Welcome to a place where you can touch nature, caress the ocean and embrace the mountains … just outside of Tokyo.
Featured picture (Hydrangea flower) ©ACWorks
When you think of Japan, oceanfront beach huts, surfing, organic restaurants, hippies and sunrise yoga sessions don’t immediately come to mind. Welcome to Kamakura, the laidback antidote to the bustling concrete jungle of Tokyo. Located less than an hour away by train, Kamakura is just as famous for its beaches as it is for the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a giant statue of Amida Buddha.
Shop ’til you drop and eat ’til you burst
After disembarking from the train, visitors are beckoned to Komachi Street, located across from Kamakura Station. Komachi Street is home to restaurants, bars, street food stalls and numerous shops. Try some of the dishes featuring the local delicacy, shirasu (young sardines). It’s often served tempura-style, cooked in takoyaki, raw in sushi, either raw or boiled on rice, or as a topping on ramen. Don’t forget to cleanse your palate afterwards with dango (sweet rice dumplings), purple sweet potato soft-serve ice cream or chocolate croquettes!
Walk off your meal by visiting some of the many temples located within walking distance of Kamakura Station. Tsurugaoka Hachimangū shrine is nearby, dedicated to Hachiman, the guardians of warriors. The shrine was established in 1063 and today houses numerous national treasures. Kenchō-ji sits nearby, and claims to be Japan’s oldest Zen monastery. The temple is unique with its centuries-old juniper trees and statue of Jizō Bosatsu, the saviour of lost souls.
A short walk will bring visitors to Engaku-ji, an impressive multi-storey temple structure sitting on stilts surrounded by gardens.
Majestic sights along Kamakura’s trails
Heading back a few stops past Kamakura Station, visit the Daibutsu of Kamakura, an 11-metre-tall Buddha statue completed in 1243 and located at Kōtoku-in temple. Initially enshrined inside a great hall, the Amida Buddha now watches over the region after earthquakes and tsunamis destroyed the original building in 1495. About a half-hour walk away, Hōkoku-ji temple sits between the Ten-en and Gionyama hiking trails, and features a tranquil bamboo garden and a teahouse.
Kamakura maintains numerous hiking courses that bring visitors to out-of-the-way and majestic sights. The Ten-en trail winds among the hills and valleys on the northern edges of the city, and it leads hikers past several yagura tomb caves, housing the remains of samurai and regents. The Daibutsu trail leads visitors from Kita-Kamakura Station to the great Daibutsu through forested valleys and past natural springs. Walk the eastern hills along the Gionyama trail, which connects several temples, shrines and the Harakiri yagura tomb caves. This trail is located close to Kamakura Station, and hikers are rewarded with lovely views overlooking the city.
Enjoy sun, surf and sand with the locals
Kamakura is bordered by mountains, valleys and Sagami Bay. Visiting Kamakura without visiting the beach is unthinkable. Amateur and professional surfers flock to beaches fed with steady waves and saltwater spray from the Pacific Ocean. Local surf camps offer classes on the city’s three beaches: Zaimokuza, Yuigahama and Koshigoe. Zaimokuza beach sits nestled in a calm cove, with tide pools during low tide. Ko-shigoe is near a harbour, where local restaurants sell freshly caught seafood. If you prefer organic, macrobiotic, hemp-based or vegetarian fare, you won’t have to venture far from the beach, with numerous restaurants on the boardwalks and along the coastal roads. Regardless of which beach you visit, don’t forget to pack your yoga mat to welcome the morning sun or pick up a watermelon to play suikawari. Similar to the piñata, suikawari is a traditional game that invites participants to split a watermelon in half with a stick while blindfolded.
Kamakura hosts several festivals—most of which are held during the summer and are centred on the local shrines. These celebrations feature ritual dances, parades with portable shrines (mikoshi), musical bands and depictions of medieval samurai skills such as archery on horseback.
As you ride back to Tokyo, you’ll hardly have time to reflect on your visit, for even though it is close to the city, Kamakura feels a million miles away.
Discover the region’s tasty eats and indulgent treats
While you’re in Kamakura, don’t forget to check out the local shops’ specialties.
Take home a bite of Kamakura with delicious Hangetsu. These wafer cookies filled with sweet red bean or matcha cream are available from Komachi Street.
Try shirasu-don, comprised of a bowl of rice topped with raw young sardines, nori, green onions and raw egg. Shirasu-don is a bowl full of umami goodness! Picture ©ACWorks
All photos ©JNTO unless otherwise noted