Anyone who knows me knows how obsessed I am with Asia and in particular Japanese and Korean culture. Japan was always one of those places I day dreamed about visiting when I was younger, and since becoming cabin crew years ago I have been extremely lucky enough to visit Japan frequently on layovers to Tokyo and Osaka, and I always make sure I venture out and explore. Several years back I was rostered a trip to Tokyo over my birthday so my husband decided to come along on the trip with me as he was desperate to go to Japan, at this time I had been to Tokyo a few times with work and was keen to show him the city and why I fell in love with the country so much.
Kamakura is a small seaside city an hour south of Tokyo, and is a popular coastal resort it is sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of eastern Japan, as it is very picturesque with numerous temples, historical monuments, shinto shrines, hiking trails and several beaches. During the summer months the beaches attract large crowds of domestic tourists.
We only had 48 hours to explore but decided we both wanted to see a different area of Japan, we landed in the morning and both were exhausted from the long flight over so decided to have a quick power nap and then get a train from Yokohama to Kamakura for a more chilled out pace for the day, before heading in to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo the next day. We grabbed some lunch in Yokohama before getting on the train to Kamakura which only takes about 30 minutes.
By the time we had lunch and got the train we only really had half a day to explore Kamakura so squeezed as much as we possibly could into our visit. We really enjoyed visiting Kamakura and its slow pace, we were lucky when we visited as it was a warm summers day and the temples and surrounding greenery were stunning. Kamakura makes a great day trip from Tokyo and is the perfect escape from the city.
Sights & Activities
Daibutsu Hiking Trail
Daibutsu Hiking Trail is a wooded trail which is just short of 2 miles long, the trail begins just by Jōchi-ji Temple and finishes just by The Great Buddha. We actually stumbled on this trail by accident when we got on the train we got off at Kita-Kamakura by accident rather than Kamakura, so we decided to go and visit the Engakuji Temple and Jōchi-ji Temple.
Once we visited these temples we decided to walk to The Great Buddha, we didnt plan on doing this trail and I didnt have the best footwear on so make sure to wear some comfortable trainers or walking shoes if you plan on doing this trail, not some silly glittery peep toe dolly shoes like I had on! However the trail is quite an easy route and walking through the woods and bamboo forests was great and so nice to be out in nature, the trail was nice and quiet too.
The Daibutsu Hiking Trail took us just short of an hour an half but we did stop a few times, make sure to also take plenty of water on this trail as theres no where really to get a drink on route. There are several shrines along the way that are hidden away so if you are doing this route maybe pin them on your map so you know where to stop. I really recommend if your visiting Kamakura for the day to get off at the Kita-Kamakura stop as there are plenty of temples and shrines to see near to the station and then can take the Daibutsu Hiking Trail to the Great Buddha.
Engakuji Temple is built into the slopes of Kita-Kamakuras forested hills and is one of Kamakuras leading zen temples. The temple was founded back in 1282 and was built after a second invasion attempt by the Mongols to pay respect to both the Japanese and Mongolian soliders that had died. Like many Japanese temples the entrance has a large wooden Sanmon gate at the entrance, and once inside the grounds of the temple there are several buildings to explore and there is also a traditional tea house on site too.
As we visited during the summer the trees were bright and green, however if you visit in the autumn be sure to visit this temple as there are plenty of maple trees surrounding the temple which turn to stunning autmn colours. Admission into the temple is 300 Yen per person so less than £3, Engakuji Temple is a must when visiting Kamakura.
Jōchi-ji Temple is another one of Kamakuras main zen temples, its close to Engakuji Temple which is its head temple. Jōchi-ji Temple was once a huge temple complex, today it is a much smaller temple surrounded by forest. The temple was originally founded in 1283 by the ruling Hojo family in honour of their young son who died. Most of the buildings that stand there today have been there since the 1920s.
I would suggest visiting this temple after Engakuji Temple as they are only a few minutes walk apart from one another and entrance into Jōchi-ji Temple is only 200 Yen. The Daibutsu Hiking Trail also starts just by this temple too, the gardens in the temple grounds are calm and tranquil and the grounds have lush flowerbeds and bamboo groves which are great to stroll around before starting a hike.
The Great Buddha (Kotoku-in Temple)
The Great Buddha is a symbol of Kamakura and one of the pictures most associated with this coastal city. The Buddha draws plenty of visitors and is Japans second tallest bronze Buddha statues. The statue was cast back in 1252 and originally sat inside the temple, however the temple halls and buildings were destroyed on numerous occasions by typhoons and tsunamis back in the 14th and 15th centuries. Since the late 15th century the Buddha has been outside overlooking the city and coast. Entrance into the temple is 300 Yen and there is another small fee of 20 yen if you would like to enter the Buddha statues interior. As the Great Buddha is Kamakuras top attraction it would be a crime to miss it, so make sure this is top of your must see list in Kamakura.
Zaimokuza Beach is one of five beaches set along Kamakuras 5 miles of coastline, the other beaches are Yuigahama Beach and Koshigoe Beach which are the other two main beaches along with Zaimokuza Beach, and Inamuragasaki and Shichirigahama are two smaller beaches and coves which are less touristy. Zaimokuza Beach is one of the main tourist beaches but is less crowded than Yuigahama and is set in a calm cove. The official beach season in Kamakura is short lived and only runs from July – August, when many beachfront bars, cafes, restaurants and beach huts open for business, and watersport equipment is available for rent.
Zaimokuza Beach is only a few minutes walk from the Great Buddha and on clear days you can also get a glimpse of Mt Fuji, however if you want the best view then head to Inamuragasaki which is also a popular spot for surfers.
We visited Zaimokuza Beach and had a stroll along it after visiting the Great Buddha, and we enjoyed getting to see one of Japans beaches and viewing the coastline, which considering Japan is a cluster of islands I never think to associate beaches with Japan, so if your visiting Tokyo or one of the surrounding areas make sure to head down to one of Kamakuras beaches for something a little different.
Transport & Getting Around
Kamakura is pretty staright forward to reach from both Tokyo and Yokohama, if you take the JR Yokosuka line from Tokyo it goes directly to Kita-Kamakura and Kamakura and stops via Yokohama where you can also get the train directly from on the same line. The trains are regular and also very cost efficient costing between £3-£7 per person depending on where you take the train from.
There are also buses from Tokyo to Kamakura however these take a long time and are more expensive. Taxis are also available but cost far more, personally I would always recommend taking the trains as much as possible in Japan as they are so clean and efficient and cost effective when not taking very long journeys.
Due to Kamakuras small size the area can be explored by foot, scenic hiking or by bicycle, there are several rental places to rent bikes if you wanted to cycle around. There is also a good network of city buses, trains and taxis availble for slightly longer distances.