There are many day trips you can do from Tokyo. Even so, if I should choose only one, it would definitely be a visit to Kamakura instead of Yokohama, Odawara or Hakone. Of course, it is always personal but I promise you Kamakura cannot disappoint. It is a safe bet!
Kamakura was Japan’s capital and a samurai city for over 150 years. Hence, is still very charming and traditional, hosting 65 temples and 19 Shinto shrines, historical places and a lot of nature. With so much heritage, the place is an amazing option to explore the Japanese culture.
As a day trip you won’t be able to explore the entire city for sure, so you’ll need to chose in advance what you’d like to see and follow your plan. Are many attractions at each corner, so if you’ll start deviating from your route you will never finish the initial itinerary.
Below, you will see the attractions I chose to visit in Kamakura. You can create your own list, but don’t miss the Daibutsu, the Big Buddha of Kamakura, which is the city’s most famous attraction .
Apart from the fact this was my favorite temple in Japan, the place has a very nice story behind and many interesting things to see (many halls, a cave, two observation decks and a restaurant).
There is a legend which says long time ago, in 721 AD, a monk discovered a sacred large camphor tree in a village in the Nara region. He commissioned two sculptors to carve two eleven headed Kannon statues, one from the top and one from the bottom on the trunk.
The one carved from the lower part has been enshrined in Hasedera Temple in Nara. The other one was thrown into the sea, with a prayer, that it will reappear to save the people. After fifteen years it washed ashore near Kamakura. As a consequence, the statue has been taken to Kamakura and a temple has been built to honor it.
Today, the impressive statue of Hase Kannon is located in the Kannon-to Hall temple – you can easy recognize it as it has eleven heads apart from the main one. It it approximately 9 meters tall, which makes it one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.
While walking towards the temple – which is somewhere up the hill – at some point you will notice many small statues on the right. These are Jizo statues, named after a Buddhist saint who saves people and is believed to protect children. What I loved the most are the tiny clothes covering the statues, so cute! You can pray there for the prosperity and easy childbirth.
An another interesting thing you will see here is Kyozo, a space to store Buddhist scriptures. Inside it, you will notice the rotary bookshelf called Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures.
While walking around the temple I noticed a statue which symbolize one the gods of happiness. Suddenly, I also noticed a toddler walking around which was happy to give me a hug. He truly made my day better!
There is also a platform with nice view over Sagami golf and a restaurant offering the same view while having a drink or enjoying a lunch. If you want to extend your walk you can follow a path and go even upper on the hill, through a small bamboo forest to enjoy the peace from above. (Hasedera Temple Entrance fee ¥400 per adult, ¥200 per child)
Kannon Museum, Hasedera
Inside the Hasedera temple there is the Kannon (God of Mercy) Museum. It hosts many Buddhist treasures like thirty-three Avatars of Kannon. This means the thirty-three forms in which Kannon incarnates to perform acts of charity. Their importance is even greater because are all present. (Entrance fee ¥300 per adult, ¥150 per child)
There are two big Buddhas in Japan, one in Kamakura and the other one, bigger, in Nara. The Big Buddha of Kamakura can be found in the Kotoku-in Temple.
This seated Buddha, known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the main deity of Kotoku-in temple. It is considered a national treasure. The overall image is beautiful and wasn’t an easy work to do. It took 10 years to be built, it has 11 meter height and weights 121 tones. On the inside it’s empty and if you want to have a look, you can do it for a surcharge.
If you want to go straight from Daibutsu to the money washing shrine, you can do so by following the Kuzuharaoka – Daibutsu Hiking Trail. I did followed the trail even if it was very muddy and at the end of the trip my white sneakers were black. It totally worth the experience through the nature.
Apart from this trail, there are a two more options to visit Kamakura and its nature, the Gionyama Hiking Trail and Tenen Hiking Trail.
Zeniaraibenzaiten Ugafukujinja Shrine
If you ever thought about washing money, you can do it in a legal way! Ugafukijin is the harvest and fertility deity and you can wash money for prosperity in the Shrine’s spring water. Is believed to bring good fortune. I haven’t gotten rich since I’ve been washing mine, but who knows, maybe I should buy a lotto ticket or go to Las Vegas!
Nestled in a cypress wood, this temple is considered one of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura. Its altar has three wooden statues which represent the past (Nyorai), the present (Shaka) and the future (Miroku). It was established in 1281 (with the current building dating from 1923) and today is designated an important cultural asset. The garden and the placement of the temple are worth in a visit, especially in summer when hydrangeas are in bloom. The admission fee is 200¥ and you need around half an hour to get around.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
This Shrine is the heart of Kamakura. It is devoted to the god of warriors. It had an ancient great gingko tree which fell in 2010, but shoots are now sprouting from its base.
If you’ll visit Kamakura in April or September, check the dates for the Yabusame Ritual. This is a ritual dating from the Kamakura period, where the archery on horseback was releasing the captive animals, a traditional Buddhist ceremony. Today, the archers gallop down a 260 meters track on high speed while shooting arrows at three targets one after another.
Well, that’s it from my side! I totally recommend you to visit Kamakura as you’ll have no regrets! Before going home, spend some time in the city center to buy some souvenirs or try some tasty traditional food.
If you want to learn more about Japan or planning your trip, read more about this amazing country here.