Kamakura – One of our Favorite Day Trips
The historic and exceptionally interesting town of Kamakura, a former capital of Japan, is one of our favorite spots. Less than 30 minutes from Yokohama and about an hour from Tokyo, it is an easy and fantastic day trip. And really, a must for anyone spending more than a few days in greater Tokyo. Kamakura was not bombed during world wars and is dotted with over 40 temples and shrines (leading some to term it “Little Kyoto”) and is arguably the cultural capital of Japan given its history and its proximity to Tokyo. It is also a very charming and stylish town reflecting its artisan heritage, with wonderful small shops, restaurants, numerous sights, and narrow neighborhood streets oozing character that cry out to be explored.
1. Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine
Kamakura is home to Tsurugaoka Hachimangū – Kamakura’s most important shrine. And a personal favorite since your humble correspondent was married here. Dedicated to a warrior god, the shrine has been in its current formidable location since 1180. It has an impressive entrance with the main street, much of it lined with young cherry blossom trees, stretching almost 2 miles from the ocean straight to the shrine which dominates the vistas of Kamakura. One of the nice things about Kamakura is that it has no tall buildings…none of the structures in town are allowed to tower above the shrine. The shrine is much larger than it appears and you may want to take some time after seeing the main buildings to explore the smaller pathways following the red curved bridges.
2. The Beach
It is also a coastal town and in the summers is a very popular spot with beachgoers and anyone seeking some relief from the heat. In the summers “umi no ie” (beach housesbg) pop up for 2 months of the year offering a wide variety of bars, cafes and places to hang out, right along the beach. If you’re visiting in the summer months be sure to bring your beachwear! Let us know if you do, we have a few favorite spots.
3. Get Off The Beaten Path
As you make your way between destinations like the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine and the Giant Buddha, be sure to get off the main shopping streets (which will get crowded during the day) and onto the side streets. Even if they look bereft of stores and activities, look closely and you’ll likely be very surprised. Kamakura is filled with interesting little stores and cafes – a local farmer’s market, French bakeries, small noodle shops, tapas bars, old tea houses, fantastic tiny wood-fired-oven pizzerias, organic vegetable cafes, curry shops, ceramics shops, second-hand kimono stores, soap makers, dried snack shops, old and quaint stationary stores, fantastic gifts stores and even local little supermarkets here are all worth exploring.
4. The Giant Buddha and Hidden Trails
The Giant Buddha is as described and worth seeing, even if there are many others joining you. If you have extra time and are feeling adventurous (and energetic) after you’ve visited the Giant Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple, we recommend hiking back to Kamakura Station via Zeniarai Benzaiten Shrine. This hike is a little under 2 miles and will probably take you 90 minutes to complete, but worth the effort. (Note, we tried this trail once after recent rains and that did not go well. So if it has rained recently we recommend you skip this trial. This trail will also take you through a well-hidden café nestled in the mountains and we highly recommend stopping for a spot of green tea and sweets before making your way back to Kamakura Station.
5. Stay For Dinner
We also highly recommend trying one of the many local and wonderful restaurants in Kamakura. In the evening Kamakura returns to the locals and you really feel the community, serenity and beauty of it. We can provide you with a wealth of other details and suggestions for this town which has become our second home!
Click here for information about Yokohama, just a half hour up the coast.