Kamakura City Tour—Immerse Yourself in the History and Nature of the Ancient Capital City
Kamakura is one of the first places that comes to mind when thinking about tourist destinations near Tokyo. It captivates countless tourists from both Japan and abroad with its long history, warm and pleasant townscape, and lovely natural landscape. However, small and charming though it may be, there are a lot of fantastic things to see spread across the city and surrounding area, so it can be helpful to get the help of a local guide when touring around. Here is a report on an awesome half-day tour of Kamakura that we took with a local guide.
Feb 08 2021
*This article was written in collaboration with the Kanto District Transport Bureau, local municipalities, and local railway companies.
Kamakura is a seaside city in Kanagawa Prefecture that is just one hour by train from Tokyo. The ancient capital city of Kamakura appears in many books, manga, and movies, and is a “mecca” for anime fans. It is not uncommon to see young people running behind a streetcar to simulate a movie scene, couples strolling along the Shonan beach, and worshippers praying at shrines. Kamakura is not just a tourist town, though, but also a warm and hospitable city with unique sensitivities that have been handed down over the generations.
In addition, Kamakura was the first capital when Japan’s feudal system was established, so the era of “bakufu” (shogunates) began here. Tsuruoka Hachimangu, Hasedera, and the Great Buddha of Kamakura are all vital to Kamakura as they tell its tale, and together constitute a special place to discover its history and culture.
Wouldn’t it be a pity if you were to rush through this wonderful city full of tourist attractions without fully understanding the local history, its geography, or its culture? That’s why we opted for diving deeper into the appeal of Kamakura by taking a tour with a local guide! This is what we discovered.
Meet Up: The Tourist Information Center at the East Exit of JR Kamakura Station
Once arriving at JR Kamakura Station, the Tourist Information Center can be easily found by following the signs for the East Exit and going through the gate. It was the meeting point for this tour, and the guide was waiting with a sign. He also spoke fluent English, which was especially helpful for us!
Since COVID-19 was still a concern, the guide took all of the participants’ temperatures and asked everyone to sanitize their hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The fun Kamakura trip then began once it was confirmed that everyone was fit to proceed.
Komachi Dori—Full of Great Local Food and Souvenirs
About two minutes by foot from Kamakura Station was the first destination: A shopping area called Komachi Dori. It is a popular street that runs between Kamakura Station and the shrine Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. With many cafes and shops selling Kamakura specialties, it is the perfect place to get souvenirs.
The narrow alleys on both sides of the street are lined with old buildings, in both Japanese and Western architectural styles. There are charming shops and restaurants, including a restaurant serving soba noodles made on site and a French restaurant with a retro feel. For those looking for a taste of retro Japan, this is the best spot in Kamakura!
This “gourmet street” is a tourist paradise with shops offering all kinds of food to eat. It was hard to make a choice from the overwhelming selection on offer, so we opted to follow the popular food and souvenir shops recommended by our guide—a “Kamakura Master”.
*During the tour, each participant could choose the food they wanted for about 1,000 JPY. The cost was included in the price of the tour.
[Shops Visited on the Tour]
1) KYO Kamakura
This is a shop specializing in Japanese confectionery made with “zunda”. “Zunda” is a type of green sweet bean paste made from edamame and fava beans. This shop has everything from zunda daifuku (stuffed rice cake) to zunda manju (steamed yeast bun with filling), zunda dango (little dumplings), and zunda roll cakes. The daifuku and manju are the most popular items. The compact manju have a thin skin and are packed full with zunda. They are super-soft and refreshing on the palette. The unusual zunda shake is also worth a try!
When you think of Japanese sweets, what kind of flavor do you imagine? The gentle, salty-sweet taste of the sweets we tried is a unique flavor unlike those found elsewhere! The treats can be eaten right away or taken home as gifts. Depending on the item, the eat-by date can range from 5 to 6 days to more than 10 days.
2) Sakura no Yumemiya Komachi Dori Main Store
This is an established dango (dumpling made from sticky rice flour) shop that sells dango in a variety of flavors. Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were always lines of people waiting to get in. The popular standard, “mitarashi dango” is reasonably priced at 120 JPY. The combination of the lovely, chewy texture and the taste of soy sauce is sure to surprise you in a good way. There is a wide selection of regular flavors, such as smooth bean paste, matcha green tea bean paste, cherry blossom bean paste, honey lemon bean paste, chestnut bean paste and chestnut, as well as some seasonal flavors. It is amazing that a shop specializing in dango can have such an extensive lineup!
