Day Trip to Kamakura, Japan from Tokyo
Traveling Back to the Future in Japan
Kamakura is a beautiful town that cannot be missed if you visit Japan. After getting to visit and experience the highlights of Tokyo, I was excited to meet up with a former coworker (turned good friend), Toshi, and venture to a rather peaceful and less touristy area for the day.
During my third day in Tokyo, I met Toshi at Shinjuku Station and we took the train to Kamakura. The train ride was around an hour and 15 minutes with one transfer in the city of Yokohama. It was a pretty easy area to get to and from the heart of Tokyo. (You could also rent a car at a good rate through Skyscanner.)
Kamakura is a coastal city that is located in Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo. Not only is Kamakura known for having a beach, it is also popular for its seasonal festivals as well as ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Read all about my day in Kamakura and discover everything to see and do in the city.
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Welcome to Kamakura!
When we first arrived in Kamakura, I was astonished by all of the gorgeous nature I was surrounded by. At this point during my Japan journey, I had only really experienced the major city of Tokyo, so it was nice to finally be near everything that Japan’s land is known for. There was greenery everywhere, stunning bamboo trees towered above me, peace and quiet filled the air and the cicadas were keeping cool in the summer heat (meaning that the cicadas weren’t as loud as they were when I visited Meiji Shrine in Tokyo the day before).
I was so excited to start exploring and learn the history of Kamakura from my friend Toshi.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine:
Located in Western Kamakura is the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. (We had to take a taxi from Kamakura Station to the area that the shrine was located in.) This beautiful shrine mixes a fusion of both Buddhism and Shintoism. It is very rare to find another shrine in Japan that includes both religions as the Meiji government attempted to separate Shinto from Buddhism many years ago.
Some interesting history that I would like to include is that the founder of the Kamakura government ordered the shrine’s construction after a god appeared in his dream and told him to build a shrine in order to bring peace to Japan. Because this dream occurred on the day, month and year of the snake, the shrine was later dedicated to Benten, a Buddhist goddess associated with snakes. A cool fact is that Janome, the Japanese sewing machine company that Toshi works for and where I worked for two and a half years, means “eye of the snake”. Janome earned its name in the 1920s when founder Yosaku Ose began to use a round metal bobbin system instead of the traditional one. The Japanese thought the new round bobbin looked like a snake’s eye and that is how the brand name was established. (Who knew that the snake could be so important in many ways?)
When I first arrived in Kamakura, I was amazed by the endless amounts of torii gates to enter the shrine. I absolutely love them and find the gates to be fascinating. Even though I visited Meiji Shrine the day before, I learned more about what you do at a shrine during my time with Toshi in Kamakura.
After entering the shrine and purifying our hands (I talked about this more in my Tokyo blog), there were candle stands and incense burners available. Before I entered the shrine to pray, I lit a candle as well as an incense stick. It is said that when you light a candle, you shine a light on the darkness of the world and create a path towards Buddha. The incense offers a healing power and cleanses oneself while also inviting Buddha to make himself welcome.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine is also known as the shrine where people wash their money. Zeniarai actually means coin washing! When you wash a specific coin or bill at Zeniarai Benten Shrine, it is said that your money will double. I only put in 500 yen, which is equivalent to $4.50 USD. Needless to say, my money did double since that day.
Great Buddha of Kamakura:
After praying and washing my money at Zeniarai Benten Shrine, Toshi and I walked 20 minutes through the suburban neighborhoods of the city to the Great Buddha of Kamakura. The peaceful suburbs of Kamakura feature gorgeous homes and even though the weather was reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit that day, the ocean breeze cooled it down a bit.
When we finally arrived at the Great Buddha, I could totally understand what all of the hype was about. This Buddha was one of the biggest I’ve seen, and I’ve seen A LOT of Buddhas (especially in Thailand). In fact, this Great Buddha is the second largest in Japan and is the most visited landmark in Kamakura. It is even protected by dvarapala (a guardian, pictured below in red). The Buddha located in Nara’s Todaiji Temple is the only one that surpassed the Great Buddha of Kamakura in size.
