Japan / Photography / Temples & Shrines / Travel Guide

Travel Guide: Kamakura (part 1)

Why “travel guide” you ask? Well to be honest, I’ve been planning on doing this for a while but I didn’t really know where to start. I’ve already collected a lot of information about various places in Japan and now is as good as any time to start sharing with my dear readers! The first installment of this series will therefore be about Kamakura in Kanagawa prefecture.

Where?

You will recall that I live in Saitama prefecture, just North of Tokyo, in a lovely rural town called Hidaka. Being extremely lucky in my placement, I am very close to Tokyo and central to the Kanto region and therefore have easy access to most places by regular trains.

Map showing the Kanto prefectures neighboring Tokyo.

Kanagawa prefecture is located south of Tokyo, and sits on the North Pacific ocean. As such, it is considered a tsunami zone and warning signs can be seen everywhere, indicating escape routes and shelters. For those of you who are into ukiyo-e like me, you probably know the famous woodblock print 神奈川沖浪裏 “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai. Luckily, there were no great waves in sight when I visited (and I hope there never will be). Now onto happy things; the actual travel guide!

The Route

What is Kamakura but temples upon temples upon temples? Obviously temple hoping is my forte and so Kanagawa was a dream destination of mine for a while now. Even though I bought a guide book, which I never do because I like to explore on my own, and had carefully planned my hike through the city, I ended up going off track within 5 minutes of being in Kamakura and decided to wing it (like I always do). MY day pretty much ended up me getting on and off of trains in random locations, walking around and finding things unexpectedly, and spending way too much time on the beach (hey, why not?). If you’d like to follow in my footsteps, here’s a detailed breakdown of where I went and what I did.

My makeshift itinerary:

1. Shopping on Komachi street (小町通り)
2. Stroll down Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Sando (鶴岡八幡宮参道)
3. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu(鶴岡八幡宮)
4. Hitch a ride on the Enoden and get off in Hase(長谷市)
5. Hit up the Great Buddha(鎌倉大仏様)
6. Back on the Enoden, ride until Gokurakuji(極楽寺市)
7. Get a famed picture of the Enoden as it comes through the tunnel
8. Visit Gokurakuji temple(極楽寺)
9. Walk over to the ocean (!!!)
10. Walk on the beach for an indefinite amount of time (just because)
11. Walk back to Hase station
12. Get back on the Enoden and ride until Enoshima(江の島)
13. Get off in Enoshima and enjoy the sunset on the harbour (complete with views of Mount Fuji, naturally)
14. Walk to the island
15. Walk on the island: Enoshima shrine, Sea Candle, dragon shrine
16. Walk back to the Enoden (if you can still walk by then)
17. Ride to Fujisawa (from here on, go shopping, have dinner, or head back home on the JR line)

Keep in mind that got to Kamakura at 9am, and left on the 8:30pm train bound for Tokyo. I can assess that after such an exhausting day, I could barely stand on my legs. You’re going to need a long hot bath after this one.

Stop #01: Studio Ghibli character goods shop

Now, what does this have to do with a weekend-long trip to temples? Nothing obviously. But as any good self-respecting Ghibli fan, there was just no way I could skip visiting (and buying) it.

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Get greeted by a huge Totoro and a fluffy Jiji when you visit the Ghibli shop in Kamakura.

This whimsical little world of Ghibli is right outside the Kamakura station (east exit), in front of the McDonalds and Baskin Robin. After a short 15 min stop here, I was back on track to visit my cherished temples & shrines.

Stop #02: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Sando [鶴岡八幡宮参道]

Before hitting up the shrine, I decided to take a leisurely stroll down the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Sando aka “cherry blossom avenue” which leads up directly to the main shrine gate (tori). Unfortunately, due to the overwhelming cold that has taken over Japan this year, the cherry trees are late in their blooming hence, there were absolutely no flowers to be seen. I imagine that during the right season, that road must be spectacular to see. There weren’t any spring blossoms but I did get a few shots of winter blossoms 寒桜.

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Winter cherry blossoms in Kamakura

After walking down the flower-less path for a good 5 mins, you finally come up to the main gate of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. The gate sits opposite of the cherry blossom road, and right in the center of a Shibuya-worthy intersection. Now, the trick to getting a clear shot of the tori, without cars, trucks, bikes and people, is to wait until the light changes. Then you get a few seconds to take your shot before a mob of people swarm from all four corners of the avenue.

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Perfect!

Stop #03: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine [鶴岡八幡宮]

From this point on, it’s the shrine. This place is huge, and is considered Kamakura’s most sacred shinto area. The complex houses museums, restaurants, matsuri-type stalls, omiyage shops, ponds, gardens and, or course, the main attraction.

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Main temple nestled atop a huge set of stairs

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Traditional wedding in progress

I’ve learned by now that if you go to Tsurugaoka on a Saturday, you will most likely be able to witness a traditional Japanese wedding. This is quite a treat to see, as the priestess performs a ritual dance and the priests accompany the ceremony with the sounds of traditional instruments off to the side.

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Main part of the temple

An interesting little discovery to be made, if you walk past the main shrine, off to the left, and past the omamori shop, you’ll find a set of stairs lined with tori that led up to a small shrine honouring the fox God of harvest.

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