I have the tendency to get templed out realllyy quickly (like, before I even finish looking at the first one), so I wasn’t sure how an entire day in temple-tastic Kamakura, Japan would go.
But, going to see the snow monkeys was too damn far away and expensive (excuse me while I go sob for a moment), so Kamakura it was. And if I do say so myself (I’m a travel blogger; I have no shame), I executed the trip pretty perfectly. So, let me share with you how to make the most of this great day trip from Tokyo.
The reason I chose Kamakura is that it is close to Tokyo and fairly inexpensive to get to. You can take either the Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station or the Shonan Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku station. Both trains take around an hour and cost 890 yen ($11) one way.
Being me (read: eternally lost), I got off at the wrong train station — Kita-Kamakura station. This comes before Kamakura Station on the way from Tokyo. Luckily, it was a serendipitous traveling mistake, as it allowed me to see most of the city without backtracking much. I would recommend you make the same mistake; it’ll make your itinerary work out perfectly.
The lovely town of Kamakura is a veritable Disneyland of hidden gardens, zen-y temples, and lots of other old stuff.
It’s hard to decide which temples to visit, as there are so many to choose from. Someone who’s really into this stuff could easily spend days here.
Being that my travel interests tend more towards cheap ice cream and baby animals, I knew I could probs handle one temple, and one temple only.
I eventually just decided on Kenchoji Temple, as it’s the oldest temple in Kamakura. In this situation, oldest is best, right?
It’s a pleasant 20-minute walk from the train station to the temple, which was built in 1253 and is downright gorgeous.
1253?! That’s the same century that the Magna Carta was signed, that Genghis Khan was kicking ass, and that the Crusades were… crusading. How insane is that? I geek out when thinking about all the historical events that happened simultaneously across the globe. Mind. Blown.
Following a peaceful stroll around the temple grounds, with the requisite pauses for reflection, I walked back a few minutes to the Jochiji Temple. I didn’t enter it, but instead used it as a launching spot for the Daibutsu hiking trail. This easygoing path winds up through a pretty forest past some statues and shrines, leading to the Zeniarai Benten shrine after about half an hour.
I was surprised to find this combo Buddhist/Shinto shrine completely different than other temples.
It seemed more playful than the other temples I had visited, and I loved it.
The main attraction is a cave that holds a special spring. Legend has it that any money bathed in the spring will come back to you times five.
I was mesmerized by the families washing their money in the small wooden baskets. I’m sure not everybody believes in the 5x rule, but the hopeful energy in the air was palpable and exciting.
It was pure fun, and I’d highly recommend a visit. If you wash your money and don’t see that great of a return (I somehow failed to) and remain broke (did that, too), it might even warrant a second trip.
The Daibutsu hiking trail ends with a short walk to Kamakura town and station. The quiet streets were a welcome change from the craziness of Tokyo. The Lonely Planet has it right when it says Kamakura has a bit of an organic hippie vibe going — the streets are filled with bikes and cafes and people that look like, well, hippies!
It’s almost like a Japanese Brooklyn, but not as douchey. The streets just ooze cool, that is, if oozing were environmentally responsible.
I stopped at an ADORBS cafe to order some post-hike grub. Unfortch, there was no English on the menu — only tiny artsy drawings of the food on offer. I gambled, and I lost. I don’t really know what I was thinking I’d be getting, but I ended up with something alarmingly similar to the acorn jello that tormented me during school lunches in South Korea. Alas.
I wouldn’t hesitate to call the day a success, however, if the appearance of acorn jello was my biggest complaint.
I got back in time to eat dinner in Tokyo and enjoy a few drinks in Shinjuku, but I think that staying overnight in Kamakura would be a fun alternative.
Kamakura is the best day trip from Tokyo for those interested in history, culture, and a bit of nature. I wish I had more time to spend there, but I’m glad I got to enjoy at least one crisp and calm day in this hip little city.