Kamakura is a small city 50 kilometers south-southwest of Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture. It was once the capital of Japan, although that may be hard to believe given its small size today. It is a very pleasant seaside town, however, that draws tourists with its beaches, numerous temples and shrines and a giant Buddha statue. Most visit on a day trip from Tokyo, but you might want to spend a night or two if you plan on visiting all the sites.
Best Time to Go
As is the case throughout most of Japan, spring and autumn are the best times to visit. The weather is pleasant and spring features the cherry blossoms, while autumn has its multicolored leaves. Winters are mild and summers are very hot and humid. As Kamakura is a seaside town, it can get hit pretty hard by the typhoons that frequent Japan in late summer and early autumn.
Getting to Kamakura
Given Japan’s extensive rail network, there are generally numerous ways to get anywhere and Kamakura is no exception. I’ll focus on the two best ways to get there.
The fastest is the JR Yokosuka Line from Tokyo Station or Yokohama Station. It takes one hour and costs ¥890 from Tokyo and 25 minutes at ¥330 from Yokohama.
A scenic alternative takes you along the Shonan coast with nice views of Enoshima Island, but takes more time at around 90 minutes total. You’ll want to get on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku and ride it to Fujisawa Station, where you’ll change to the Enoden, a half-train and half-streetcar line that ends at Kamakura Station.
Get around using the excellent bus system, as the sites are scattered all over the place. Some outlying sites can be reached using the JR and Enoden train lines. You can walk much of the town, but won’t have time to see everything if you are on a day trip. Pick up a map at the station before setting out.
Biking is another option and bikes can be rented from Kamakura Rental Cycles, which is located about 50 meters south of the east exit of Kamakura Station. They are very expensive though, at 800 Yen for one hour and 250 Yen for each additional hour.
People generally visit Kamakura on a day trip from Tokyo, but there is no shortage of accommodation options for those wishing to spend a night. I’d just walk around near the station and try to find somewhere you like, since most places in town don’t have an online presence. Among the few that do, the Kamakura Guesthouse is the nicest, but it is located a bit far from the station area. The Kemejikan is not as nice, but has a better location, near the beach.
Eating & Drinking
You won’t have any trouble finding a good place to eat, as there are restaurants everywhere and especially around the station. The local specialty is purple potato soft ice cream, which is apparently quite good. I don’t really like ice cream all that much, so I skipped it.
In the summer months, you’ll find a pretty good party atmosphere at the beach, with many temporary bars and often live bands or DJs.
Things to Do
- Temples and Shrines: Kamakura has a ridiculous amount of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines and I won’t even attempt to list them all here; many of these temples are quite famous and one features the Big Buddha you’ve likely already heard plenty about; the sites are scattered all over town, but here’s a link to a free English tourist map; you can pick these up at Kamakura Station too (NOTE: as of July 13, 2013, the link does not work; I’ll leave it up for a bit in the hopes they get it fixed soon; in the meantime, this guide isn’t as good, but it also has a map and info, with the Kamakura section starting on page five; you can still get the good one at the station)
- Hiking: should you get tired of the temples and shrines and the crowds you’ll likely find there, Kamakura also has a number of hiking trails
- Beaches: as a seaside town, it should come as no surprise that Kamakura has several beaches: Yugihama is the most popular and the best place to view the aquatic fireworks display in the summer; Inamuragasaki is another famous beach that is known especially for its sunsets; Shichirigahama is popular with surfers, but swimming is prohibited