Kamakura is a small city just one hour by train south of Tokyo. Perfect for a day trip and famous for its huge Buddha statue. The city used to be the capital of Japan for 141 years spanning part of the 12th to 14th century. Kamakura has many temples and is specially important for the introduction of Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhism in Japan. Not all temples can be visited in a day. But the following selection will give you a good impression.
In Kamakura I recommend the following site´s:
- • DAIBUTSU (great Buddha statue)
- • Engaku-ji Temple (Important Zen temple)
- • Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine (Important Shinto temple)
- • Kamakura Museum of National Treasures
- • Tokei-ji Temple
- • Meigetsuin (zen garden)
- • Jochi-ji Temple
- • Kencho-ji Temple
- • Hase-dera Temple
- • Myohon-ji Temple
- • Jufuku-ji Temple
- • Sugimoto-dera (among oldest temples)
- • Hokoku-ji temple (bamboo grove & tea house)
- • Jomyoji Temple (tea house with dry garden)
- • Zuisenji Temple
Kamakura is easy to reach by train from Tokyo. It takes About 1 hour. I choose to exit at Kita-Kamakura Station (just 3 minutes before reaching Kamakura station). From Kita-Kamakura station you can start your walk gradually to the city centre while visiting the temples.
- Tokyo Main station --> Kita-Kamakura
- • JR Yokosuka line about 60 min.
- Tokyo Shinjuku station --> Kita-Kamakura
- • JR Shonan-Shinjuku line (for Zushi) about 60 min.
- Tokyo Shinjuku station --> Kamakura
- • Odakyu Railways, buy the "Enoshima Kamakura Free Pass" about 90 min. including one transfer.
most value for money on a return ticket, but longer travel time.
(Note that this is NOT the same as JR Kamakura-Enoshima Pass!)
• Public transport (Busstation is at Kamakura East Exit)
Kamakura Rental Cycles (Take the east exit of JR Kamakura Station and go 50m south.) T: +81 0467-24-2319 open 08:30-17.00 daily, closed Jan 1-3. This rental shop has standard Japanese bicycles for rent, including battery-assisted bikes.
Main sights (for a one day walk around) :
Daibutsu (great Buddha statue)
The Giant Buddha called Daibutsu in Japanese is without a doubt the biggest asset of Kamakura. It represents the Amitabha Buddha of the Pure Land sect. The bronze Buddha probably dates from half way the 13th century. However there is no definite historical proof for the date of this particular Buddha.
The Buddha originally stood inside a big hall but it was destroyed by a storm in 1334, was rebuilt, and was damaged by yet another storm in 1369, and was rebuilt again. The last building housing the statue was washed away in a tsunami in 1498. Since then, the Great Buddha has stood in the open air.
The statue is approximately 13 meters tall including the base and weighs about 93 tons. The statue is hollow for a small fee you can enter the and have look inside the Buddha.
Also known as Hasekannon, which is one of the Pure Land Buddhism Temples in Kamakura.This temple is closest to the Daibutsu. The history of the temple starts at 736 CE and houses a 9.18m high gilded wooden statue of the Eleven Faced Kannon. It is one of the tallest statues in Japan and listed as a National Treasure. The temple is functional, filled with shops and totaly focussed on worship of the tall Statue. Photography of the statue is not permitted. The compound has a nice pond garden with a cave and a viewing terrace towards the sea.
Eventhough the temple is famous for its moss covered stairs. When I visited the moss on the stairs was rather brownish, it depends on the season. The temple it self is small but has a nice view over the valley. The two beautiful Nio-statues are its best asset.
This Zen temple is relatively new in Kamakura as it was built in 1334, a year after the Kamakura Shogunate came to an end.This temple is famous for a beautiful bamboo garden that is laid out behind its main sanctuary. It belongs to the Kenchoji faction of the Rinzai Buddhist sect.
Kita-Kamakura train station is practically on the doorsteps of Engaku-ji it is one of the most important Zen Buddhist temple complexes in Japan. Engaku-ji Temple is among Kamakura´s so-called Five Great Zen Temples (the Kamakura Gozan). The entrance is by a path beside a pond which is crossed by a small bridge now cut of by the railway. The bridge over water refers to a Chinese influence in the founding of this temple, you can find the same principals of design at the Forbidden city in Beijing.
Engakuji Temple was established by regent Hojo Tokimune (1251-1284) to propitiate the souls of the dead who were lost during the Mongol Invasions from 1274-1281 as well as serving as a centre from which the influence of Zen could be spread.
Tokimune founded the temple in 1282 and chose the Zen master Sogen Mugaku (1226-1286), who came from Southern China, then under Mongol domination to set up the temple.
Like most temples in Kamakura, the grounds have been ravaged repeatedly by fire, earthquake and tsunami´s. Most recently, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed a number of temple buildings. Most of what can be seen today are reconstructions from that era.
Tokei-ji is a Buddhist temple and a former nunnery, the only survivor of a network of five nunneries based in Kamakura. It was founded in 1285.
It is best known as a refuge for women who were abused by their husbands. Tokei-ji allowed women to become officially divorced after staying there for three years.
Behind the temple there´s a cemetery where several well known Buddhists are buried, among them one men famous among Western Zen practitioners, Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki.
The Zen temple was erected in the late 13th century by the wife and son of the Fifth Hojo Regent Tokiyori in order to pray for the repose of his soul. Two Chinese priests (Gottan and Taikyu) where commissioned to build the temple (1215-1289). The structures now standing are all reconstructions.
Kencho-ji is a Rinzai Zen temple which ranks first among Kamakura´s so-called Five Great Zen Temples (the Kamakura Gozan) and is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. The temple was completed in 1253. It was founded by Rankei Doryu, a Chinese Zen master who moved to Japan in 1246, spending some years in Kyushu and Kyoto before coming to Kamakura
Kencho-ji originally comprised seven main buildings and 49 sub temples, but most of these were destroyed in a series of fires during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the Togukawa Era, however, the Zen master Takuan (1573-1645) succeeded in restoring Kencho-ji to much of its former splendour.
After visiting the main temple you can follow a road behind the temple garden that will have some steep stairs leading up to the Hansobo, the temple´s large tutelary Shinto shrine. You can hike all the way up to the hill top and get a very nice view of Kamakura city on a clear day. You can also start the ´Tenen Hiking Course´ (approx. one hour) that ends at the Zuisenji Temple.