3) Kamakura Ichibanya
There was a lovely, rich smell of soy sauce in the air, and it lead to Kamakura Ichibanya, a senbei (Japanese rice cracker) shop, where you can see the senbei being made and enjoy crisp, freshly made senbei for just 50 JPY each. There are 60 to 70 different types of individually wrapped senbei as well. There are even “nure-senbei” (soft senbei) that are hard to find elsewhere, so be sure to get some for friends who like senbei but don’t have strong teeth. They are also perfect as souvenir gifts.
4) Kamakura Mameya Komachi Dori Store
Next was another place that the guide recommended as a famous shop to purchase Kamakura souvenir gifts. This one specializes in nuts and beans. Unlike the mixed nuts you'll find in the West, the colorful beans found here come in a variety of different flavors. These adorable, round and flavorful beans are perfect as souvenirs, particularly for those with a soft spot for cute things. Mameya was opened with the desire to provide people with tasty yet healthy beans as snacks. The beans are available to try so that customers can find the one that suits their palate. The shop is popular among both tourists and locals.
*If you plan on visiting any of the above stores while the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, please ensure that you wear a mask, sanitize your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and take all other precautions to prevent infection.
Not to Be Missed When in Kamakura—Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
At the end of Komachi Dori is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura’s most famous Shinto shrine. The massive torii gate welcoming us to the shrine offered a traditional Japanese air that cannot be replicated outside of Japan, especially in the US and Australia, which have very few examples of Japanese architecture.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, which was built in 1063, is a Kamakura icon known as the protector shrine of Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first Kamakura Period shogun. The shrine went into decline for some time when the Kamakura shogunate collapsed, but it was extensively reconstructed and expanded under the auspices of the Edo shogunate to become the grand complex that it is today.
The approach to the shrine is flanked on both sides by cherry trees, and presents a stunning visage of cherry blossoms in the spring.
The basin for ritual cleansing at the entrance was adorned with seasonal flowers, bringing out the spirituality of the place and enhancing the lovely sounds of the flowing water.
The precincts were filled with the scent of incense, and numerous “ema” (wooden plaques) could be seen hanging with people’s wishes written on them. “Hato mikuji” (dove fortune slips), which are unique to Kamakura, are also available.
Within the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a shrine called Maruyama Inari Shrine. It has a red torii gate that is wonderful to take photos of. The cute ema hanging beside the gate (photo left) are in the shape of a torii gate.
*If you plan on visiting the shrine while the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, please ensure that you wear a mask, check your temperature at the entrance, and sanitize your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Taking the Enoden to Hasedera
Next was a walk to Enoden Kamakura Station to take the iconic Enoden (Enoshima Electric Railway) to Hasedera Station. The temple, Hasedera, is about a five-minute walk from the station. It was a delight taking the charming Enoden, as it is a relaxed local line that slowly winds along the coast—quite a stark contrast to the jam-packed subways back home during rush hour.
Hasedera is an independent temple of the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism.
The statue of Kannon that is housed here is not to be missed. The 9.18m statue is Japan’s biggest wooden Buddhist statue, and its golden splendor is far more impressive in person than in the photos found in guidebooks or online.
*Be sure to thoroughly sanitize your hands when visiting during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are alcohol-based hand sanitizers at the entrance of the precincts.
The Amida-do Hall, Jizo-do Hall, Daikoku-do Hall, and Benten-do Hall are all for worshipers to visit. They can be visited in order of the numbers on the map, or in reverse.
These adorable Jizo Bodhisattva can be found in three locations within the grounds, and it is believed that anyone who finds them all will attain happiness. Be sure to look for them when you visit!
Kaikoan, which towers over its surroundings at the top of the stairs, is a restaurant within the temple serving light fare such as Temple Curry, Temple Pasta and Temple Udon Noodles. The dishes are developed based on Shojin Ryori, a type of vegetarian cuisine served at temples, so they can be made vegetarian or vegan on request. Since a few of us on the tour had dietary restrictions, the restaurant's flexibility was very much appreciated.
There is a viewing deck outside, from which we could see the deep blue sky that seems to have become one with the coastline and the beaches of Enoshima. The food tasted even better after relaxing and enjoying the panoramic view created by the coastal mountains and river. You are guaranteed a fantastic time in this lovely location.
