Kamakura: the Gem of Shonan

Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture

If you are lucky enough to live in or travel to this historic city, you are in for a treat! I love this old town. Even the hiking in the surrounding hills is fun, and so is going to the beach! What a combination!

(From Tokyo take the Yokosuka Line from Tokyo, Shimbashi and Shinagawa Stations approx. 1 hr)

"The capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333,...rivals Nikko as the most culturally rewarding day trip from Tokyo. There are a huge number of Buddhist temples and the occasional shrine dotted around the surrounding countryside, as well as some very pleasant walks." --Japan, Lonely Planet

Photo of this beautiful city by Richard Baladad I highly recommend this gem of the Shonan coast as one of the must see places in Japan. When deciding to write this guide, Kamakura was one of the first places after Kyoto I decided I would list. John Carroll`s, Trails of Two Cities (Kodansha International, 1997) is a good guide to the city and surrounding area. An area full of flowers all year round.

(Photo of cherry blossoms in the city by Richard Baladad)

The city has three main areas: North--the Great Buddha area, and Central Kamakura. The quietest, most scenic and most meditative areas are West and North. It is best to visit the city on a weekday as weekends tend to be very crowded.

The West-side

Engaku-ji Founded: 1282 The entrance to the temple is near Kita-Kamakura Station. Built to comfort the souls of the warriors slain in the great Mongol invasion the previous year. If you go up the stone stairs to the right, you will see the Great Bell. It is famous for it`s beautiful sound and shape. Take some time to have some tea and contemplate life at one of the many sub-temples surrounding the main temple.

Kencho-ji Founded: 1253 The walkway to the Buddha Hall or (Butsuden) is lined with 700 year old junipers--wellworth seeing themselves. To the left behind the main temple is a famous pond garden reputedly made by Muso Soseki. The path continues into the hills and you can engage in some hiking if you`d like. The hiking around the area is very good.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu (Exit East Side of the train Station)

Then it is ten minutes walk on foot. Walk along Wakamiya-oji Street which has three large gates so it is difficult to get lost. Part of the street is lined with cherry trees and is beautiful in the spring. This is the main shrine of the city. Founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi whose clan rules Japan from Kamakura. The central entrance crosses a bridge over a lotus leaf pond called Gempei Ike. On the left of the Shrine Hall or (Hongu) is a one thousand year old gingko tree. Sanetomo was assassinated by his nephew who leaped from behind the tree in 1219.

Japanese Language Point:Doko desuka?=Where is? (the `o` is hard not soft) If you get lost just ask one of the locals: "Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu doko desuka?" Surugowka hochymon doko des ka? This is: "Where is Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu?"

The Great Buddha Area

Daibatsu (The Great Buddha)

The Daibatsu or Great Buddha is one of the most enduring images of Japan. Indeed it is Kamakura`s most famous sight. It was built in 1252. It was once housed indoors but now sits outside guarding over the city. The statue is 11.4 metres tall. It is artistically superior to the Nara Buddha, though smaller.

"Once housed in a huge hall, the statue today sits in the open, its home having been washed away by a tsunami in 1495. Cast in bronze and weighing closeto 850 tonnes, the statue is 11.4 m tall. Its construction is said to have been inspired by Yoritomo`s visit to Nara (where there is another, even bigger, daibutsu) after the Minamoto clans victory over the rival Taira clan. Even though Kamakura`s Daibatsu doesn`t match Nara`s in stature, it is commonly agreed that it is artistically superior."--Japan, Lonely Planet


(5 minutes from Hase Station on the Enoden Line)

This temple has a 9 meter tall gilded image of Kannon. This Kannon was carved from one gigantic camphor tree. The grounds are filled with many stone jizo dressed in red. These are to comfort the unborn children. (There are many abortions in Japan.)

"By legend, this temple`s 9 meter-tall gilded image of Kannon was carved from the sameimmense camphor tree as the celebrated Hase-kannon in the mountains south of Nara. The twin was set adrift and eventually washed ashore at Kamakura in 736, where this temple was founded for it."

--June Kinoshita & Nicholas Palevsky, Gateway to Japan

There are many more temples in Kamakura than are listed here. However these are the must sees in my opinion

Read more about visiting this culturally interesting city.

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