Also known as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, Kamakura (鎌倉) is located in the “Shonan area” of Kanagawa Prefecture, about an hour south of Tokyo. What makes Kamakura unique is its double nature that makes it a paradise for both history and nature lovers: you can go back in time by walking down old alleys with countless temples, shrines and rickshaws; or you can savor the ocean breeze and enjoy the laid-back vibe by the beach. This irresistible combination of old-and-new, culture-and-nature is why Kamakura needs to be included on your travel itineraries.
The town was the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333 (Kamakura Period), when Minamoto Yoritomo chose Kamakura as the seat of Japan’s first military government, the “Kamakura Bakufu.” The Kamakura Period was when the bushido (way of the samurai) was conceived, as well as when Zen Buddhism started its expansion in Japan.
Access to Kamakura and nearby cities
The best way to get to Kamakura is by train:
- Shonan Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku, Ikebukuro or Shibuya Station (935¥);
- JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo (935¥) or Shinagawa Station (726¥);
- Enoden or Enoshima Electric Railway (popular railway that runs along the coastline) from Fujisawa Station (310¥). To get to Fujisawa Station (located in Kanagawa Prefecture) from Tokyo:
- Odakyu Odawara Line from Shinjuku Station (597¥);
- JR Tokaido Line from Tokyo Station (990¥).
Please note that the above prices are valid for IC card holders (you can purchase it at any station’s vending machine for 500¥). If you do not have one, the prices are slightly higher (3-5 cents more).
Consider taking a longer ride on the Enoden to visit the nearby stations along the coast, in particular: Inamuragasaki, Shichirigahama and Kamakura Kokomae. Find more details below under the Coast Section.
Best time to visit Kamakura and for how long
Kamakura is particularly beautiful in spring during the cherry blossom season; in summer (for the brave ones who can put up with very high temperatures and humidity) for the Matsuri (Japanese traditional festivals) and firework events held across the season; and autumn when the city and its temples are framed by orange, yellow and red leaves.
As long as you avoid June (rainy season), you should be fine all year round visiting Kamakura.
Many people regard Kamakura as a one-day trip destination but the truth is that the city has so much potential that it is worth at least a 2-3-day visit. You can find ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels), resorts and more casual guest houses with prices starting from around 8000¥ per night.
Kamakura is entirely walkable! However, if you visit in summer on a day with 35°C and 300% humidity, you might consider hopping on a train to explore the areas where the sights are concentrated: Kita-Kamakura, Kamakura and Hase Station.
- Enoden connects Hase Station to Kamakura Station (200¥);
- Shonan Shinjuku Line or Odakyu Odawara Line to go from Kita Kamakura to Kamakura (136¥)
You might also take the bus (178¥-210¥). If you cannot decipher the time table, feel free to ask the closest police station (交番): they are always ready to help!
Another option is that of renting bikes: just outside the East exit of Kamakura station on the right, you can find a bicycle rental shop. Prices start from 3000¥ a day.
Kamakura Temples and Shrines
Kamakura boasts no less than 65 Buddhist temples and 19 Shinto shrines. Visiting all of them is unrealistic, so below are the ones you cannot miss.
To follow our route, there are 3 train stations; Hase Station, Kamakura Station and Kita-Kamakura Station
Let’s start from Hase Station, you can take 6 minutes walk from the station to Hasedera, then, 12 minutes walk to Daibutsu Kotoku-in Temple. We have pinned the route for you on Google Map here.
6 minutes walk from Hase Station. The main attraction is the eleven-headed Kannon statue, carved out of the same tree that gave life to the Kannon statue worshipped at the Hasedera Temple in Nara.
The main buildings are up a slope from where you can enjoy a killer view of Yuigahama Beach, Sagami Bay and, if you are lucky, of Mt. Fuji too!
Don’t miss out the small and cute statues of the Jizo Bodhisattva who helps the souls of children to get to paradise.
- Entrance fee: 400¥
- Opening Hours: March – September 08:00 – 17:30; October – February 08:00 – 17:00
- Recommendation: Shakyo (写経) experience, the hand copying of a sutra. You can write down your wish/prayer and leave the sheet in front of the altar. During a ceremony performed once or twice a year, a monk will get your message to the Buddha.
Kamakura Daibutsu Kotoku-in Temple (鎌倉大仏殿高徳院)
Popular destination for the large Buddha Statue that sits in the open air. The statue was originally enshrined in the Daibutsu-den Hall that was destroyed by several natural calamities.
(You may also interested in Ueno Daibutsu, Tokyo)
- Entrance fee: 300¥
- Opening hours: 8:00 a.m.− 5:00 p.m.
Next, let’s see temples and shrines nearby Kamakura Station. We have pinned them on Google Map here. Each places are quite far from each other, 30-60 minutes walk or more. You may consider taking a cab or public transportation.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu (鶴が岡八幡宮)
Accessed through a massive Torii (traditional Shinto gate), the shrine is dedicated to Hchiman, the God of War, patron of the Minamoto clan and of the samurai in general. You can admire two ponds, one symbolizing the Minamoto clan with 3 islands; the other symbolizing the Taira clan, the Minamoto’s arch rivals, with 4 islands, as the Japanese “4” (四) is pronounced “shi”, the same sound for the word “death” (死).