*If you plan on visiting the temple while the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, please ensure that you wear a mask, check your temperature at the entrance, and sanitize your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The Famous Kamakura Icon—the Great Buddha of Kamakura at Kotoku-in
The famous Great Buddha of Kamakura in Kotoku-in is not to be missed when in Kamakura. Kotoku-in is a temple of the Jodo Shinshu School of Pure Land Buddhism and is one of the most famous religious tourist destinations in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze seated statue of Amitabha that is 13.35m high and weighs 93 tons. It is Japan’s second-largest statue of Buddha, following the one in Todai-ji in Nara, and is designated as a National Treasure.
This statue has quite a storied past. Work on the original statue, which was wooden, began in 1238. It took six years to complete but was blown down in a storm three years later. In 1253, the statue was rebuilt in bronze to be enshrined in the Great Buddha Hall. The Great Buddha Hall was repaired repeatedly due to damage by storms and fire. In 1498, the hall was completely destroyed by sea water and since then, the Great Buddha has remained outside.
The Great Buddha was initially covered in gold leaf, and there is still some remaining on the right cheek. There is an entrance at the back of the Buddha to see its interior, but it was currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There is also a large 1m pair of straw sandals at the side of the Buddha. They were made by children in Ibaraki Prefecture as an offering for the Great Buddha.
*If you plan on visiting while the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, please ensure that you wear a mask, check your temperature at the entrance, and sanitize your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Last Stop—Creating Memories on Yuigahama Beach
Kamakura Shonan is often associated with the image of a beautiful sea. Kamakura is surrounded by the ocean and mountains, so the sea is within walking distance. The last stop of the tour was Yuigahama, a famous beach in Kamakura.
Yuigahama is designated by the government as one of the 88 Best Bathing Beaches of Japan and faces Sagami Bay in southern Kamakura. It has been popular since the Meiji period and is beloved by surfers. On a clear day, Mt. Fuji can be seen in the distance from the beach.
In the summer, you can enjoy fireworks over the ocean and “umi-no-ie” (pop-up restaurants on the beach). Enjoy relaxing on the soft beach that seems to go on forever and feel the sea breeze on your face. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a small seaside town as you watch the tiny seashells fluttering in the waves, and smell the scent of the sea.
In 2016, Yuigahama Beach and Wakasa Wada Beach in Fukui Prefecture were the first in not just Japan, but all of Asia, to receive the Blue Flag designation. Every year, they continue to keep this designation. For more detailed information on the Blue Flag designation, please check the FEE Japan official website.
At the End of the Tour
Our guide accompanied the group to Enoden Kamakura Station at the end of the half-day tour. Kamakura Station is convenient for taking the JR train to Tokyo, or to go elsewhere.
Many people have a sense of Kamakura because it is so famous, but participating in this tour allows you to get a deeper understanding of Kamakura’s history and culture through the guide’s explanations. You are sure to fall in love with Kamakura by experiencing the tranquil natural scenery that soothes the soul, as well as the local food that is so good that you might get hooked. Kamakura is a breathtakingly beautiful place that is worth visiting over and over. So, now that you know that Kanagawa Prefecture has amazing tours like this one, why not explore Kamakura for yourself together with a local guide?
After Exploring Kamakura
Once you've explored Kamakura, we recommend viewing the sunset at Enoshima. It takes around 22 minutes using the Enoden to get there from Kamakura. Walk through Subana Dori and you'll see Enoshima's coastline (Katase Higashihama/Nishihama Beaches). From here, you can see the sunset together with the beautiful Mt. Fuji.
The sunset view from the deck of Enoshima Sea Candle.
Mt. Fuji and the sunset viewable from Katase Nishihama Beach.
There are many kinds of lovely night views awaiting you at Enoshima. In the summer, typically from late July to the end of August, a night event called Enoshima Lanterns takes place. It's a great way to cool down from the summer heat! There's also the Shonan Candle event that bathes Enoshima's autumn nights in a mystical, somewhat nostalgic light. This event is held between mid-October to early November. In the winter, you can take in the Shonan no Hoseki (Jewel of Shonan) illuminations at the Enoshima Samuel Cocking Garden. This event, which takes place between late November to March, is one of Kanto's top three illuminations, and it even won second place in the Illumination category of the National Illumination Award!
Shonan no Hoseki (Jewel of Shonan)
Fujisawa City Sightseeing Information: https://www.discover-fujisawa.jp/
Places to Stay in Fujisawa City: https://www.discover-fujisawa.jp/sightseeing/#anc02
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.