I spent a day visiting Kamakura from my base in Yokohama, but it can easily be reached via a day trip from Tokyo in around 1 hour. Yokohama is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan, which was once the centre of political Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo chose it as the seat for his new military government in the late 12th century. However by the 14th Century, the political power in Kamakura declined, and now it is a popular tourist destination, often dubbed the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, due to its numerous temples, shrines and bamboo forest!
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- Visa – As a British National I was exempt from requiring a visa to visit Japan for less than 90 days, however, some nationalities will require a visa. For the most up to date information visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
- Immunisations – some are required, check out my go-to website for up to date information: https://nathnac.net
- Safety – Just like London, Kamakura is a very safe place to visit. You should use usual common sense, around protecting valuables to avoid pick-pocketers, and staying safe at night.
- Currency – Japanese Yen
- Language – Japanese
To get to Kamakura from Yokohama, I just hopped on one train which took me directly there. You can use either the JR Yokosuka or JR Shonan-Shinjuku, and the whole journey only takes around 30 minutes. Or if you’re staying in Tokyo and fancy a day trip, just use the JR Yokosuka line to get to Kamakura, it takes around an hour. For more information on ticket prices and train times visit Hyperdia.com.
I didn’t stay in the Kamakura area, as I just visited as a day trip from Yokohama, however, if you wanted to stay over the night or even a few days, there are a selection of great looking hostels here, like either Tokiwa KAMAKURA Backpackers, or WeBase Hostel Kamakura. I always use Booking.com to book my accommodation and find that I can usually find something suitable for my budget here.
Kamakura isn’t huge and can be explored on foot, however, it depends on how much you want to see and how long you have there. Some of the sights like Sugimoto-Dera and Hokokuji Temple are further north and meant some uphill walking for quite a while which I must admit, became quite tiring after a while. Once I finished up with my sightseeing there and wanted to head back down towards Kamakura Station, I saved my legs and hopped on one of the convenient buses which loops around Kamakura, for just 200 Yen.
When boarding a bus in Japan, you get on in the middle, find a seat and sit down (or stand if there aren’t any available) and then you only pay once you get off the bus, by exiting the front door and paying the driver. Most buses will require the correct amount to pay, as the drivers aren’t always able to give change, so it’s always best if you can keep a good supply of loose change on you.
Ironically called the ‘free pass’, when it’s not free at all and actually costs 600 Yen, the Enoshima Free Pass, allows you to board and disembark at any station on the entire Enoden line any number of times during one whole day. I used the Enoden Line first from Kamakura to Hase (southernmost part of Kamakura) – to access the beach and then walk along to visit The Great Buddha Kamakura, and Hase Dera Temple, and then on to Enoshima Island. Just simply buy your ticket when you arrive at Kamakura Station, it’s a separate line to the JR so you’ll just need to follow directions for the Enoden Line to pick up your ticket.
The Enoden Line train is a great experience in itself, the cute little train takes you through Kamakura winding through the town, and then coasting along the seafront to bring you magnificent views until you reach Enoshima. It’s a lovely picturesque journey. If you are travelling from Tokyo and you don’t have a JR Pass, then you can also purchase a ticket, which enables you to travel from Shinjuku in Tokyo to Fujisima, passing through both Kamakura and Enoshima. For more detailed and up to date information visit the official website here.
Tori Gates leading to Tsurugoka Hachimangu Shrine
Once I arrived at Kamakura station I headed to the tourist information desk to pick up a map, and get some advice on a good itinerary for the day. The guide advised me to first off make my way to the Tsurugoka Hachimangu Shrine, which was just a short ten-minute walk away from the station. As you come out of the station and find the main road Wakamiya Oji Street, in the middle there is a walkway lined with cherry trees and marked with torii gates which is called Dankazura, cross over and wander through this pathway until you reach the temple.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
This is Kamakura’s most important Shinto shrine, it was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, and enlarged and moved to its current site in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government. Before you reach the main hall there are two ponds. One represents the Minamoto Clan and has three islands, while the other represents the Taira Clan, the Minamoto’s arch-rivals, and has four islands, as the number four can be pronounced the same as “death” in Japanese.
The main hall (Hongu or Jogu) stands on a terrace at the top of a wide stairway. You’ll also find the usual accompaniments of most shrines in Japan, such as the Sakedaru (Sake Barrels) and Ema votives, here shaped into wooden red and black torii gates.
Most famously known for its decadent Moss staircase, the Sugimoto -Dera temple was next on the itinerary and a short walk from the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The Moss stairs aren’t in use but have been kept for decorative purposes as moss is highly revered in Japanese Gardening, there is another set of stairs which can be used to access the temple at the top of the complex.
