Kamakura: Japan's Perfectly Quaint Town for Day Trips

The History of Kamakura: The Era of the Shogunate

From 1192-1333, Japanese history was governed by the Kamakura Shogunate. The period was instituted by Shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first Kamakura shogun. Yoritomo’s goal was to steer the political influence away from Kyoto’s usual familial aristocrats. This era was considered as Japan’s Medieval Era. During this time, what we knew most of Japan’s system of government, which is usually marked by an emperor, his court, and his traditional central government were present but were only used for merely ceremonial functions. It was the warrior class or the bushi who controlled the civil, military, and judicial matters. The transition from court to samurai society society thwarted the power of traditional Buddhist sectors in Kamakura where new forms of Buddhism were formed to reflect themes of the transience of life, perhaps to reflect the transition during that period in Kamakura society. Feudalism was erected by Minamoto Yoritomo after his victory over the Taira family at the battle of Dannoura, where he then created his own military administration called the “bakufu”. 

The Kamakura Shogunate: The Government of Kamakura aka “Kamakura Bakufu”

Minamoto Yoritomo held the official title of “shogun” or hereditary military dictator, but it was only after his death in 1199 that full power of the Kamakura bakufu was wielded for the remainder of the period by the Hojo family as Mongols tried to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281 where the Japanese warriors were able to destroy the Mongolian troops. The rise of the warrior class defined the very essence of the Kamakura culture. During this time, martial arts skills and the virtues of duty, loyalty, and bravery, were held of the topmost regard. It was also during this time in which seppuku or ritual suicide by disembowelment through the sword emerged. However, throughout the years, consistent attacks from the Mongols exposed holes in the defense efforts and financial incapabilities of the regime. This resulted in the revolt of Emperor Go-Daigo against the shogunate in 1331, which eventually led to the downfall of the bakufu in 1333.  

Basic Information to Take Note about Kamakura Japan

Preparing for the Weather in Kamakura

Kamakura is a city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, a coastal city with plenty of festivals and ancient Buddhist and Shinto shrines. It is a popular tourist destination. The weather is controlled by the Humid Subtorical climate. There are no dry seasons, but the weather ranges from mild to hot summers where the average temperature of its warmest months being over 22 degrees centigrade or 64 degrees fahrenheit. The city experiences rainfall all year round but is highly variable. Its hottest month is in August, where temperature reaches up to 30 degrees centigrade, the second week being the hottest in Kamakura. On another note, for those who want a bit more chill weather, the coldest month Kamakura experiences is in February where temperatures reach up to 2 degrees centigrade during night time. Rainfall and snow may also be experienced during this time.  

Fun Things To Do on A Kamakura Day Trip

Heading out to Kamakura? A day trip won’t be complete without a visit to historical temples, shrines, and a casual stroll to the beach.  Here are some sweet stops every traveler should visit when in Kamakura. 

Visiting Iconic Statues: The Kamakura Buddha or Kamakura Daibutsu

Kamakura Daibutsu

Sitting peacefully in the Kotokuin temple of the Pure Land Sect, is one of the biggest icons in Japan, the Great Buddha or what is locally called Daibutsu. The Daibutsu is one of the main travel stops for tourists who never fail to be impressed by the 13.35 meter high monument. The structure was originally located inside a temple in Nara, but was washed away by a huge tsunami in the late 15th century. Since then it has sat in its lotus position outside in nature, perhaps in a more befitting environment. The Daibutsu is actually Amida Buddha, the focus of Pure Land Buddhism. Devotion to Amida Buddha will help send one to the Pure Land or Western Paradise.  

The Best Beaches to Visit in Kamakura

Yuigahama and Zaimokuza are two neighboring beaches you should visit if you are going to Kamakura over the summer. Between these two beaches is Carnival Beach, a colorful food court channel selling tasty Thai and Turkish food. Carnival beach hosts regular fire-dancing and juggling shows as entertainment while you have dinner. Yuigahama caters more to the upscale market with bars such as the Blue Windy Terrace, Armani Exchange Bar, and Fox Beach house which regale bar-visitors with house and techno music nightly. Zaimokuza beach spells a more relaxed tone for travelers who appreciate downtime at places like Bar Asia. 

Kamakura Temples You Don’t Want to Miss

One of the most beautiful temples is Meigetsu-in, a Rinzai Zen temple, popular for its hydrangea blossoms in June. The temple’s flowers burst in beautiful and varying shades of blue. You can also go to Kotoku-in, a Jodo-shu temple, which houses the Daibutsu, the second largest Great Buddha in Japan after the Great Buddha in Nara. Not far from this is the Hasse Kannon temple, famous for its 11-headed wooden Kannon statue, the biggest in the entire country of Japan. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the statue, but there are viewing spots of the sea and the Yuigahama beach within the grounds. People looking for some form of peace and respite would do well to drop by these temples as the being of these very places ooze with plenty of tranquility. 

The Most Interesting Kamakura Shrines to Check Out

The Zeniarai Benten shrine is a shrine built for a water deity. It is located inside a cave where a spring flows. The practice at the Zeniarai shrine is to wash your money with the water of the spring so that one’s money will multiply. Small bamboo baskets are available to put your money in it where you can pour the spring water over your money. Along the way, you can also visit the Sasuke Inari shrine, a shrine by legend, dedicated by Minamoto to a white fox who appeared in his dreams and advised him when to attack his enemies. Out of gratitude Minamoto had this shrine built within a dense forest canopy, surrounded by countless foxes of all shapes and sizes.  Another shrine you may want to visit is the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. This shrine was built during Minamonto’s rule for a deity who protected the Kamakura samurai clans. It is the most visited tourist spot in Kamakura, a place where Japanese locals welcome the new year. You will enter a massive Shinto gateway over an arched bridge and stairs made out of stone.

