Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Touring Kamakura, a List

I won't be a hometown tourist much longer with only seventeen days left in Japan. However, with the arrival of old Navy friends this past weekend I did just that. I came away with a few thoughts and this list to share.

As a tourist, I'm laissez-faire and happy with whatever comes along. I like a balance between new discoveries and time for chatting and eating with guests. Vacation is a time to slow down, lounge more, and breath. Sightseeing is best left to one or two adventures per day and then chill time or so go my natural underpinnings on this thought. As the hostess, I have learned to consider the length of my guest's stay, the physical condition of the guests, and to inquire after the interests of the group. I find that I take guests to many of the same places nonetheless.

Kamakura has many tourist spots, and I have not hit them all, but here is a round up of my favorites. I like to combine walking and using the car. The car let's us get close enough to the different areas of Kamakura so that we can then make the most of our time. Walking is a must-- too many small alleys and not enough parking.

Day tourists can pick sections of the city and get here via the train, the main station being Kamakura Station and then use either the Enoden Line or the city bus to get about the different areas of town from Kamakura station. Consult a more detailed travel resource or simply ask at Kamakura Station for assistance when you arrive for specific directions. Bike rental is another option and is nearby the station as are lockers.

Bring a map, a hat for hot days, an umbrella for rainy ones, good walking shoes, plenty of change for train, bus, or whatever fare, and a plan to hit some of these highlights. For thoughts on shopping and restaurants, look to this link.

Touring Kamakura, Japan

1. Hachiman-gu, Shinto shrine also known as Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu

It's what makes Kamakura, Kamakura to me. I like to walk up the middle path with its canopy of cherry trees, even when they are not in bloom. Keep an ear out for festivals and other events during the year, such as New Years, Fireflies, etc. I like to point out where the unwanted fortunes are tied and left. I was surprised that one could actually purchase a bad fortune! Good fortunes go with you.

The gateway to Hachiman-gu in Kamakura
With Sakura blossoms
Bad fortunes are tied and left at the shrine

2. Daibutsu, the big Buddha at Kotoku-in 

The Kamakura destination even the Obamas had on their Japan bucket list. Nearby is Hase-dera so add it to your tour if time permits.

Daibutsu aka The Big Buddha of Kamakura
Gateway to Hasedera

3. Tea at Hokoku-ji, the Bamboo Temple & Jomyo-ji 

With it's impeccable grounds, mesmerizing bamboo grove, and tea house, Hokoku-ji is a family favorite. Green tea is a must for my clan. We always do a double dose of green tea, besides the health benefits are so good for you that you can never drink enough green tea. Afterward, we head directly over to Jomyo-ji which has a tea house with a different sweet and a different feel. Don't forget to admire your tea cup, eat all of your sweet, and say hi to Momo, the orange colored temple kitty that seems to be enjoying random rubs every time we visit. On the hill above Jomyo-ji there is an English garden and restaurant that has a brick oven and all kinds of fresh bread. Some days the wait is long, but for explorers with time, it is worthy of the wait.

Matcha tea at Hokoku-ji
Momo getting a rub at Jomyo-ji
View from the tea house at Jomyo-ji

4. Komachi-dori, the shopping street 

It is always busy. I  like to save it for quieter times for American friends as most of us are used to space and the crowds do not encourage us to shop. Plus, shopping is another adventure, this is about sights to see, but you have to see the street and make a run down it regardless.

Ambling down Komachi-dori

5. Tokyu, a department store

Depends on the traveler, but go to a department store/grocyer in Japan if it has not happened. Americans at least can marvel at the first floor bonanza of prepared foods and gifts lying in wait to lure customers, most of us have never seen anything like it. If you've done this in Tokyo or another larger city in Japan, skip it.

