Kamakura: The Ancient City of Shrines
In the late 12th century, Kamakura became the seat of Japan’s new military government. It stayed that way for a couple centuries until it gradually faded out of the political scene. Regardless, Kamakura remains a popular tourist destination thanks to its sandy beaches and numerous temples.
Kamakura Temples and Shrines
Temples are the name of the game in Kamakura. In total, Kamkura has 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines, each surrounded by verdant forests and tranquil views. Although they all have some beautiful sights to offer, there is simply no way you could possibly see all of them. So when you visit Kamakura, make sure to come with a plan.
The most popular attraction of them all is Daibutsu, the Great Buddha. Standing at over 40 feet tall and weighing over 120 tons, the towering bronze statue is the most iconic attraction in all of Kamakura. Although the statue once stood inside a temple hall, the temple was destroyed repeatedly by typhoons and tsunamis. So now Buddha stands in the open air.
My Temple Recommendations
As for a more expansive and traditional temple experience, I recommend visiting the Hasedera Temple, the Hachimangu Shrine, and the Kenchoji Temple. Not far from Daibutsu, Hasedera Temple is dedicated to the Jodo Sect of Buddhism. It features gorgeous architecture, peaceful koi ponds, and a 9.18 meter tall, gilded statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. It is one of the most picturesque attractions in the area.
Compared to the Hasedera Temple, the Hachimangu Shrine is equally popular and beautiful. However, it is perhaps the most important shrine in the city. The shrine was moved to Kamakura by Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura government. It is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron deity of the Minamoto family and all samurai.
In a similar way, the Kenchoji Temple adds to its beauty by being the most important Zen temple in Kamakura. Its temple bell (Bonsho) is a national treasure, and its masterfully designed gardens are beyond gorgeous. You can also take a path from the temple into the hills, where you will be greeted by excellent views.
Kamakura Hiking Trails
Several wooded, hiking trails connect the temples of Kamakura. While I have already mentioned Kenchoji’s paths, I suggest looking at the Daibutsu Hiking Course. From Kita-Kamakura Station you can find the trail by the small and charming Jochiji Temple. It will take you directly to Daibutsu and only takes about 60-90 minutes to complete.
Before you hike, just check the weather. There is a lot of steep and uneven surfaces along the path. So if it decides to rain on your hike, you’ll have a hard time keeping your footing.
A Sweet Kamakura Treat
After a long day of hiking in the hot sun, you might need something cold and sweet to cool you off. I recommend Kamakura Chacha. The ice cream shop specializes in matcha gelato and soft serve. You can choose from several levels of intensity to make sure you get the balance of sweet and bitter right for you. It’s a must-try when you’re in the area. It’s also directly next to Kamakura Station’s West Exit, so it’s incredibly convenient.
Other Japanese Excursions
Kamakura is an amazing city in Japan with a wealth of historical and cultural sights. But it is also quite close to other great locations in Japan. Consider a trip to Tokyo if you haven’t already. Or maybe explore Yokohama’s attractions to see what secrets the city has to offer. However, if you’re really addicted to cultural attractions, then the breathtaking and historic Kyoto, should be on your list.