Kamakura more than just a great Buddha
A convenient 20-minute train ride from Yokosuka or approximately one hour from Tokyo Station, Kamakura is a fantastic choice for a day trip that offers visitors a variety of experiences: towering bamboo groves, mysterious caves, elegant Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, and hands-on workshops that will leave a lasting impression of this ancient capital.
Kamakura is perhaps best known to Western tourists for its imposing bronze Amida Buddha statue dating to 1252, and to Japanese as the seat of the first Shogunate under Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1192 and ascent of the samurai during the Kamakura Period. Today, Kamakura is known for its beaches and surfing, unique cultural events like yabusame (samurai horseback archery contest held at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine), and bustling shopping street Komachi-dori. One of the great joys of visiting Kamakura is discovering the many temples and subtemples scattered among the steep hillsides, each with its own unique history and charms.
Originally a Tendai sect temple, Hasedera is famous for a 30-foot wooden statue of Kannon (the Buddhist goddess of mercy) that dates to the 8th century. Along with Meigetsuin, Hasedera is famous for its 2,500 hydrangeas, which cascade dramatically down the steep hillsides (expect huge crowds and numbered tickets in July when hydrangea season is at its peak). The temple also has a unique network of caves which feature religious stone carvings, including that of water goddess Benzaiten, patroness of the fine arts and the only female among the Seven Lucky Gods of Japan.
Admission: Adults 300 yen, children 100 yen
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 4:30 p.m. from October to February)
Admission ends 30 minutes before closing
Address: 3-11-2 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0016
Access: Hasedera is a five-minute walk from Hase, the third stop on the Enoden line (transfer at Kamakura Station).
Also known as “Hydrangea Temple,” Meigetsuin belongs to the Rinzai Zen sect and was founded in 1160. The temple is famous for its profusion of blue Princess Hydrangeas that blanket the grounds; be prepared to wait in long lines during peak season for the chance to admire and photograph the beautiful flowers. The main hall’s iconic circular window frames the lush inner garden, which is open in June when irises are in bloom, and in late November / early December for autumn colors.
Admission: 300 yen (500 yen in June, additional 500 yen for inner garden during temporary openings)
Hours: 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. (8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. in June)
Address: 189 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062
Access: Meigetsuin is approximately a ten-minute walk from JR Kita-Kamakura Station.
A branch temple of nearby Engakuji, is the last survivor of a network of five nunneries known as Amagozan. Founded in 1285, the temple acted as a shelter for thousands of battered women who sought divorce from their husbands. Today, the temple grounds are home to beautiful blooms and visitors can participate in Zen meditation as well as the tea ceremony, incense ceremony and ikebana, Japan’s three classical arts of refinement.
Admission: Adults 200 yen, children 100 yen
Hours: 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., April to September, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m., October to March
Address: 1367 Yamanouchi Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062
Access: Tokei-ji Temple is a 4-minute walk from Kita-Kamakura Station on the JR Yokosuka Line.
Founded in 1282 by Hojo Tokimune, Engakuji is the second of Kamakura’s five great Zen temples and my personal favorite in Kamakura. It is built on the slopes of Kita-Kamakura, making for dramatic views over neighboring temples and bamboo groves. The imposing Sanmon main gate dates to 1783, while the main hall (Butsuden) is a more recent reconstruction dating to the 1960s after an earthquake destroyed the original. Along with nearby Meigestuin, it is particularly notable for its gorgeous hydrangeas (June/July) and autumn colors (December).
Admission: Adults 300 yen, children 100 yen
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March to November (8 a.m. to 4 p.m. December to February)
Address: 409 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062
Access: directly outside JR Kita-Kamakura station; about a 1-minute walk across the tracks
“Bamboo Temple” was founded in 1334 and belongs to Kenchōji Temple (Rinzai Sect); it was the family temple of two powerful samurai clans. The main attraction at Hokoku-ji is the gorgeous bamboo grove: although Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto frequently graces travel posters and brochures, Hokoku-ji’s grove is just as beautiful, much less crowded, and a convenient day trip from Tokyo. 2,000 Moso bamboo plants form a shaded verdant tunnel that you can leisurely wander through. There are also a series of yagura, or cave tombs, containing the tombs of the Ashikaga samurai clan, as well as beautiful gardens.
Be sure to get the combination ticket that also entitles you to a bowl of matcha and a seasonal sweet in beautiful teahouse Kyuko-an overlooking the bamboo grove and a soothing waterfall. The temple also offers shakyo (hand-copying Buddhist sutras) every day and Zen meditation on Sunday mornings.
Admission: 200 yen (additional 500 yen for matcha and seasonal sweet)
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (tea service reception ends at 3:30)
Address: 2-7-4, Jomyo-ji, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0003
Phone: 046 722-0762
Access: Rail: 55 min. by JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station to Kamakura Station (20 minutes from JR Yokosuka Station)
Bus: Keikyu bus number 23, 24 or 36; get off at Jomyoji bus stop, 10 minutes, 200 yen one way from Kamakura Station. 3-min walk from Jomyo-ji.
Hachinoki (shojin ryori / kaiseki)
Hachinoki (which actually consists of two separate restaurants) offers up gorgeously presented shojin ryori, vegan Buddhist “devotion cuisine” traditionally served at temples, as well as kaiseki, elaborate multicourse meals that draw inspiration from imperial court, samurai, Buddhist and tea ceremony cuisines. The main restaurant which serves shojin ryori (across the street from Tokeiji) offers an elegant dining room overlooking a small garden with fountains and lush foliage. Seasonal vegetables, tofu, and wheat gluten are artfully arranged into dishes that incorporate the five colors, flavors, and preparation techniques of shojin ryori; the several vegetarian menus range from katsura (3300 yen) to larger, more elaborate presentations such as ume (11000 yen). The building next door (Shinkan) offers up beautifully-plated kaiseki starting from 4600 yen. Advance reservations are required.
Website / online reservations (advance reservations required): http://www.hachinoki.co.jp/english/
Hours: 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.(L.O.) / Weekdays 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.(L.O.) / Holidays, 5 p.m.- 7 p.m.(L.O.) / Dinner (Must be reserved by previous day)
Closed on Wednesdays
Address: 350 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0062
Access: Across from Tokeiji Temple (about a five-minute walk from JR Kita-Kamakura Station)
The hands-on cooking workshops at Atelier-Cafe Kamakura (hosted in yoga studio / natural foods store Sugata) focus on fresh, seasonal vegetarian cuisine taught by renowned shojin ryori instructor Mari Fujii (author of “The Enlightened Kitchen: Fresh Vegetable Dishes from the Temples of Japan”) as well as traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) served as part of the tea ceremony. Since 2016, Atelier-Café Kamakura has organized more than 20 cooking workshops in Kamakura and Harajuku as well as workshops in Paris. Offered in English and Japanese, the classes are a fantastic way to learn how to incorporate traditional Japanese cooking methods to create healthy, light dishes as well as to make new friends from around the globe! Monthly schedules are posted on the group’s website as well as through Meetup (https://www.meetup.com/Atelier-Cafe-Meetup-Kamakura/); classes run around 4,000 yen and last approximately 3 hours.
Address: Café Sugata, 3-10 Onaricho, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0012
(about a 6-minute walk from JR Kamakura Station)