Fall in love with cherry blossom season all over again in historic Kamakura.
Are you looking for a cherry blossom viewing experience that’s small in scale but big on history? Then consider coastal Kamakura, a small but mighty city just a day’s jaunt away from Tokyo. With a population of under 200,000, Kamakura was once the feudal capital of Japan and has a rich story to tell.
Kamakura is a wonderful place to enjoy hanami, cherry blossom viewing. What better way to celebrate the fleeting beauty of Japan’s blossoms than to do so in a city steeped in such an enduring history? Check out the stunning pink views leading up to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of samurai, and visitors approach the shrine through a wide path marked by multiple red torii gates—and nearly 300 cherry blossom trees. For the best views, head to the shrine’s Genpei Pond and enjoy the gorgeous blooms reflecting off calm waters. There are also wonderful views and smaller crowds at Kenchoji, the best of Kamakura’s “Five Great Temples.” Cherry blossom viewing season is generally from mid-March to early April, but if you happen to be in Kamakura a little earlier, it’s worth going to Hase-dera, a Buddhist temple dating back to the eighth century, which is known to get some blooms as early as February.
A major springtime event is the Kamakura matsuri, a week-long festival held from the second to the third Sunday in April to celebrate the city’s history. One highlight of the festival is the Shizu no Mai (which takes place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu), a dance performance of a tragic falling-out between two military brothers: the shogun, Yoritomo, and his younger brother, Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune was forced to flee the city, leaving behind his lover, the court dancer Shizuka-gozen. Heartbroken by her loss, and yet forced to dance for the older brother, she defiantly expressed her undying love for Yoshitsune on the stage. This moving story from eight centuries ago is recreated each year at the festival. Another wildly popular event is the yabusame tournament held on the final day of festival week, where traditionally dressed archers on horseback show off their samurai skills by shooting arrows at a target while riding at a full-on gallop. Talk about multitasking!
There are a wealth of other traditional experiences to be had before and after the festival, including flower arranging classes at the Buddhist temple, Tokeiji, which is known as the “divorce temple” because it was originally a nunnery, and a refuge for women fleeing their husbands. Women who stayed long enough were considered divorced, thus the temple’s nickname—but don’t worry, you don’t need to be a divorcee to join their flower arrangement classes.
Can you Kamakura like a boss?
wash your money at Zeniarai Beaten
The shrine water purifies and possibly multiplies your money. Bigger travel budget, anyone?
pass up the purple potato
Try Kamakura’s Murasaki imo korokke, a hot fritter that’s crispy outside, colourful inside.
aim to be early for the archery tournament
It’s extremely popular, so you’ll need to grab a spot well ahead of time.
Illustration by Chieko Watanabe