Kamakura is a small, rural town. It is not crazy touristic which is surprising considering the quality and diversity of its attractions coupled with easy access from Tokyo: a direct JR train connects the Tokyo station to Kamakura with just an hour of train ride.
Let’s see what this town is capable of and why you might want to go there.
1. Culture and history
It’s absolutely impossible to compete with Kyoto by temples and shrines, but even in this tough comparison Kamakura looks like a decent alternative. Kyoto is quite far from Tokyo, and if you go, you should stay there for a few days. In case your schedule doesn’t allow for such endeavour, I would recommend considering Kamakura instead 😉
If Kyoto does happen to be on your itinerary, then visiting temples in Kamakura is optional, but you will still want to have a look at the city’s main tourist attraction – 11-meter bronze statue of Buddha.
The statue finds its place half an hour walk away from Kamakura train station, in the middle of a square surrounded by cherry trees. There were quite some people there, but not impossibly many which was strange for a sunny Saturday morning.
For an additional charge of 20 yen one can go inside, so please do so if you happen to be a fan of darkness, wet stones, and being pushed around narrow passages.
2. The ocean
Kamakura is located at a small gulf within Sagami Bay which is, technically speaking, not the ocean coast. Although you still get a feeling of the ocean’s space and freedom thanks to Kamakura’s huge and empty beach.
This could not be a proper Japanese beach without a tsunami warning.
In summer months the beach is probably quite packed, but outside the swimming season there’s no one here except for a few lonely surfers desperately trying to catch the wave.
3. Enoshima Island
Even though Enoshima takes about half an hour by train from Kamakura, I still include it here because it’s really cool and convenient to combine it with the city visit. The island is connected to its train station by a bridge traversable by foot or by bus.
You can even skip the bridge altogether and take a sightseeing boat at its very beginning which will take you to the opposite side of the island.
Off the boat you step directly into astonishing beauty of the ocean and cliffs carved by the tides.
Look closely inside these natural pools and meet thousands of little sea creatures living in them.
They are not the only wildlife here: the steady noise of waves against the cliff is at times interrupted by sharp cries of hawks. Watch your children carefully: I witnessed myself a hawk attacking a little child (fortunately, the parents managed to shoo the bird away).
The ocean carved numerous caves in the cliffs of Enoshima, and some of them are even available for visit. Sadly, they were closed for maintenance when we were there =(
Well, in such great weather it’s anyway nice to be outside. Climb the stairs to the summit and watch the ocean between steep cliffs.
The very top of the island is covered with a delightful Japanese garden and hosts a modern lighthouse.
There are two observation decks on the lighthouse, the open and the closed one. Both offer 360 degree overview, so you can decide whether it is more important for you to enjoy the view without glass in the way, or to protect yourself from the ocean winds.
With some luck, a ghost of Mount Fuji can be visible in the far:
Descending along the other slope of the island, you will inevitably run into the main temple of Enoshima, organically embedded into the natural landscape.
Continue from the temple towards the bridge down a street lined with souvenir shops and restaurants that serve the freshest fish and seafood.
Active people who decide to walk the bridge back will be rewarded by a view of massive mountain shadows and the bay shining in the sunset light.
Kamakura is a wonderful side trip from Tokyo: surrounded by forests on its three sides and by the ocean on the fourth one, this little town is a great complement to the capital. Nature and numerous ancient temples are its main strengths, and this happens to be exactly what Tokyo itself lacks.
Leave Tokyo early if you plan to visit as much as possible in Kamakura and Enoshima (especially if temples are on your list): this way you won’t have to run from one sight to another in a hurry and will be able to fully enjoy the peace of these places. Without the temples you can take it even easier, but plan about half an hour to see the Buddha, about an hour on the beach, and 3-4 hours on Enoshima. I promise, you won’t be disappointed =)