Also known as Kamakura Daibutsu, this amazing Buddha is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha and stands on the grounds of Kotokuin Temple. You could also walk inside of the Buddha in Kamakura. Beware though, that if you visit the Buddha on a hot day (like I did), the heat is twice as intense inside the bronze statue.
As part of a Buddhist prayer (I also talk more about this in my Tokyo blog), there was also a large incense burner that showcased the different Chinese zodiac animals that the Japanese also follow. (I was born in 1991, so I am the year of the sheep!) You could also take the smoke from the incense and wave it over your head as a cleanser. It was awesome to take part in traditional Japanese rituals!
Eat and Shop in the Town of Kamakura:
In addition to ancient sites, temples and shrines, Kamakura offers a beautiful downtown area where you could grab delicious food, snacks and go shopping!
For lunch that day, Toshi and I went to Cotty Cotty, a delicious Japanese restaurant that is known for their mini seafood rice bowls. I enjoyed salmon, tuna and sardine rice bowls. They were all AMAZING! Even though I love salmon and eat it weekly, I usually am not a tuna person, so you know it had to be good for me to have it. Also, I never tried sardine prior to this trip, but when I had it for the first time, I LOVED it! We even enjoyed a refreshing Japanese beer called Asahi with our meals. Everything was so tasty.
Later in the afternoon, before we left, Toshi and I also grabbed some Japanese ice cream to cool off. I savored a green tea cone, while Toshi had lingonberry ice cream. If you don’t know what lingonberry is, then I will inform you that it is a fruit found in Eurasia and the Arctic. I also enjoyed this fruit during my time in Finland.
After lunch, Toshi and I walked over to Hasedera Temple, one of the most beautiful temples I saw during my time in Japan.
Hasedera Temple is built along the slope of a wooden hill. As you walk up the hill, you could catch breathtaking coastal views of Kamakura’s beach area. A few things you will notice here are beautiful gardens with lily pads and lotus flowers. There is a small temple hall in one of the gardens that is dedicated to Benten, the Buddhist goddess of feminine beauty and wealth.
As you make your way up the stairs of the hill, you will find the Jizo-do Hall that features hundreds of small statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva, who helps the souls of deceased children, who have lived or were miscarried, reach paradise.
Hasedera Temple is part of the Jodo sect, which is famous for its 11-headed statue of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy. This beautiful statue is over 30 feet tall and is known as one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan.
I absolutely loved Hasedera and found it to be a beautiful and peaceful place. Right next to the main temple, was also a small bamboo forest that was truly enchanting to walk through. Kamakura was the first place where I saw bamboo trees (with some lanterns hanging). I was amazed by it all!
After enjoying some peaceful time at Hasedera Temple, Toshi and I took a local train to Kamakura’s main train station that was close to our final stop, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
The Shinto shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is known to be the most important in Japan because Minamoto Yoritomo, the first shogun of the Kamakura government, founded it.
Before we reached the shrine, both Toshi and I walked through a long hall with multiple lanterns and torii gates. At first, it looked like a never ending trail, but it was actually pretty cool! The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the Minamoto family and of the samurai in general. The deified spirits of the ancient Emperor Ojin are enshrined at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.
Out of all of the places we had been to in Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu was definitely the most crowded. It is the second most visited place in the city, behind the Great Buddha of Kamakura. When you finally reach the main area of the shrine, there are steep stairs that lead to the Hongu or Jogu (main hall). Various events are held at this shrine throughout the year!
After exploring Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Toshi and I hopped back on the train and headed back to Tokyo in time for dinner. It was such a great day seeing the beauty and learning about the historical wonders of Kamakura. Being able to catch up with Toshi, who I hadn’t seen in a few years, was very nice and I hope to see him again when I visit the country in the future.
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