Wel-Kam to Kamakura, Eastern Japan’s “Little Kyoto”
When it comes to Japan’s historical and cultural epicentre, the image of Kyoto immediately comes to mind for most people. Located in the Kansai Region in Western Japan, it is the country’s former capital city and its fame as the mecca of Japan’s history and culture has attracted visitors from all over the world. However, do you know that Eastern Japan has its own “Little Kyoto”?
Kamakura (鎌倉) is a city located in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県), and used to be the political capital of Japan when the country’s first military government was established. Today, it is one of the most popular day-trip destinations for visitors based in Tokyo, who can get there with a 1-hour train ride. Kamakura has become the place to visit if you would like to know more about Japanese history and culture without needing to go all the way to Western Japan.
My route in Kamakura. (Image credit: Google Maps)
“Kamakura” is a city name that I have been familiar with since I began working in the tourism industry a decade ago. It’s one of those destinations that I always recommended to visitors to Japan who sought day-trip options from Tokyo, but had never personally been to myself… that is, until recently. The day finally came for me to set foot on Eastern Japan’s “Little Kyoto”, which felt like an accomplishment that had been long due.
In this article, I will be sharing my experience on travelling to Kamakura for a half-day tour, and I will show you the route that I took and share some of the discoveries I made during my time there. Temples and shrines are plentiful in the city, but you may be surprised to know that there are other things that you might not expect. So put on your walking shoes and let’s go!
From Tokyo to Kamakura
Taking the Shōnan-Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
One of the major perks about Kamakura is its sheer accessibility. The city is only around an hour’s train ride from the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, so travelling there and back is highly convenient. I learned that myself when I began my journey from Shinjuku Station (新宿駅 Shinjuku-eki), where I hopped on the Shōnan-Shinjuku Line (湘南新宿線 Shōnan-Shinjuku-sen) bound for Kamakura, on a busy weekday morning.
Kamakura Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
At around 9:18am, I reached Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅 Kamakura-eki), which serves as a gateway to the ancient city. The station is often bustling with visitors both local and foreign, and groups of middle school students are also a common sight here as Kamakura is a popular choice among schools for excursion trips.
Shimenawa above Kamakura Station’s East Exit. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
One thing that struck me about Kamakura Station is a shimenawa (標縄) that I spotted above the station’s East Exit. Translated as “enclosing rope”, it is used in Shinto purification rituals and it is often found at the entrance of Shinto shrines, torii gates, and sacred monuments.
A shimenawa at the entrance of a train station is an unconventional sight, so it piqued my interest when I saw it. The conspicuous ornament served as a preview of what was to come for me: a journey through Kamakura’s rich cultural heritage, one that would starkly remind many people why it feels so reminiscent of Kyoto.
① A leisurely walk to the scenic Yuigahama Beach
Passing through Onari Shopping Street. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
When I checked out Kamakura on the map, I noticed that some of the city’s prominent attractions can be reached on foot from the train station, so I decided to simply explore the city centre by walking. I learned firsthand how walkable Kamakura was, and given how compact the area is with plenty of streets and avenues, walking is a great way to learn about the city more intimately.
For instance, upon exiting from Kamakura Station’s West Exit, I strolled right into Onari Shopping Street (御成通り Onari-dōri), a charming street filled with chic cafés, jewellery shops, and mom-and-pop stores. Underrated and often overshadowed by the more popular Komachi Shopping Street (more on that later), the street is a great place for visitors to go café-hopping or make interesting discoveries that are on sale. It was still quiet when I passed through, as it was still early in the morning and most of them opened from late morning onwards.
Reaching Yuigahama Beach. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After a short 20-minute walk from Kamakura Station, I reached my first attraction in the city: Yuigahama Beach (由比ヶ浜). Directly facing Sagami Bay, the beach is highly popular among visitors from Tokyo as well as Yokohama especially during the summer, as the cool sea breeze and golden sands offer a refreshing experience during the summer heat.
Beach huts being built along the beach. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The best time to visit Yuigahama Beach is usually from July to August, during the midst of summer when crowds of surfers and beachgoers would be a common sight. Since I was there slightly earlier in the year, the beach was relatively quiet, but there were still visitors there enjoying the breeze and sea waves. Encouragingly, I saw beach huts being built along the beach, perhaps in preparation for the upcoming summer.
Yuigahama Beach during the summer. (Image credit: photoAC)
What’s interesting that I found is the rows of shops at the end of the beach, lined with chic cafés, surf shops and guesthouses. The shops had Hawaiian-inspired decors that were in contrast to the image I would expect from a historical city such as Kamakura, which was a pleasant surprise. I could imagine that they would be filled with beachgoers during the peak of summer, and perhaps I could come here again if the opportunity ever arises.
