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Day Trip in Kamakura

2023-08-28

Brimming with cultural heritage and nestled in natural beauty, Kamakura is a charming coastal city that serves as the perfect day-trip destination from Tokyo. 

A quick one-hour train ride from Shibuya Station, Kamakura offers a peaceful adventure filled with serene temples, golden beaches, and a welcoming small-town atmosphere.

Kamakura was once the political powerhouse of medieval Japan and the throne of the Shogunate in the 12th century, making it a prime location for travelers seeking a more profound understanding of Japanese culture and history. With a seaside setting, spiritual retreats, and an array of traditional Japanese experiences, Kamakura makes an engaging day trip from Tokyo that you simply shouldn’t miss.

Now let’s unravel the best way to spend a day in Kamakura.

 

1. Morning – Temples and shrines galore

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Start your Kamakura day trip bright and early to make the most of your time in this historical city. Begin your adventure at the iconic Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple. The temple grounds open from 8:00 a.m. and it's advisable to get in there early to avoid the crowds so you can truly appreciate the awe-inspiring giant statue. The colossal bronze statue, known as Daibutsu in Japanese, measures approximately 13 meters in height. It is a stunning representation of Amitabha Buddha and is one of the most significant icons of Buddhism in Japan.

This magnificent statue has been sitting in the open air since the 15th century when a tsunami washed away the hall that initially housed it. Visitors can walk around the entire perimeter of the statue and even explore its interior, with an internal staircase taking visitors up to its shoulders. The serene aura surrounding this spiritual site is the perfect start to your day.

From Kotoku-in, it’s a short walk to Hasedera Temple, another significant religious site in Kamakura. This Buddhist temple is home to a massive eleven-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy in Japanese mythology. Wander through the beautiful temple grounds, which include lovely gardens, a cave shrine dedicated to Benten, the goddess of wealth and beauty, and a scenic trail leading up to a panoramic vantage point.

Lastly, head to Kencho-ji Temple, the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, established in 1253. This temple provides a unique insight into Zen Buddhism and its practices. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by the grand Sanmon gate, which leads to the Butsuden Hall housing a statue of the goddess Kannon, and a ceiling adorned with a beautifully painted dragon.

This temple provides a unique insight into Zen Buddhism and its practices. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted by the grand Sanmon gate, which leads to the Butsuden Hall housing a statue of the goddess Kannon, and a ceiling adorned with a beautifully painted dragon.

By exploring these sacred monuments, you’ll have obtained the privilege of exploring Japanese religious and spiritual sites that date back to the early Middle Ages. With their tranquil surroundings and awe-inspiring architecture, these temples provide the ideal context for kicking off your day in Kamakura.

 

2. Mid-morning – Shopping and artisanry

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As the day progresses, it's time to transition from the spiritual realm to a blend of history and retail therapy. This part of the itinerary introduces you to Kamakura’s rich historical background and offers an opportunity to pick up unique mementos from your trip.

Begin your mid-morning with a dive into the city’s artisan scene. Kamakura is renowned for its centuries-old traditional crafts, including Kamakura-bori, a form of lacquerware which is made by carving patterns into wood, then lacquering it with layers of color.

Take a guided tour at a local workshop, where you can admire the intricate lacquerware designs and even experience the process of creating your own Kamakura-bori masterpiece. Observing these craftsmen at work provides a wonderful insight into the city’s cultural heritage and the skills that have been passed down through generations.

Next, head to Komachi-dori Street, a vibrant shopping avenue connecting Kamakura Station to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine. The street has many shops, offering an eclectic mix of traditional handicrafts, antiques, fashionable clothing, and local food items.

Artisan shops offer beautiful ceramics and earthenware; their delicate designs and traditional aesthetics make them popular gift choices. Contemporary clothing and accessory boutiques perfectly blend modern fashion and Kamakura’s laid-back charm.

The food options available on Komachi-dori Street are plentiful and tempting. The scent of local snacks will draw you toward various food stalls. Try the age-old Japanese confectionary dango, a rice dumpling coated with a sweet soy glaze, or sit down for a cup of traditional matcha tea accompanied by delicate Japanese confectionaries in a quaint teahouse.

Your journey along Komachi-dori concludes at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. One of Kamakura’s most significant Shinto shrines, it is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war. The serene environment of the shrine, however, feels far removed from the concept of battle.

The calm ambiance within the shrine’s precincts, punctuated by birdsong and the rustling of leaves, offers a peaceful contrast to the vibrant shopping street you’ve just traversed. With vermillion-lacquered buildings set against a backdrop of wooded hills, the shrine stands as a testament to Kamakura’s deep historical roots coexisting alongside its modern lifestyle.

 

3. Afternoon – Historic treasures and seaside pleasures

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After a spiritually enriching morning, your afternoon in Kamakura opens up a different dimension of the city. Now, you’ll dive into Kamakura’s cultural facets, interspersed with pockets of its natural beauty, providing a captivating blend of the city’s cultural offerings and its scenic landscapes.

Located just behind Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, your afternoon commences at the Kamakura Museum of National Treasures, housed in a historical building with an aesthetic that matches the cultural wealth it preserves. This museum hosts a collection of national treasures and important cultural assets, mostly from the Kamakura period of Japan’s early Middle Ages.

Exhibits include Buddhist statues, portraits, weapons, and ancient documents that paint a vivid picture of Kamakura’s illustrious past. Whether you’re a history buff, an art lover, or simply curious, the museum’s collection provides a captivating window into Japan’s history.

Finally, spend the late afternoon at Yuigahama Beach, a popular seaside destination known for its scenic views and relaxed vibe. The golden sandy banks of the beach make the perfect spot to unwind after a full day of exploration.

Whether you're strolling along the sandy stretch, gazing out to the soothing waves, or simply laying back and enjoying the cool sea breeze, it's a serene setting to let the day's experiences sink in. Plus, with several cafes and food stalls lining the beach, you can savor a snack while watching the waves roll in.

 

4. Evening – An opportunity for extended exploration

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Even after a full day of exploration, Kamakura still has plenty to offer. If time allows, consider turning your day trip into an overnight adventure. This will allow you to experience Kamakura at a slower pace, absorb its peaceful atmosphere in the quiet of the evening, and discover the town’s hidden gems and lesser-known spots that might get missed when exploring the main attractions during the day.

A perfect place to extend your stay is the Kamakura Prince Hotel. This modern, elegant hotel offers an idyllic beachfront location with stunning views of Sagami Bay and the mighty Mt. Fuji. It is conveniently situated near Shichirigahama Station, making it an easy base for exploration.

What makes Kamakura Prince Hotel an excellent choice is its unique combination of luxury, location, and local character. The rooms are spacious and beautifully designed, boasting large windows that allow guests to soak up the coastal landscape right from their beds. Most rooms feature private balconies, providing a wonderful setting to relax with a drink as the sun sets over the sea.

Moreover, the hotel’s facilities are designed to meet the diverse needs of its guests. It offers a selection of restaurants and bars, providing both Eastern and Western dining options. The hotel also has a golf driving range for the sports enthusiast, as well as a large outdoor swimming pool which is great for families with kids.

By choosing to stay overnight in Kamakura, you can discover the town in a new light and make your experience more relaxed and fulfilling. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself further into the culture and history of this charming coastal town.