Tokyu in Kamakura is near the train station, groceries are on the 2nd floor

6. The beach, the hawks, the surf 

Best enjoyed from bills if you ask me. I don't surf, but plopping on a beach is definitely a chill activity. Everyone can enjoy the breeze, the aspects of the beach that vary from beach to beach in their memory, and there is so much sight and sound, it absorbs you, great as a destination after lunch. I highly recommend not taking lunch or snacks to the beach-- the hawks are known for their pinpoint accuracy and for snagging treats. In June for the ajisai hydrangea viewing or just to see a power spot and my favorite dragon in Kamakura, I like to take guests to Jojuin Temple which is also near the beach area or can be combined with Hase-dera above.

Yuigahama Beach in Kamakura
Beware of hawks on the beach if you have food

7. A View of Fuji-san

Weather permitting, one must drive or hike up somewhere in the hills around Kamakura to take a look and a few photos of Fuji-san, known to us gringos as Mount Fuji. My kiddos think the best spot is from their alma mater, Kamakura Yochien.

The view of Mt. Fuji from Kamakura Yochien

8. Kencho-ji and  Engaku-ji, zen temples

Not really in Kamakura proper as it is near the Kita Kamakura train station stop, but, if time permits, visit the zen temples  Kencho-ji and  Engaku-ji.


9. Hiking Trails of Kamakura such as the ten-en course

I was amazed to discover some very elderly folks on some of these trails. They might be old, but they were Japanese and so they were out to see the fall colors and dragging their oxygen tanks with them. I do suggest avoiding mud season and taking buy spray if it's feeling steamy though the trails are shaded and generally pleasant. You can even find drink machines up there in the hills, but do come down for lunch or take some onigiri with you.

Hiking the trails of Kamakura

10. Zuisen-ji a bit wabi-sabi and all zen

Zuisen-ji temple is a bit out of the way, but it gets at the wabi-sabi sense for me, think a bit wild, a bit overgrown, and a bit cultivated. If you have time, trek there.


*An onsen visit

Any guest who has not been to Japan, should go to an onsen a spa or hot spring bath. There is not one we frequent in Kamakura, but this list is incomplete without the suggestion. This does not apply to day trippers who live in Japan, but to guests who come to stay a few days and are trying to absorb a bit of Japan quickly. Not all are comfortable with the idea of group bathing, but it should be tried at least once, assuming you have no tattoos which are verboten at the onsens. Nearby Enoshima has one that you can wear a swim suit to, but I prefer to drive down the toll road to Kanonzaki's Spasso.


  1. Kenchoji is my favourite, so I count Kita-Kamakura as part of the day-trip. We sometimes meet visitors at Kita-Kamakura and drop them off at the end of the day at Kamakura, or vice-versa. There are several ways to join the two up. Quickest is to walk on the main road from Kenchoji to Hachimangu. Next slowest is to take the minor road across the hill, which takes you to the west side of Komachidori, and thirdly is to take the hiking course, which can deposit you at Zeniaraibenten or the Daibutsu (I think - don't often go so far). We live about 1 minute's walk from Zuisenji, from where it takes about 90 minutes to walk on the hiking course over to Kenchoji.

    Being a food person, I'm surprised you didn't mention where to stop of for lunch and dinner on your daytrip. I always find that to be something of a constraining factor in my grand plans for tourists in Kamakura.

    Oh - and have you ever had the cappuccinos in the English garden at Jomyoji? Pretty cool that they do both frothy tea and frothy coffee. :-)

    As for Bills, we haven' been there yet. Whenever I pass it is hotching, sometimes witha queue down the road, with some loud music blaring out, which doesn't seem at all appealing. What am I doing wrong?

  2. Alas, you get ahead of me Jules, I am working on the list of shops and restaurants. I'm also trying to sew some gift bags and not getting very far as I would rather write! Yes, the English garden place is a favorite- had a birthday lunch there!

    My Bills tip, go early, 8:00 to 8:30 a.m. usually gets you in there without too much of a wait. I don't think they take reservations for breakfast, but it is getting so that they should. Go with me is my other tip, at least one of the hosts recognizes me, not that that is difficult in Japan. Rainy days sometimes help too, take sunglasses and a hat if it's sunny and you're willing to sit on the deck, great view, but sunny!


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