Kamakura is a charming coastal city located just an hour away from Tokyo by train. Despite its proximity to the capital, Kamakura offers a completely different experience than Tokyo. With its rich history, natural beauty, and unique culture, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Kamakura. In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 experiences you don’t want to miss when you visit Kamakura.
Explore Kamakura’s Rich History
If you’re a history buff, you’ll love exploring Kamakura’s numerous historic sites. The city was the political center of Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and as such, it’s home to some of Japan’s most significant historical sites.
One of the most interesting aspects of Kamakura’s history is the influence of Zen Buddhism. During the Kamakura period, Zen Buddhism became increasingly popular among the samurai class, and many of Kamakura’s temples and shrines reflect this influence.
Visit the Great Buddha of Kamakura
The Great Buddha, or Daibutsu, is a must-see attraction in Kamakura. The colossal bronze statue, which stands at over 40 feet tall, dates back to the 13th century and is located at the Kotokuin Temple. It’s an awe-inspiring sight to behold, and you can even go inside the statue and climb up to the observation deck.
Legend has it that the Great Buddha was originally housed in a wooden temple, but the temple was destroyed by a tsunami in the late 15th century. The statue survived and has been standing in the open air ever since.
Discover the Hasedera Temple
The Hasedera Temple is an ancient temple built in the 8th century. It’s famous for its stunning gardens, which are particularly beautiful during the hydrangea season in June and July. The temple also features a massive statue of the goddess Kannon, standing at nine meters tall, and a mesmerizing view of the city and sea from the top of the hill.
According to legend, the Hasedera Temple was founded by a monk who discovered a small statue of the goddess Kannon washed up on the shore. The monk built a temple to house the statue, and over time, the temple grew in size and importance.
Wander around the Kamakura Museum of Literature
For literature enthusiasts, the Kamakura Museum of Literature is a must-visit. The museum houses a collection of Japanese literature and art, including works by famous writers such as Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata. The museum also features a library and a cafe where you can relax and read.
One of the most interesting exhibits at the museum is a collection of manuscripts by Lafcadio Hearn, a writer who lived in Japan in the late 19th century. Hearn is best known for his books about Japanese folklore and ghost stories, and his manuscripts offer a fascinating glimpse into his creative process.
Overall, Kamakura is a city rich in history and culture, and there’s no shortage of things to see and do. Whether you’re interested in Buddhism, literature, or just exploring ancient temples and shrines, Kamakura is a destination that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.
Immerse Yourself in Nature
Kamakura is blessed with a gorgeous natural setting, making it the perfect retreat for nature lovers. From bamboo forests to hiking trails and beaches, Kamakura offers a range of outdoor activities that will rejuvenate your mind and body.
Stroll through the Bamboo Forest at Hokokuji Temple
Hokokuji Temple is a serene and calming spot in Kamakura. The temple boasts a beautiful bamboo grove, which forms a natural corridor leading to a tea house where you can sip green tea while enjoying the peaceful surroundings. The temple is also home to a variety of rare plants and flowers, including hydrangeas and camellias. Take a leisurely stroll through the garden and admire the beauty of nature.
Hike the Tenen Trail
The Tenen Trail is a stunning hiking trail that winds through the hills behind Kamakura. The trail stretches for about 3.5 kilometers and takes about two hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll pass through dense forests, bamboo groves, and ancient stone paths. The trail is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer and birds. Keep your eyes peeled and you might just spot a rare species.
Relax at Zaimokuza Beach
Zaimokuza Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Kamakura. The beach is long and wide, making it ideal for a refreshing swim or a relaxing sunbathe. The beach is also home to a variety of marine life, including crabs and seagulls. Take a stroll along the beach and collect seashells or watch the waves crash against the shore. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at surfing or paddleboarding.
Explore the Enoshima Island
Enoshima Island is a small island located off the coast of Kamakura. The island is home to a variety of attractions, including a botanical garden, a shrine, and a lighthouse. Take a hike up to the top of the island and enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and the surrounding area. The island is also home to a variety of restaurants and cafes, where you can sample local delicacies and enjoy a refreshing drink.
Visit the Meigetsu-in Temple
The Meigetsu-in Temple is a peaceful and serene temple located in the northern part of Kamakura. The temple is famous for its beautiful garden, which is particularly stunning during the autumn season when the leaves change color. The temple is also home to a variety of traditional Japanese buildings, including a tea house and a bell tower. Take a moment to meditate in the tranquil surroundings and appreciate the beauty of nature.