② Serendipitous detour to Hasedera
A directory showing temples and shrines nearby at Hase. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After enjoying the beautiful sea views and refreshing sea breeze at Yuigahama Beach, I made a short walk to Hase (長谷), a hilly district known for its Buddhist temples. As I approached the district, the landscape gradually changed, with shops selling beachwear and surfing gear lessening and more stores selling antiques and traditional souvenirs.
I reached a junction with a directory that showed the way to Kotoku-in, which was supposed to be the next destination on my list, but there was another temple that caught my eye, and it was nearer to me. I decided then to make a detour to that temple instead; I personally love taking detours and making new discoveries along the way.
Hasedera’s main gate. (Image credit: photoAC)
The place that I made a detour to was Hasedera (長谷寺), a Buddhist temple that is famous for its 9.18m wooden statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. The statue is said to be one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan, and it is also said that the wood for the sculpture was carved from the same tree as the one used for the more prominent wooden statue of Kannon at Hasedera in Nara.
Paying a visit to Hasedera. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Do you know what Hasedera is also famous for? Flowers! It is also often known as “flower temple” for its plethora of flowers that bloom at different times of the year, and during my visit, hydrangeas were in full bloom. I was lucky enough to be there during this period to see them bloom gloriously!
Hasedera was originally not on my list of attractions to visit in Kamakura, so I didn’t look up the temple beforehand and hence I didn’t know what to expect from my visit. The entrance was full of students making a field trip to the city, and the lively ambience made me even more excited about my visit.
Vibrant greenery inside Hasedera’s temple complex. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
When I entered the complex, I was greeted with flourishing vivid greenery that covered the entire landscape. Known as shinryoku (新緑), these were fresh leaves that sprouted after spring flowers had bloomed, and their sheer greenness was a feast for the eyes. My visit to the temple was right during the shinryoku season, and though I was looking forward to seeing hydrangeas instead, the view of the greenery was a welcome surprise.
Kannon-do. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The temple complex is made up of two levels connected by short flights of stairs, and after climbing up, I made it to the upper level to reach Kannon-do (観音堂 Kannon-dō), the largest hall in Hasedera. First constructed in 736 and rebuilt several times over the years, this is where the wooden statue of Kannon is housed, and visitors can pay the entrance fee to go inside and have a look at it.
Note: Photography and video recording are prohibited inside Kannon-do.
Amida-do (left) and the statue of Amida Buddha (right) inside. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
The building next to Kannon-do is Amida-do (阿弥陀堂 Amida-dō), which is another hall that bears quite a historical significance. The hall houses a 3m golden statue of Amida Buddha, and legend has it that the statue helped to ward off evil for Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185–1333).
Panoramic view of Sagami Bay. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Just a short walk from Kannon-do is an observation platform that offers a panoramic view of Sagami Bay (相模湾 Sagami-wan), and visitors can enjoy the view while taking a break on the benches nearby. It was a breathtaking sight for me to see Yuigahama Beach from here, and the clear weather that day made me feel grateful for the wonderful surprise too!
Hydrangeas galore along the Prospect Path. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Perhaps the highlight of my visit to Hasedera was the Prospect Path (眺望散策路 Chōbō-sansaku-ji). Located just a short walk away from Kannon-do, it is a walking trail that transforms into Hydrangeas Path in the month of June.
During this period, up to 40 varieties of hydrangeas of different shades and hues bloom marvellously, and visitors can enjoy appreciating their sheer beauty. I was stunned by the magnificent sight of the flowers all around me while I was walking along the path… just look at how beautiful they are!
Jizo statues around the temple complex. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Another surprising discovery I made at Hasedera was the numerous Jizo (地蔵 Jizō) statues found all over the temple complex. Jizo is a Buddhist deity that is believed to guide unborn children, and those who died at a young age, to Paradise. The children are symbolised by the small Jizo stone statues, and visitors can try to spot them all throughout the complex.
Benten-kutsu Cave. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
As I was about to leave Hasedera, there was one more point of interest in the temple complex that I found along the way. On the far-right side of the temple complex’s lower level lies Benten-kutsu Cave (弁天窟 Benten-kutsu), and it features several stone statues of Benzaiten, the Buddhist Goddess of Luck and Wisdom, as well as her followers, and visitors can write and leave their wishes and names as offerings on the statues.
