buddhism is a type of Buddhist faith that incorporates zazen (sitting meditation) in its practices and draws a clear line between the lavish features of Heian Buddhism.
Located only two minutes away on foot from Kita Kamakura station, Engakuji is one of the top Zen temples of Kamakura, built in 1282.
Here, you’ll see many astounding buildings and monuments, including Shariden hall and the temple’s bell, both listed national treasures of Japan.
In between your exploration, stop by at Nyoian An-nei, a cozy hideout where you can sample some aromatic green tea or coffee paired with wagashi (Japanese sweets). A marvelous morning tea inside the tranquil atmosphere of Engakuji will fuel you with positive energy to happily continue your whirlwind adventure.
On a side note if you are an early bird and keen on trying the zazen, there are morning sessions held here every day from 6–7am.
Explore Kenchoji, Plus Lunch
Wandering around Kita Kamakura towards Kamakura, you will encounter another Zen temple named Kenchoji, located about 10 minutes away from Engakuji.
Built in 1253, Kenchoji is the number one at the top of the list of the Kamakura Gozan, the five great Rinzai Zen temples of Kamakura.
Kenchoji is particularly famed for its superb collection of national treasures along with its Japanese garden, which is designated as a place of scenic beauty of Japan.
While admiring the magnificent historical treasures and art of Kenchoji, let’s also take a minute to experience some Buddhist cultural activities first hand.
One of the experience offered at Kenchoji is shakyo, Japanese calligraphy that involves hand-copying sutra. As you try the meditative exercise you will instantly notice the soothing effect that parts you away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
After a relaxing session of calligraphy, let’s sit for a Japanese lunch at Tenshinan located only a minute away from Kenchoji.
The restaurant is inspired by Kenchoji’s Zen and its signature dish such as kenchinjiru (kenchin soup) is linked with its history. A heartful meal with essence of Buddhism should provide an interesting dining experience you will soon not forget.
After a satisfying lunch, let’s continue to our walk towards Kamakura Station and take a short detour at Eishoji, a secret spot only known by the locals.
Located about a 14-minute walk away from Kenchoji, Eishouji is the only nunnery found in Kamakura built during the 17th century.
Eishouji’s garden is blessed with seasonal blooms and teemed with splendid colors all year round.
While there are so many beautiful appearances of Eishouji, the ecstatic beauty of the Bamboo forest definitely tops the lot. The vibrant colors of greenery and neatly organized silhouettes of the bamboos growing en masse is one geometric art to aspire.
Afternoon stroll at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu and Komachi Dori
After saying goodbye to Eishouji, enroute to Kamakura Station, let’s make a brief stop at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the spiritual landmark of Kamakura.
Located about 8 minutes from Eishouji, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a Shinto shrine that once served as the historical and political center of the Kamakura era (1192-1333) and its history roots to the shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo. The sacred walk from the torii gate to the magnificent honden (main hall) is the major draw for modern day tourists.
Komachi dori, a famous alley way that connects Tsurugaoka Hachimangu to Kamakura Station, is lined with all kinds of establishments that include eateries, artistry, antique shops and an owl café, just to name a few. Let’s take this street and perhaps help yourself to some afternoon snacks and catch up on omiyage (souvenir) shopping amidst your walk.
The Buddha of Kamakura
Once reaching Kamakura Station, take a ride on the Enoden (Enoshima Dentetsu line), to Hase Station to view the great Buddha of Kamakura at Kotoku-in Temple.
Located about 5 minutes away from Kamakura Station, and a 10-minute walk from Hase Station, the Kamakura Daibutsu is a designated national treasure of Japan, and along with the statue of great Buddha of Todaiji, is considered one of the most crucial assets of Buddhist art.
A glimpse at this impactful statue (11.3 m in height, weighing 121 tons), will certainly leave you gob smacked for sure.
Evening Stroll at Shichirigahama and Dinner at Kamakura Prince Hotel
Kamakura history and culture are just some of its highlights. Until you witness the beautiful beach side, you haven’t nailed Kamakura.
Hop on the Enoden once again from Hase Station and head to Shichirigahama Station for Shichirigahama beach.
The Shichirigahama beach looks at its prime when the sun sets beneath the horizon, dying its surroundings with gradients of orange.
Le Trianon at Kamakura Prince Hotel offers the most magical French dinner while enjoying this panoramic view of Shichirigahama’s stunning sunset.
Drinks at Cafe Kamakura Bigaku
After a romantic dinner, it’s time to head back to Kamakura Station on the Enoden once again. It’s already late, so let’s give a toast to a lovely day with some good wine married with evening snacks at Cafe Kamakura Bigaku, a cozy and witty Spanish inspired bal. Name a better way to wrap up an adventure!
Depart Kamakura Station
Time flies like an arrow. In just a moments time you are back on the train from Kamakura Station bound for Tokyo. If you fancy reserved seats, book a Green Car ticket at the ticket booth so that you can sit back and totally unwind on your train back to Tokyo.
Feature image by MI7 / Shutterstock.com