Experience Traditional Japanese Culture
Kamakura is not only a history and nature hub, but it’s also a fantastic place to experience traditional Japanese culture. From tea ceremonies to Zen gardens, Kamakura offers a range of cultural experiences that will leave you feeling connected to Japan’s rich history and traditions.
Participate in a Tea Ceremony at Jomyoji Temple
Jomyoji Temple is known for its tea ceremony, which is available to visitors. The tea ceremony is a quintessential Japanese experience that involves a detailed ritual of preparing and serving matcha tea. The ceremony is conducted in a traditional Japanese room, where guests sit on tatami mats and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. The tea master will guide you through the ceremony, explaining the significance of each step and ensuring that you have a relaxing and meditative experience. After the ceremony, take a stroll around the temple’s beautiful gardens, which are adorned with cherry blossoms in the spring and vibrant foliage in the fall.
Admire the Art of Zen Gardens at Zuisenji Temple
Zuisenji Temple is famous for its serene and exquisite Zen gardens. The gardens incorporate traditional Japanese design principles, including the use of rocks, sand, and gravel to create a meditative and calming atmosphere. Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, admiring the carefully placed rocks and the raked patterns in the sand. The gardens are particularly stunning in the autumn, when the leaves of the surrounding maple trees turn brilliant shades of red and gold. After exploring the gardens, head to the temple’s tea house for a cup of matcha tea and a traditional Japanese sweet.
Explore the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine is the most significant shrine in Kamakura. It was built in the 11th century and features impressive architecture, including a massive torii gate, a long staircase, and a wooden bridge over a pond. The shrine is a popular spot for traditional ceremonies and festivals, including the annual Kamakura Matsuri, which takes place in April. During the festival, the shrine is decorated with colorful banners and lanterns, and visitors can enjoy traditional dance performances and food stalls. Take a walk around the shrine’s expansive grounds, which include a museum of Kamakura history and a bamboo grove. Don’t forget to make a wish at the shrine’s main hall, where you can purchase a wooden plaque to write your wish on and hang it among the thousands of others.
Overall, Kamakura offers a wealth of opportunities to experience traditional Japanese culture. Whether you’re sipping tea in a peaceful temple, strolling through a Zen garden, or admiring the stunning architecture of a shrine, you’re sure to feel connected to Japan’s rich cultural heritage.
Savor Kamakura’s Local Cuisine
Kamakura is a city that’s not only rich in history and culture but also in its unique cuisine that incorporates fresh local seafood and regional specialties. The city is located near the coast, making it the perfect destination to indulge in seafood dishes that are not only delicious but also healthy.
Indulge in Kamakura’s Famous Shirasu Dishes
When visiting Kamakura, you cannot miss trying the local delicacy, shirasu. These tiny whitebait fishes are lightly grilled and served over rice or in salads. The taste is unique and refreshing, and you can find shirasu dishes at almost any restaurant in Kamakura. However, some of the best places to try them are at the beachside cafes, where you can enjoy the stunning view of the ocean while savoring this local delicacy.
Not only is shirasu delicious, but it’s also packed with nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D. So, not only are you indulging in a tasty dish, but you’re also doing your body a favor.
Try Traditional Japanese Sweets at a Wagashi Shop
Wagashi is a type of traditional Japanese sweet made from mochi, azuki beans, and other natural ingredients. Kamakura has many wagashi shops that offer a variety of colorful and elegant sweets that are perfect for gifts or souvenirs. These sweets are not only pleasing to the eye but also to the taste buds. They come in different shapes and sizes, and each one has a unique flavor and texture.
If you’re looking for an authentic experience, try Toraya, a wagashi shop that has been around since the Edo period. The shop’s history dates back to the 16th century, and it has been serving traditional Japanese sweets ever since. The shop’s interior is also worth mentioning, with its traditional Japanese architecture and calming atmosphere.
Enjoy a Meal at a Local Izakaya
Izakayas are Japanese-style pubs that offer a variety of small plates and drinks. Kamakura has many izakayas that serve local specialties such as grilled fish, tempura, and sake. The atmosphere is usually casual and lively, making it a fun place to hang out with friends or family.
One of the popular izakayas in Kamakura is Enoshima Ikiiki. The restaurant is located near the beach and offers a stunning view of the ocean. They serve a variety of dishes, including seafood, meat, and vegetarian options. The restaurant’s interior is also worth mentioning, with its cozy and welcoming atmosphere.
In conclusion, Kamakura is a fantastic destination for foodies who are looking for unique and delicious dishes. From shirasu to wagashi to izakayas, there’s something for everyone in this charming Japanese city. Plan your trip today and start exploring!