- Entrance: free.
- Entrance to the museum: 200¥
- Opening Hours: October to March 6am-9pm, April to September 5am-9pm
The gardens by the ponds are beautiful all year round but especially in spring, during the cherry blossom season in early April.
The shrine attracts visitors on a daily basis but especially in:
- Beginning of January for the “Hatsumode” (first shrine visit of the year).
- April for the Kamakura Festival.
- Mid September for the 3-day Annual Festival (Reitai-sai), with its highlight in the horseback archery event.
Tsurugaoka Museum Cafe, a wooden cafe with terrace seats where you can enjoy great coffee/tea/matcha latte away from the hustle-bustle of the Shrine.
The atmosphere at the cafe is almost sacred, as it has its view on what is left of the 1000-year old Ginko tree that witnessed the entire history of the shrine, uprooted by a storm in 2010.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine (銭洗弁天)
Example of Buddhism and Shinto fusion, the Shrine is dedicated to Benzaiten (one of the Seven Lucky Gods) and it is popular because it is said that your money will double if washed in the shrine’s spring.
- Entrance: free
- Visiting hours: 8:00 to 16:30
Sasuke Inari Shrine (佐助稲荷神社)
You will have to climb a hill stepped in traditional Japanese folklore to reach this Shrine. The legend has it that a fox (“Inari” in Japanese) appeared To Yoritomo Minamoto in a dream advising about an attack on his enemies. Yoritomo was successful and had the Shrine built out of gratitude to the fox. The head shrine is actually the famous Fushimi Inari located in Kyoto, so that this one in Kamakura can be considered a smaller version, with a sea of 49 Torii gates.
- Entrance: free
- Opening Hours: 24/7
Hokokuji Temple (報国寺)
Known as the “Bamboo Temple”, Hokokuji boasts a bamboo grove that rivals the famous Bamboo Forest of Arashiyama in Kyoto. At the on-site tea house you can enjoy a cup of matcha tea while losing yourself in the mystical peace of the Temple.
- Entrance fee: 300¥ (additional 600¥ for tea and Japanese sweets service)
- Opening Hours: 9:00-16:00
From Kita-Kamakura Station
Engakuji Temple (円覚寺)
Built to commemorate the victory of Japan over the Mongols thanks to the help of the “Kamikaze” (divine god) that destroyed the enemies’ ships. One of the leading Zen temples in Japan, the Engakuji stores two national treasures: the Bell and the tooth of Buddha.
Opening Hours: March-November 8:00-16:30, December-February 8:00-16:00
Jochiji Temple (浄智寺)
A branch of the above Engakuji, the Temple is popular for the statue of Hotei, one of the Seven Lucky Gods, whose belly you have to rub for good fortune. In addition, next to Jochiji starts the one-hour long Daibutsu hiking trail that leads you directly to the Great Buddha.
- Entrance fee: 200¥
- Opening Hours: 9:00-16:30
Meigetsuin Temple (明月院)
Because of its flowers particularly abundant during the rainy season in June, the Temple is also known as “the hydrangea temple”. Instagrammers love the “windows of enlightenment,” a circular window with a view on the garden that symbolizes enlightenment.
- Entrance fee: 500¥ (additional 500¥ to visit the Iris garden open in June)
- Opening Hours: 9:00-16:00; only June 8:30-17:00
Kenchoji Temple (建長寺)
The oldest Zen Temple in Kamakura, unmissable is its garden designed by the Zen master Muso Kokushi. For hikers, Kenchoji is where the Tenen hiking trail starts, a one-hour long path through the northern hills of Kamakura that leads to Zuisenji Temple.
- Entrance fee: 500¥
- Opening Hours: 8:30-16:30
Fact: along with Kyoto, Kamakura is the heart of Rinzai Zen, one of the three major Zen sects in Japan. Both Kyoto and Kamakura’s temples are based on “Gozan,” the Chinese Five Mountain System. In Kamakura they are: Kenchoji, Engakuji, Jufukuji, Jochiji, and Jomyoji.
Street food and shopping street
Komachi Dori (小町通り)
Shopping street sided by countless shops that offer the best of Kamakura’s gourmet and where Japanese people love to fully experience the “Tabearuki”, which translates into “Eating While Walking”.
Rather than have a proper lunch at a restaurant, it is recommendable to walk down the street and try the different foods sold at the various stalls.
You should not miss:
- “Chakin”, Japanese Sweet Shop, well known for their dango, matcha ice cream and collection of dried fruits.
- “Torigoya”, croquette store, renomated for its purple sweet potato croquette.
- Great Buddha shaped cakes that you can enjoy at multiple stores and with different fillings: custard or blueberry cheese cream are the most popular.
- Ichigo Dango, rice flour cakes layered with fresh strawberries.
- “Gram”, a custom-made ring shop very popular among young Japanese girls.