Sugimoto-dera is actually the oldest temple in Kamakura and was built in 734, at the request of the Empress Komyo, long before Kamakura became the capital of the country.
If you are unable to visit Kyoto on your trip to Japan then Hokokuji temple is a must, although having visited both Bamboo forests in Kamakura and Kyoto, I actually prefer the smaller less touristy forest in Kamakura. Hokokuji temple is also known as Takedera (bamboo temple) and is one of the many Zen Temples in Kamakura.
Hokokuji is the temple of the Ashikaga family, before they were in power and took the title of shogun, you can still see small tombs in the cliffside which contain buried ancestors of the Shogun dynasty. The temple is best known for its bamboo forest and beautifully landscaped gardens covered with moss, but there is also a traditional tea house available for visitors, Where you can enjoy a cup of matcha and take in the tranquil surroundings.
Once I had finished up with the temples towards the most northern part of Kamakura I used the local bus service and travelled back to Kamakura station, then transferring to the Enoden line for Hase Station. Once I arrived at Hase, there was an immediate seaside feel, with tiny quaint little shops lining the narrow streets. I found a great vegan restaurant right on the seafront, and a 10-minute walk later these were the views I enjoyed over lunch.
It was so relaxing watching the waves and other visitors enjoying the beach, there were two gentlemen in particular (pictured above) who spent a good hour flying their kites with not always, but some success. The food at Magokoro was also delicious and I highly recommend their curry, cake and wine!
The Great Buddha Kamakura
The magnificent seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai known by the familiar name of the Kamakura Daibutsu is the principle deity of Kotoku-in Temple. Construction was completed in 1262 and took approximately ten years. Made of bronze, The Great Buddha measures a phenomenal 13.4 metres Height (including the pedestal) and weighing a huge 121 Tonnes. It has long been the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, surpassed only by the statue in Nara‘s Todaiji Temple and some recent creations. You can also pay just 20 Yen and enter the interior of the Buddha where you can see how the head of the magnificent Buddha is joined to the body.
Hase Dera Temple
The Hase Dera Tempe complex is quite large. When you arrive you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful Japanese garden with a pond, and perfectly manicured plants. There’s also a small cave (Benten-kutsu) with statues of Benten and other gods inside.
As you climb the stairs and up towards the main temple you’ll find lots of statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva, you’ll then reach the Jizo-fo Hall and see hundreds more of the Jizo Bodhisattva statues, which help the souls of deceased children to reach paradise.
Once you reach the very top, where the Temple is situated you’ll also be rewarded with great views over the coastal town of Kamakura. There’s also a small restaurant selling snacks and Japanese sweets and some benches if you wanted to have a rest and enjoy the views.
Finally, here we have the temple itself, a temple of the Jodo sect, Hase Dera is famous for its eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The 9.18 meter tall, gilded wooden statue is regarded as one of the largest wooden sculpture in Japan and can be viewed in the temple’s main building, the Kannon-do Hall.
Being a coastal town Kamakura has an abundance of seafood, including Oysters so it seems here at the Hase Dera Temple they have recycled the oyster shells and used them as Ema votives.
Towards the end of the day, once I had finished up with seeing the main sights of Kamakura, I took the tourist office advice and boarded the small train for Enoshima Island. The journey on the Enoden Line itself is very enjoyable, and the views are beautiful, so much so that the train line is often used in televisions dramas and films. Trains run every 12 minutes and it doesn’t take long to reach Enoshima. Once you arrive, you’ll need to walk around 20-25 minutes, but it’s pretty much a straight road, through some shop-lined streets then over the bridge to the island.
There is so much to do on Enoshima Island I would say it’s best to reserve an entire day here, for those who wish to say in Kamakura for two days could visit a day for each location. When I arrived I was pretty tired from all the sightseeing in Kamakura, even the walk from the station the Island was a bit of a struggle but I made it to the start of the parade of stalls and shops marked by the bronze green Torii gate. I was quite hungry at this point but unfortunately, all that was on offer was a hell of a lot of different seafood dishes so I pressed on.
After some more walking, I reached the Red Torii gate for the Enoshima Temple, but with the additional time and costs involved in visiting the temple, I decided to give it a miss. If you wanted to spend the entire day here though you can purchase a pass which enables you to use the escalators dotted over the island, as the area is quite steep and hilly so it makes life a lot easier paying for and riding the convenient escalators. You could also stay for sunset and enjoy the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Enoshima Sea Candle. Wait for the sun to go down and the marvel as the Sea candle is beautifully illuminated with lights too! If you’re lucky you might even get to see shy Mount Fuji.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my day trip to Kamakura, and it has given you some inspiration for your own trip! If you’ve already visited what did you do differently or was there anything you would add to this itinerary? I’d love to hear from you, feel free to get in touch using the comments section below!
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