When you yearn to leave the crowded streets of Tokyo for a day, Kamakura is a fantastic destination option. In less than one hour, on the JR Yokosuka Line, you can go from Tokyo Station to Kamakura for about 890 yen.
Once there, you have a choice of visiting five major temples, an historic statue, or simply hanging out at the beach. All of these are within walking distance of the train station, making this a particularly inexpensive day trip.
I went during the early part of July, which is rainy season, but this happened to be a pleasant day. If it does rain during your visit, there are worthwhile artifacts to experience inside the temples and shrines so any trip would be far from a complete washout.
It could be said that Kamakura is the poor man’s Kyoto. While I never made it as far as Kyoto, which was too expensive on my budget, Kamakura filled the gap nicely with its historical treasures. Kamakura was the political center of Japan in 1192, and the country was ruled from there for over one hundred years. It is in the Kanagawa prefecture.
To give you some idea of the endurance of this ancient town, its Great Buddha was cast in bronze in 1252. It originally stood within temple walls, until a tidal wave unleashed by a tsunami washed the temple away during the late fifteenth century. The temple was not rebuilt, but the Great Buddha still stands, a figure of inscrutable comfort to many visitors.
The statue is huge, and was built with no government aid, through contributions by devotees. Although you can visit inside, it’s enough to simply be in the calm presence of something that has seen so many years.
Although there are many temples you can visit, the three I had time to see that Saturday were Hase, Engakuji and Kenchoji.
There’s a small restaurant on the terrace next to Hase temple with a wonderful view of Kamakura to the coast. The temple itself houses a large wooden statue of Kannon, the eleven-headed goddess of mercy. Although the temple is said to have been founded in 736, what I found even more impressive were the thousands of stone statues representing Jizo on the steps leading to it.
Jizo is a bodhisattva believed to aid those who suffer. Sometimes honored by the term Ojizo-sama, there are statues to represent Jizo all over Japan. When these statues are decorated with a bib, it is often by parents who hope Jizo will guide their deceased child in the after life. Since Jizo protects all children, he is also thought to protect unborn children, and the statues at Hase in particular are for these beings. The sheer number of them is enough to bring you to silent contemplation.
It’s said that some temples take advantage of grieving parents and lure them into purchasing expensive statues and religious services in order to save their children’s souls, but Hase is not one of those accused of this practice.
Nearby you will find Engakuji Temple, which was founded in 1282 to pay respects to the slain Japanese and Mongolian soldiers who fell the year prior during the invasion by the Mongols. There’s a teahouse next door that serves sake and tea in an outdoor area.
I was also fortunate enough to have time to see Kenchoji, the main Zen Temple in Kamakura. It was founded in 1253, has a temple bell that is a designated national treasure, and a fantastic Zen garden. The grounds are spectacular, and include juniper trees that are seven hundred years old. The soothing spirit of the temple will refresh even the most stressed out among you.
Overall, Kamakura is not only a place to learn more about Japanese culture, but also a relaxing easy trip from the hustle of Tokyo and well worth the two hour round trip train ride.
Other things to see and do in Kamakura include: Hachimangu Shrine, Jufukuji Temple, Jochi Temple, Zeniarai Benten Shrine, Zuisenji Temple, Tokeiji Temple, and the hiking trails in and around the hills of the town.
Kamakura Tourist Information Center is at the East exit of JR Kamakura station. Tel.+81-467-22-3350. Hours: 9AM – 5:30PM (to 5PM. October through March). Closed: December 29 – 31.
For more information: http://www.japan-guide.com.