Hidden gems off the beaten path
Ishigama Garden Terrace (石窯ガーデンテラス)
Located on the hill of Jomyoji Temple, this western-style restaurant/cafe located within the temple offers delicious handmade bread, italian cuisine and afternoon tea service with view on a garden designed by a Scottish garden designer.
- Lunch set: 2400¥-3000¥
- Afternoon tea: 3800¥
- Opening hours: 10:00-17:00 (Closed on Mondays)
Kamakura Farmers Market “Renbai” (レンバイ)
Market held daily in a warehouse where you can find fresh fruit and vegetables picked on the very same morning.
- Opening Hours: usually from 8:00 until sunset
Linodrops Kamakura (さくら貝アクセサリー)
In Kamakura, people believe that if you find the extremely rare “Sakuragai” (桜貝), a type of shell of a delicate pink colour, along Kamakura beach, you will find long lasting happiness. “Linodrops Kamakura” is a shop that specializes in Sakuragai: bring them the shell you have found and they will make beautiful accessories out of it.
Yoridokoro (カフェ ヨリドコロ)
Kamakura is famous for restaurants specialising in breakfast. People start queuing from the early morning to enjoy a delicious and healthy Japanese-style breakfast. Among the most famous restaurants is “Yoridokoro”.
The restaurant offers a typical Shonan view of the Enoden that runs just in front. There are multiple choices for breakfast but one of the most popular is the fried horse mackerel set meal with miso soup and rice for only 780¥.
Located right in front of Zaimokuza beach, the building provides a surf club and a coworking space on the basement floor; beach view cafes, restaurants and a hotel on the first floor; a yoga and dance studio on the second floor.
Hachinoki (Kita Kamakura)
Built in the style of a tea-ceremony house, the restaurant offers Japanese cuisine including traditional Shojin Ryori (Buddhist vegetarian diet) and Kaiseki Ryori (banquet dishes). Prices start from 2400¥.
What to eat in Kamakura
- “Shirasu” (whitebait), special product of the Shonan area. You can find it literally everywhere and cooked in every way (Shirasu pizza, Shirasu ice cream…) but the most popular is undoubtedly the “Shirasu don”, rice topped with whitebait.
- “Hato Sabure” cookies (鳩サブレー), literally “dove sablé”, are delicious butter biscuits in the shape of a dove. Popular souvenirs for anyone who visits Kamakura, it seems that they were shaped after a dove for two reasons: because children at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine adored doves and also because the name of the Shrine includes the Japanese character for the number “eight” (八) that resembles two birds facing each other.
- Matcha ice cream at “Kamakura Chacha”, where you can choose the richness of your green tea according to five different levels.
- Kamakura Beer produced by a multiple award-winning microbrewery.
Coast in Kamakura (Stations along the Enoden line)
There are many places you can chill out and things you can do by the coast of Kamakura. All are accesible by the Enoden line.
Yuigahama is the name of Kamakura beach. You will find people all year round but needless to say, summer (July-August) is when the area is the most popular, not only because of the weather but also because of the beach houses, where you can indulge in food and drinks while enjoying a view of the ocean crowded with surfers until sunset, and of the beach crowded with people lighting handheld fireworks at night.
Kamakura Kokomae Station (sightseeing)
Kamakura Kokomae Station (literally “Station in front of Kamakura High School) is a popular destination not only because you can see the Pacific Ocean, Enoshima and Mt. Fuji from the platform but also because the railway crossing right outside of the station was the setting for the famous basketball anime “Slam dunk”.
Shichirigahama Station (Pacific Drive-in)
Pacific Drive-in at a 5-minute walk from Shichirigahama Station is a famous Hawaiian restaurant with outdoor seats overlooking the ocean. Pancakes taste even better at sunset time with a view on Mt. Fuji. Just be aware of the hawks that might try to steal your food!
Inamuragasaki Park is a popular “seichi junrei”, meaning visiting the spots that featured in films and dramas. The park is a great place where to stop after a day of sightseeing, sit on the rocks and watch surfers and sailors with Mt. Fuji in the background. Just across the street you will find “Restaurant Main”, popular as it provides open air “Ashi-yu” (足湯), Japanese foot spas for soaking away the muscle aches of tired feet after a long day of walking.
Especially in summer, the coastline of Kamakura offers various water activities, among which:
- Surf: It’s recommendable to book a class in the morning. The numerous surf clubs along the beach usually provide lessons from 9 AM at around 5000¥.
- Stand up Paddle Board: Although the whole area of Shonan is packed with surfers, waves are usually very little or none. When the sea is as calm as the Mediterranean, Stand up Paddle is a good alternative to surfing. Prices are the same as for a surf lesson.
- Stand up Paddle Board Yoga: Yoga on the water sounds a little intimidating but recently it is getting very popular around Kamakura. Prices range around 10000¥ per lesson.
If you are going to use this article as a guide to your visit to Kamakura and don’t want to have a hard time searching for this article on Samurai Trip again, don’t forget to share it on your social media or send it to your mailbox.
Before you go, don not forget to add Shirakawago to your travel plan.