Tokyo | Temple Marathon in Kamakura

Another popular one day excursion from Tokyo is a visit to the beautiful city of Kamakura about an hour by train southwestern of the metropolis. It can also be a wonderful full-day excursion while having Yokohama as a port of call during an Asian cruise. The last time I had been here was over 15 years ago, so I thought it would be a neat conclusion to my short stay in Japan. It does not only feature a wide array of gorgeous temples and shrines, it also is a popular beach and shopping destination while still preserving the traditional Japanese style in housing and living. So pack your bag and come join me on a journey back in time.

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Kamakura was once the seat of the feudal government. Back in 1192, this was a first in Japanese history and the and the first of its kind in Japan. It was the capital of the Shogunate. The setting of the area is rustic and the location in-between wooded hills with Sagami Bay to its South make it simply beautiful and great to explore on your own by foot.

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It can be easily reached from Tokyo Station (JR Yokosuka Line) and Shinjuku Station (JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line bound for Zushi) and could also be combined with a short visit to Yokohama, which lies approximately half way in between Tokyo and Kamakura.

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The best time to visit is during the week when you don´t have to flow with the proverbial streams of local and foreign tourists through the city´s small alleyways and temple sites, but on weekends, many Japanese men and women dress up in traditional kimonos which makes it very colorful and interesting to experience, apart from the masses of people.

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While I had originally planned to spend just half a day in Kamakura, in the end I ended up staying until late afternoon. Too many beautiful historic sites and cute little shops to visit and explore. And since mid of March also rings in the beginning of the  widely awaited cheery tree flowering time, there are tons of wonderful snapshots to capture! And don´t forget to get a photo with a Japanese girl dressed in her kimono!

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While there are hundreds of temples, shrines and historic sites to wander through, it can get a little exhausting if you wanted to visit them all. Because not all of them are particularly worth seeing. I have made up a list with my favourite spots that no one should not miss while being in town!

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Hokoku-ji Temple

Hokoku-ji is known as the Bamboo Temple. It was founded in 1334 and features a breath-taking bamboo garden containing over 2,000 sticks growing highly into the sky. The temple is laid out in ZEN tradition and had a very mind-calming influence on me right when entering through the gate. This is a definite must see! You can either simply visit the garden or combine it with a green tea tasting inside the bamboo garden. Gorgeous!

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Hokoku-ji Temple
2 Chome-2-7-4 Jōmyōji, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-0003, Japan

Sugimoto-dera Temple

Just a stone´s throw away from Hokoku-ji lies the temple that is translated as “Under the Cedar Tree”. Being almost double as old as Hokoku-ji, Sugimoto-dera was founded in 734 AD. The name forms upon a legend that tells the story of three wood-carved statues that survived a large fire over 750 years ago while hiding themselves underneath a cedar tree that grew on the temple´s site.

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Sugimoto-dera Temple
903 Nikaidō, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0002

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu

The temple was established in the centre of Kamakura by shogun Yoritomo in 1192. It played an important role as religious authority during his reign and many important majestic rituals were held here. At the same time, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu also embodied the political centre of the shogunate. That might explain the long-drawn-out layout of the premise and the palace-like architecture with the main hall throwning above. Beautiful gardens invite to sit down and relax or take stroll while watching cute little squirrels hunting for nuts. The main road towards the shrine is sided by food stands selling hearty and sweet handmade snacks. It is a highly popular site and a definite must see.

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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
2 Chome-1-31 Yukinoshita, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-8588, Japan

Kakuon-ji Temple

This little treasure lies a little hidden at the end of a street in a residential area. It was one of the central temples in the study of Buddhist teachings in Kamakura and is a great example of Buddhist temple´s landscaping. Behind the rather small hall lies a huge garden which can be toured in a guided group (in Japanese language only) five times a day.

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Kakuon-ji Temple
Japan, 〒248-0002 Kanagawa-ken, Kamakura-shi, Nikaidō, 421

Egara-tenjinsha Shrine

Also accessed via a stone staircase, the bright red shrine is embedded in a beautifully arranged wild garden. There is a little grotto up the rock and another elevated garden to the left. It is a beautiful location to enjoy a moment of silence and tranquility.

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Egara-tenjinsha Shrine
74 Nikaido, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0002, Japan

Hokai-ji Temple

Hokai-ji belongs to the Tendai School of Buddhism and was constructed in 1335. It now stands on the former Komachi residence site for the Hojos and plays an important role in today´s Buddhist teachings. It has a beautiful entrance and lies not far away from the main station. Hokai-ji is particularly well-known for the growing Shirahagi (White Bush Clover) and its flowers which bloom particularly splendid in September.

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Hokai-ji Temple
Hōkai-ji, 3 Chome-5 Komachi, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-0006, Japan

Kotoku-in Temple

One of Kamakura´s most prominent temples houses the seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai. It is the principle deity inside the temple and a national treasure. With a heighth of 11,3 meters and a weight of almost 121 tons, it took over 10 years to complete the statue which was originally covered by a hall which is believed to be destroyed by strong winds in both 1334 and 1369. While the surrounding garden is not as impressive of those of the other temples, the statue itself is quite an eye-catcher. Around the temple lie lively streets with cafés, bars and snack stands.

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Kotoku-in Temple
4 Chome-2-28 Hase, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 248-0016, Japan

Like mentioned before, Kamakura is very easy to explore by foot. But just outside the East exit of the train station, you will also find a bus stop and bicycle rentals that make it even more comfortable to get around. Enjoy!

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