Chances are you've heard that Kamakura was once the capital of Japan; the home of some rather rebellious samurai nobility who took over the country.
These days, Kamakura is the perfect summery seaside escape from Tokyo. An air of rebelliousness still hangs over the city, but in a much more peaceful way. The whole Shonan Coast area is famous for people who love alternative lifestyles; surfers, hippies, creatives and vegans have all found an oasis in Kamakura. You'll find a huge variety of unique one-off stores and cafes owned by the friendliest locals who’ll make sure you feel right at home.
Kamakura is also hugely famous for its abundance of ancient Buddhist temples; most famously Hase Dera, Engakuji and Kotoku-in where you'll find the Great Buddha.
Read on to find out more about our weekend in Kamakura, and how to plan your own getaway!
As we started doing research for our May Buddha Box, we knew Kamakura was the perfect location to write about in our KAWA travel zine.
We’ve been to Kamakura three times before, in every season except spring. Summer is probably our favourite time because you can check out the two white sand beaches and relax in the sun!
This time we visited in spring, at the end of the Sakura season. This was such a magical time to be in Kamakura, with all the blossoms floating around in the wind!
We arrived on Friday night and went straight to sleep to prepare for a busy day. We recommend staying in an AirBnB or a convenient hotel like the New Kamakura Hotel near the station.
On Saturday morning we woke up to a lovely spring day, and even wore t-shirts for the first time in 5 months! The sakura trees were dripping blossoms all over the ground and the whole atmosphere was very romantic! We headed straight for the famous Komachidori shopping street, north of the station. Komachidori welcomes you with a red Shinto torii gate at the entrance, so you can't miss it!
If you're a fan of Japanese crafts, you'll fall in love with this street. You'll find everything from tenugui to kimono, vintage toys, ceramics, bags and plenty more. There are also a variety of traditional cafes.
We spent half the day wandering this famous street. Our favourite stores usually combine modern minimalist design with traditional crafts. The Kamakura Hachiza store is a perfect example of this! You’ll find designer tenugui, daruma and other good luck charms in a sparse, white, well-lit interior.
Afterwards we made our way to the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) area towards the beach, using the charming Enoden train. The temple housing the Great Buddha (kotokuin) is around a 10 minute walk from Hase Station. We arrived as the sun was starting to set, and could finally see Daibutsu in all his glory! What an impressive sight! We can totally see why this is such a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The cherry blossoms were dancing in the wind and Daibutsu was gazing over everything with a resounding calmness.
On our way back to the station we stumbled upon a lovely organic food restaurant and ate the tastiest vegetarian burgers we’ve ever had! This was the perfect meal to tide us over until we reached Enoshima. We always stop by the soothing Enoshima spa on trips to Kamakura! You can find out more about them here: enoshimaislandspa.com
The next day we headed back to Hase Station to explore the magnificent grounds of Hase Dera temple. Even though we’ve been to Kamakura many times, we hadn’t made it to this famous temple yet. When we arrived we were really amazed! Hase Dera can totally compete with any of the temples in Kyoto. The grounds are huge and set over various levels, carved into the mountain-side. There are pockets of cute jizo statues and hundreds of boddhisatva emanating good luck. The serene ponds and beautiful plants and flowers make a wonderful backdrop to the ornate dark-coloured temple buildings.
Our main goal at Hase Dera was to take part in the Shakyou writing workshop. You’ll find the building on your far right as you first enter the temple gates. Shakyou writing involves carefully and slowly tracing old kanji characters which make up mantras for safety, health and good luck.
Note, you’ll want to speak or understand some Japanese as the reception lady doesn’t speak a lot of English, but she is very lovely! You’ll also receive a printed guide in English to take to your table. The price is 1000 yen for the writing tools and paper. When you enter the room you need to be very quiet! First, go to the front of the room and pray to the Buddha, then choose your writing tools. Take them back to your desk and grind down the ink stone with some water. The tracing is supposed to take up to 1.5 hours, which means you should go very slowly and think peaceful thoughts! This can be very difficult but it’s like a form of meditation. Afterwards, you leave your manuscript at the front of the room so that monks can store it away and pray for your good luck.
As we headed back towards Tokyo, we stopped off in Kita Kamakura (north Kamakura) at one of our favourite temples: Engakuji. Founded in 1282, this temple has seen a lot of history. Wondering around the various gardens, you may be lucky enough to see squirrels, temple cats, monks or even an archery contest! You can take zazen (seated meditation) workshops for a few thousand yen.
So, what did you think of our weekend in Kamakura?! We love visiting this charming city south of Tokyo, to really get away from big-city life for a few days. If you visit, be sure to let us know! We’d love to see your photos.