A little background on Kamakura
The political centre of medieval Japan, Kamakura is located in Kanagawa prefecture, just south from Tokyo. Surrounded by forests and hills on the north, west and east, and by the Sagami bay on the south, Kamakura is described as a ‘natural fortress’. Though small by today’s standards (Kamakura is home to approximately one hundred seventy thousand residents), the now-resort town used to be the de facto
capital of Japan, as it was the most populated settlement and the seat of the shogunate during the Kamakura period. I have visited several cities in Japan, and explored some better than others. Among them, Kamakura left me in awe. It could be because I prefer small towns to large, bustling concrete jungles, but Kamakura has left me yearning for it day after day, so if you are in Japan and have no particular plan for a day, I suggest venturing out to this splendid little settlement.
How to get to Kamakura
If you are coming from Tokyo, the best way for you to get to Kamakura is to use the Yokosuka Line from Tokyo station. It is a direct train ride lasting a little more than an hour. For this travel plan, I suggest taking an early train and reaching Kamakura before 10 am. If you are coming from other cities, like Kyoto or Osaka, my best advice is to take an airplane. There are several low-cost carriers offering a direct flight to Kamakura, they take a shorter time and, best of all, naturally, it is a direct route. Should you use the train, the prices are very similar but you will have to transfer several times (e.g. from Osaka, you need to transfer at Shin-Osaka and Shinagawa stations). Now, onto the one-day itinerary!
Adjacent to the rail station and leading to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Komachi street may be the most famous street in Kamakura. The narrow passage is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants of various kinds and it crawls with visitors almost all the time. If you want to eat there, you can select between local and international cuisines. I remember seeing a Turkish restaurant at the very entrance to Komachi street. Interestingly, due to the narrow space and the number of people, local authorities have recently passed a regulation banning all drinking and eating whilst walking up or down Komachi street. This, however, comes as no oddity or surprise to anyone familiar with Japanese culture as no matter where you visit in the country, eating and/or drinking while walking is considered inappropriate or even mannerless.
Komachi Mame shiba cafe
My special recommendation goes out to the cute dog cafe that sprouted in the midst of souvenir shops and boutiques. For around one thousand yen, you get a drink of your choice from their vending machine and half an hour playtime with a dozen of adorable and well taken care of mame shiba dogs. Before getting some playtime, however, you will purchase the ticket and wait for the staff to summon your group inside. The two of us waited for about fifteen minutes and used that time to go downstairs and buy some souvenirs at a shop across from the cafe. Once your group is called in, you will have to remove your shoes inside, so make sure you are wearing something you can easily take off and put back on. After that, simply enjoy! Do make sure to follow other rules as explained to you by the staff.
Meigetsu-in, also known as Ajisaidera (Hydrangea Temple) was founded in 1160. The temple, as its alternative name suggests, is famous for the hydrangea that blooms in abundance all around its grounds during the rainy season (June). If you ask any Japanese person about hydrangea in Kamakura, they are highly likely to tell you the same thing: go visit Meigetsu-in and hope that it rains for very few sights can challenge the beauty of 'ajisai' during rainfall. In fact, when I told my friends about my Kamakura plan, they urged me to visit this temple and to 'not care about getting soaked because it will be worth it'. And indeed it was! The temple may not be the most impressive in Japan in terms of its beauty, but the scenery around it is breathtaking. It was very crowded, however, and everyone was carrying umbrellas so, should that be the case during your own trip, you may want to just close yours, just like my boyfriend and I did. Honestly, watching hydrangea is much better when you yourself are getting soaked and you do not have to worry about clashing with other folk’s umbrellas.
How to get to the Hydrangea Temple
Take the Yokosuka Line from Kamakura station and get off at Kita-Kamakura. From there, there are around seven hundred metres to the temple so either follow the crowd or the signs leading up to Meigetsu-in.
Constructed in 1252, Kotoku-in Temple is the home to the “Daibutsu” (Great Buddha
an 11.4 metre, 121-ton copper statue of the Buddha, inspired by the even larger statue found in Nara at the Todaiji Temple. While I personally found the surrounding landscape less impressive than that at Meigetsu-in, the very size of Daibutsu took my breath away. Be warned that, just like Komachi street, Kotoku-in will be crowded. It is nearly impossible to take photos of the statue without a sea of human heads getting in the way (as shown above in the photo I took) but I suppose that this is a part of the statue’s charm. If you venture out through the gate, behind the Buddha, you will find a cute little garden with several seating places (mostly large rocks) where you can rest, and you will also find a wooden structure called the ‘Moon Viewing Hall’ inside of which is, apparently, a statue of the goddess Kannon brought into Japan from Joseon (Korea). If you wish to purchase souvenirs, there is a shop right at the entrance, and also across the street! Both seemed affordable and offered not just memorabilia, but also various refreshments!
How to get to the Daibutsu
I suggest avoiding the buses. It may have been our bad luck but even my Japanese boyfriend could not figure out the bus system on that day so we ended up taking the taxi. If you are in better luck (or wisdom), then there are bus lines you can take, though depending on the traffic you may get stuck somewhere along the way. Alternatively, you can take the Yokosuka Line, get off at Kita-Kamakura and then follow the 3.5 kilometre long hiking trail that will lead you directly to Kotoku-in. You will also find other shrines and parks, and even catch glimpses of the seashore, along the trail.
Finish your day in Kamakura at the beach! If it’s summertime and you like to surf or swim, you can add some sporty activity to this itinerary! If you cannot or you dislike swimming or the weather is not appropriate enough, you can simply view the sea, watch the waves and admire the eagles flying around in search of prey. When we were there, the weather was windy so the waves were rather big and we could spend some time just watching the surfers. I collected some seashells and took a number of videos of the waves crashing against the shore. Overall, it was a relaxing finale of our Sunday in Kamakura.
You can walk back to the Kamakura station from the seashore. It should take around twenty-thirty minutes, depending on your pace. However, if you are too exhausted, you can always take the Yokosuka Line!