Accommodations You Should Consider in Kamakura

Kamakura Hotels for Every Type of Traveler

There’s a myriad of hotels in Kamakura where one can stay in such as the Kamakura Prince hotel, the Sotetsu Fresa Inn, or the kamakura Guest House, or the Kamejikan. Many of the hotels are clean, budget-friendly, and are located in CBD areas where it is easy to travel to tourist destinations in your itinerary. Non-Japanese speaking guests will find it easy to coordinate with the hotel staff. For those with more unique staycations in mind, Airbnb rooms are also available within the Kamakura area.  

Coosing Where to Dine in Kamakura restaurants

Kamura-an is one of the longest-established soba shops in Kamakura. Although cramped, it is one of the restaurants that people really line up form. Noodles are hand-chopped Shinshu style. Obakaba is a small casual cafe-restaurant near the farmer’s market which feature a young friendly staff and Japanese home cooking and sandwiches. For those looking for laidback cafes, you can bank on Paradise Alley where you will be greeted with simple soup and salad lunches, a favorite of the local community. If you’re looking for that one place to drink in Kamakura, it’s in The Bank. Literally housed in an old stone building which was once a bank, it is a popular little bar that can serve the most delicious cocktails and a range of hot and cold snacks. 

Kamakura menu: The best local Kamakura Sushi

In the old days, rice was an especially important part of the Samurai diet. The Samurai were originally peasants who tended to their family’s farmlands. Rice, more specifically, brown rice was an important staple in the meal of a Kamakura samurai alongside soup and vegetables or ichiju-issai which they grilled, boiled, or steamed.  Today, in the fishing port of Kotsubo, Kamakura, one can find tai or sea bream, aji or jack, tobi-uo or flying fish and suzuki or sea bass in a sushi rice roll. The local specialty alongside squid and shellfish is sazae or horned turban. Take a short stroll, and you’ll find yourself on a long beach where you can buy shirasu or tiny fry which has a similar taste to whitebait. These are semi-dried or fully dried in tatami-iwashi, crisp rectangular sheets which are great for snacking on. 

What Makes Kamakura Rice So Important

The Samurai were originally peasants who tended to their family’s farmlands. It wasn’t a surprise then that they were very agriculturally adept, even as they were male. Rice, more specifically, brown rice was an important staple in the meal of a Kamakura samurai alongside soup and vegetables or ichiju-issai which they grilled, boiled, or steamed. 

Traffic Information in Kamakura: Tips before hitting the Road

Navigating your travels with the Kamakura Map

If one would take a look at the Kamakura map, you will see that most areas can be plotted by plenty of temples, shrines, and historical sites that tourists can visit.  From the Kamakura Station, one can easily go on a 20 minute walk to the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, a 13 minute walk to the Kenchoji Temple, 7 minutes to the Engakuji, and end your trip at the Kitakamura Station. City maps can typically be found at train stations and airports. 

Travelling between Tokyo and Kamakura

If you’re coming from Tokyo, Kamakura is approximately one hour away via the JR Yokosuka Line connecting Tokyo Station with the Kamakura Station. The one way trip takes under an hour, and costs 920 yen. The trains stop at Shinagawa station, Yokohama Station and Kita-Kamakura Station. Because Kamakura is one of the most-visited metropolitan cities and has few main roads, it is also notorious for its traffic congestion. Locals and tourists can bank on Kamakura’s side roads and alleys which provide alternatives for the locals. Locals advise visitors to take the side road known as the West Exit leading to Kamakura station instead of the East Exit as the road becomes crowded due to tourist spots such as the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Along these side roads you will find interesting eateries and cafes to dine in. 

Kamakura Period Art in Traditional Crafts

Kamakura Period Art is one of the most remarkably regarded aesthetics in Japanese history. It was a reflection of realism which followed the warrior virtues of honesty and energy. Bold new sculptural styles emerged during this time, and is considered to be the last breathing periods of the history of Japanese sculpture. The most compelling works were made by the Kei family which were inspired by the Nara period and the realism of the Chinese Song dynasty period. It is said that the best Kamakura sculpture was able to bring out an extremely corporeal presence to its viewers.  

The Value of the Katana in the Kamakura Period

Katanas are single-edged swords that were used by the Japanese Samurai, crafted from the best of the best materials and considered one of the sharpest swords in the world. It is considered to be a sacred object of service used by the Samurai. The katana has undergone several transformations over the course of Japanese history, but it was during the Kamakura period that the Katana established the image of the katana that we know today.   In the early Kamakura period, the blades became wider. During the middle, period, the Kamakura tachi became stout, had less taber and had shorter stubby points called ikubi-kissaki. Today 125 katanas have been declared culturally significant “Juyounkabazai”, meaning these katanas are now considered priceless and are not allowed to be sold or exported from Japan.

A Review of The Kamakura Shirt

Lately Kamakura shirts have been getting a lot of good reviews from global lifestyle publications such as GQ.  According to them, Kamakura shirts are one of the best men’s dress shirts in the world, comparable to Paris’ Charvet or Turnbull & Asser in London. The difference is Japan’s Kamakura shirts which are considered to give you the best bang for your buck. Founded in 1993, Kamakura Shirts operates above a convenience store in the seaside town of Kamakura and only has two shops in America. Their mission was to make high-quality shirts that give a great fit for a fair price. Most shirts are priced at $79, with its Western counterparts costing almost twice the price. If you’re heading to Kamakura, you might want to snag yourself the rare and coveted Kamakura shirt.