Because of its secluded location, the cave is easy to miss for a lot of visitors, but it’s worth stepping inside and having a feel of what is like to meditate inside. Take note that it is dark inside, so watch your step and your head when entering.
Address: 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0016
Access: 5-minute walk from Enoshima Electric Railway Hase Station (江ノ島電鉄長谷駅) or 25-minute walk from Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅)
8am–5:30pm (March–September, last entry at 5pm)
8am–5pm (October–February, last entry at 4:30pm)
Admission fees: ¥400 per adult (additional ¥300 per adult for Kannon Museum)
③ Onward to see the Great Buddha
Entering Kotoku-in. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After a brief yet fruitful visit to Hasedera, I was back to my original schedule and set forth to my next destination: Kotoku-in (高徳院 Kо̄tuku-in), a Buddhist temple where visitors will find one of the most iconic structures in Kamakura. Kotoku-in was also just a short 5-minute walk from Hasedera, so I wasted no time and proceeded there on foot.
As the day gradually reached the late morning, the crowd of visitors to the city began to swell, and I began to see large groups of students everywhere, especially at the entrance of Kotoku-in. The road leading to the temple was also getting congested with visitors arriving by cars and vying for a space in the adjacent carpark.
Behold, the Great Buddha of Kamakura. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After buying the entrance ticket and making my way past the Nio-mon (仁王門 Niō-mon) main gate, I entered the temple complex, and lo and behold, standing in the centre of the courtyard was the Great Buddha of Kamakura (鎌倉大仏 Kamakura Daibutsu). With a height of 11.4m—or 13.4m including the base—and weighing approximately 121 tons, it is one of the most iconic statues in Japan, and is one of the most famous landmarks in Kamakura.
Closer inspection of the statue. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Built sometime in the mid-13th century, the statue was originally coated with gold leaf but after enduring centuries of weather, the statue has lost much of its golden brilliance. The statue also used to be kept inside the temple buildings, but due to natural disasters that had occurred over the years, the statue was relocated outdoors and has remained out in the open ever since.
It was a surreal experience for me to finally see the statue with my own eyes. Before setting foot in Kamakura, I had only seen photos of the statue in travel magazines and catalogues, so to see the same landmark in person felt strangely familiar to me.
The statue’s back windows. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
I also read how the statue used to be covered in gold leaf, I was curious to see if I could spot some traces of it on the statue, and I actually did see some on its face! I could only imagine how brilliant it must have been back in the day when it would be shining in gold. Moreover, visitors used to be able to enter the statue and see its interiors, but currently, it is out of bounds due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Let’s wish that this will be re-opened soon, shall we?
Address: 4-2-28, Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0016
Access: 25-minute walk from Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅). Alternatively, take a 10-minute bus ride from Kamakura Station’s East Exit and get off at the Daibutsu-mae bus stop.
8am–5:30pm (March–September, last entry at 5:15pm)
8am–5pm (October–February, last entry at 4:45pm)
Admission fees: ¥300 per adult
④ Next stop: Kamakura’s most significant shrine
Enoshima Electric Railway Hase Station. (Image credit: photoAC (top right), JR East / Nazrul Buang)
By the time I finished visiting Yuigahama Beach, Hasedera, and Kotoku-in, the clock was approaching noontime, and my next destination was located on the other end of Kamakura Station. To cut on travelling time, I decided to hop on a local train that would conveniently bring me to Kamakura Station.
The Enoshima Electric Railway is a railway service that runs between Kamakura Station and Fujisawa Station in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture. It runs through the city’s suburban areas, and visitors to Kamakura can hop on the train to reach various tourist spots in the city, including Enoshima (江の島).
Reaching Kamakura Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
I boarded the train from Enoshima Electric Railway’s Hase Station, which was only a 6-minute walk from Kotoku-in, and it only took me 4 minutes to reach Kamakura Station. I found the train to be a very convenient mode of transport for getting around Kamakura, more so for travelling to and from Kotoku-in, especially when the roads can be very congested.
An elevated walkway along Kamakura’s main street. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
From Kamakura Station’s East Exit, visitors can reach Tsurugaoka Hachimangu by taking a 10-minute walk through the main street. A tip from me: although most people would naturally take the street’s sidewalks, I highly recommend taking Dankazura (段葛), which is an elevated walkway that runs through the middle of the street. It is lined with cherry blossom trees, and during the spring season, the walkway will be covered with stunning cherry blossom petals.
