Things to do in Kamakura Japan
Kamakura is a small coastal town in Japan which is within easy reach of Tokyo and Yokohama. If you’d like to experience Japan outside of the major cities then add a Kamakura day trip to your itinerary.
Kamakura may be small but it isn’t completely off the tourist trail so don’t expect to get away from the crowds entirely. What you will discover here, however, are some fabulous sights that are quite unique. For example, the Kamakura Buddha and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
Getting to Kamakura
We travelled to Kamakura from Yokohama but it’s also an easy day trip from Tokyo. You can find out how to get from Tokyo city centre to Yokohama here. Our Japan and trans-Pacific cruise started in Yokohama but we stayed overnight in port on the first night so we had a whole day to explore the area. We chose to make the trip to Kamakura especially to see the Giant Buddha and I will tell you all about that amazing sight shortly. If you are arriving in Yokohama on a cruise then this makes a great DIY excursion day out. It’s very easy to organise yourself and is therefore really great value for money.
Take the train from Nihon Odori Station
Firstly, your day trip to Kamakura begins at Nihon Odori station. If you arrive by train from Tokyo then you are already at Nihon Odori station. Similarly, you can walk here from the cruise terminal in under 10 minutes. Once at Nihon Odori station take the train to Kamakura.
Our Japan rail passes were still valid for our day trip to Kamakura and this train is included. Otherwise, buy your tickets at the station. It’s a small station and so very easy to navigate. Just look for the sign with Kamakura on it and then head to that platform. The train takes about 25 minutes so sit back and enjoy the Japanese countryside
Firstly, we started our exploration of Kamakura by making the short onward trip to Hase to see the Giant Buddha. I wanted to do this first as I basically thought it was easier to manage our time if we did this side trip first. After all, we didn’t want to miss our cruise ship!
On arrival at Kamakura station, walk around to the other side of the station building and then look for the Enoden Line entrance. I worried about whether we’d find this but it’s actually really easy. If you can’t see it then ask someone for the Enoden line but you shouldn’t have a problem if you follow the signs.
The Enoden line is a single-track railway with a few stretches of dual-track in stations and also some passing points. You can either buy your ticket at the kiosk or from one of the ticket machines. If you purchase a one-day ticket this will also cover you for the return journey. Enjoy the short journey to Hase. It’s only a couple of stops.
When you get off the train in Hase, walk to the exit and turn right onto the main street. It’s a very small place and you surely won’t get lost. Keep walking up the road until you see the entrance on your right. It’s about 10 minutes to walk.
The Giant Buddha stands in the grounds of Kotokuin Temple and it is indeed quite a sight to behold. If you are wondering if it is worth it to make this extra train trip then I say yes, absolutely do it. I’ve included the photo of me stood some way in front of this colossal statue to give you more of an idea of how huge it is.
The giant Buddha statue is made of bronze and stands 11.4 metres high. In fact, it’s one of the tallest statues of Buddha in Japan. Presently, Ushiku Daibutsu is the tallest at 120 metres high which is quite substantially bigger and I’d love to see it someday. In case you are wondering, the largest seated Buddha in Japan is the one in Todaiji Temple in Nara.
Inside the Giant Buddha
What is quite fascinating here is that for a very small extra charge, around 15p, you can also go inside the statue. This means you can get a better idea of its construction. It’s certainly an unusual perspective.
While you are here make time to stroll around the temple grounds and admire the various stone monuments and commemorative trees. It’s a rather beautiful and very tranquil place.
Giant Buddha Practical Information
Temple Complex: 8 am to 5.30 pm (closes at 5 pm October to March)
Inside the Statue: 8 am to 4.30 pm
Complex: 200 Yen (£1.50)
Inside the Statue: 20 Yen (15p)
When you finish enjoying the Giant Buddha and the lovely grounds of Kokotuin Temple start walking back towards Hase Station. On your right, before you reach the station you will see a sign to Hase temple (Hasedera). Walk to the end and you will see the entrance in front of you.
This is a Buddhist temple of the Jodo sect. As well as some rather pretty gardens, it also has a statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, with eleven heads. The temple is perched on top of a hill overlooking the gardens. For an extra fee, you can enter the Kannon museum which has exhibits on Buddhism.
Hase Temple Practical Information
Temple: 8 am to 5.30 pm
Museum: 9 am to 4.30 pm
Temple: 400 Yen (£3)
Museum: 300 Yen (£2)
Finally, before you head back to Kamakura, walk past the station and keep going to the end of the road for a chance to view Yuigahama Beach. It wasn’t sunbathing weather while we were there but it was lovely to walk along the beach for a while. As you can see in the photos, it was absolutely deserted. I’m sure it’s a very different sight in summer when Yuigahama and nearby Zaimokuza beach are very popular.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
When you’ve enjoyed a walk along the beach walk back to Hase station and return to Kamakura on the train. You can’t visit Kamakura without a visit to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It’s an easy walk from the station. Either walk through the shopping street if you want to browse or along the main street lined with cherry blossom trees (Wakamiya-Oji). We walked up the main street and back through the shops.
As can be seen in the photos, Kamakura is a lot busier than Hase. We saw lots of Japanese school groups visiting the shrine as well as a large group on cruise excursions. We cruise from time to time and you can always tell the cruise passengers as they have little stickers with their excursion number on them. So if you see people at tourist attractions with coloured stickers with A1, C10 et on them, now you know why. I’m sure they paid a great deal more for their Kamakura day trip than we did which is why we like to do it ourselves whenever possible.
Exploring Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is the most important shrine in Kamakura and it is still central to its religious practices today. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of Samurai. Interestingly, of the 80,000 shrines in Japan, around 20,000 are dedicated to Hachiman.
To get to the main shrine you ascend the steps. There used to be a massive ginkgo tree guarding the entrance but sadly it blew down in a storm. You can see the trunk and it is slowly growing again.
As well as the main shrine you can also explore a number of sub-shrines and the museum. You’ll even find a modern art museum here which was quite unexpected.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a Shinto shrine. One of the things I learned while in Japan is that Shinto is a general term for their faith. Unlike other religions, there is no dogma or religious protocol in Shinto. It’s a faith which embraces other religions and sees openness to other points of view as essential to a harmonious existence. An extremely enlightened view, in my opinion, and quite fascinating.
Gardens at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Something I really enjoy when travelling is discovering beautiful parks and gardens. The one at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is particularly lovely with its two lotus ponds. The Drum bridge that you can see in the photo above was only for use by the shogun or ruler.
During our visit, we were lucky enough to witness the priests as they proceeded to one of their ceremonies. You can see a short video of this below. An official walked ahead of them and moved us all out of the way so they could go through uninterrupted. Aren’t the costumes fabulous?
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
April to September: 5 am to 9 pm
October to March: 6 am to 9 pm
Main Complex: Free
Museum: 200 Yen (£1.50)