The walkway was covered by a canopy made from verdant green leaves when I visited, and it felt refreshing just to walk leisurely through it. Dankazura leads directly to the shrine, and I made my way there after enjoying the soothing greenery around me.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s main torii gate. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮 Tsuruoka Hachiman-gū) is regarded as the most important shrine in Kamakura. Originally built in 1063, it is the oldest shrine in the city, and several buildings in the shrine complex have been designated as Important Cultural Properties, with some housing historical relics that are designated as National Treasures.
The shrine is known for its conspicuous bright red exteriors and torii gates that stretch from the waterfront to the entrance via the city centre. After walking for around 10 minutes from the train station, I reached the main torii gate just before the shrine’s entrance and made my way into the shrine complex.
Maiden (left) and Wakamiya Shrine (right). (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Upon entering the shrine grounds, I made my way through the long Wakamiya corridor, and at the end of it, I observed some of the prominent structures that make up the complex. They include Maiden (舞殿), which is a stage for dance and musical performances, and Wakamiya Shrine (若宮). After that, it’s a climb up a stairway to the Main Hall (真本堂 hondō), the complex’s main building.
Stairway to the Main Hall. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
As I slowly made my way up the stairway, the view of the magnificent Main Hall slowly came into my view. The imposing hall is where Emperor Ojin (応神天皇 Ōjin-tennō), his wife Himegami (比売神), and Empress Jingu (神功皇后 Jingū-kōgō) are enshrined, and together with Wakamiya Shrine, they make up the two Important Cultural Properties in the shrine complex.
It’s hard for me put into words to describe how impressive the Main Hall was, especially when it boasted a rich history stretching back over 1,000 years ago. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is also one of Japan’s most visited shrines during hatsumōde (初詣first visit to a Buddhist temple or Shintō shrine during the Japanese New Year), and it is said to be particularly beautiful especially during the cherry blossom season.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴岡八幡宮)
Address: 2-1-31, Yukinoshita, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa 248-8588
Access: 10-minute walk from Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅).
Admission fees: None
*Note: Several facilities inside the shrine complex (e.g. Treasure Hall, Tsurugaoka Bunko) have different opening hours.
⑤ Shopping galore!
Komachi Shopping Street. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
After my visit to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, it was time for me to head back to Kamakura Station and call it a day. But before wrapping up my time in Kamakura, there was just one more place that I wanted to see, and conveniently, it was located right along my way back to the station.
Komachi Shopping Street (小町通 Komachi-dōri) is a street that spans between Kamakura Station’s East Exit to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu’s entrance, and is lined with many eclectic shops selling all kinds of products, such as snacks and local specialty souvenirs, traditional and Western desserts, and many more. The street is highly popular among visitors to Kamakura for its lively ambience, and is perfect for anyone looking for a quick bite or shopping for souvenirs.
Komachi Shopping Street teeming with visitors. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
When I passed by Komachi Shopping Street, it was during the lunch hour, and the street was bustling with visitors, including large groups of students who were there on a field trip. I found it easy to lose myself in the numerous shops and simply browse through the myriad items on sale, and I think the street serves as the perfect final spot for making a lasting impression on all visitors, including myself.
Komachi Shopping Street (小町通り)
Address: 2-8 Komachi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0006
Access: 1-minute walk from Kamakura Station (鎌倉駅)
Starting and ending my Kamakura trip at Kamakura Station. (Image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang)
Do you know what it feels like to finally visit a place that has been on your to-go list for the longest time? Kamakura is one of those places that I have been meaning to visit for many years, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience to finally be there in person instead of just seeing photos of it in travel magazines. Perhaps more importantly, I felt like I had achieved something, and felt a sense of accomplishment that I can finally strike the city off my list.
Do I want to visit Kamakura again? Of course! There are still plenty of other attractions that I didn’t get to visit, such as the tranquil gardens of Kenchoji, or the beautiful beaches of Enoshima nearby, so that simply means that it will be a matter of time before I visit the city once again. If you ever want to explore an ancient city filled with rich culture and heritage in Eastern Japan, look no further than the region’s “Little Kyoto” which is Kamakura.
JR TOKYO Wide Pass
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass and where you can use it. (Image credit: JR East)
Planning to visit Kamakura and other nearby destinations for day trips while staying in Tokyo? Then check out the JR TOKYO Wide Pass, an affordable pass that offers unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) and some non-JR lines in the valid area for 3 consecutive days. At only ¥10,180, the pass enables travellers to travel around the Kanto Region, including Kamakura, the Izu Peninsula, and Kawaguchiko. You can also make seat reservations online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.
The JR TOKYO Wide Pass can be used for automatic ticket gates, and foreign passport holders living in Japan are also eligible to use this pass.
Header image credit: JR East / Nazrul Buang, illustAC