Kamakura: Seaside City of History and Culture
By Matt De Sousa on 28 Nov 2016
As any curious visitor to Japan would likely know, there are countless amazing places to visit depending on the time of year, whether it be the incredibly popular Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season in the Spring or Sapporo’s famous Ice Festival in the Winter. Around the Autumn months, another event subtly emerges, and while not often specifically celebrated still holds a special place in Japan’s culture. Momiji, or Autumn leaves, are admired by people all across Japan, watching as the leaves gradually change from green through to red, before falling to the ground and signifying the beginning of Winter.
Those of us who have visited this country at least a few times have no doubt hit the main spots in Japan, having scoured the busy streets of Tokyo’s Shibuya, contemplated life and spirituality amongst the ancient temples of Kyoto and had a beer or two in one of Osaka’s many izakaya. Anyone who has spent some time in Tokyo can surely relate to the overwhelming feeling that can come from enduring the fast-paced and stressful environment. It may be surprising to find out that it is indeed quite easy to escape the rat race of Tokyo in an incredibly short amount of time. By taking just a single hour-long train ride south-west from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station, along the Shonan-Shinjuku line, one can find themselves a world away in Kanagawa Prefecture’s stunning Kamakura.
A spot well-known to locals and becoming increasingly popular with foreign travellers, Kamakura is a city filled with a rich history and culture, from its incredible number of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to its long history with Samurai culture. During the Autumn months, as the leaves change colour, visitors from across Japan and abroad travel here to admire the beautiful foliage and reflect at their chosen places of worship. Below we’ll take a look at some of the best places to visit during Kamakura’s beautiful Autumn season.
Established almost a thousand years ago, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important Shinto shrine, and what makes it particularly interesting it has history acting as both a Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple. Throughout the year this shrine is visited by thousands of Japanese and foreign travels, due to its stunning architecture, cultural importance and beautiful natural surroundings, which become especially stunning in the Spring and Autumn seasons. From Kamakura Station it takes around 10-15 minutes to walk up to the shrine, where one can take enjoy the view from along its long, almost 2km approach up Kamakura’s main road.
The shrine’s grounds are home to some small lakes, two museums and a variety of small to large shrine buildings. Different types of cultural events are held here throughout the year, and on my most recent visit I was surprised to find a traditional Japanese Shinto wedding taking place.
Kotoku-in is home to one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, which in fact only recently has had some well-publicised and overdue repairs completed. “The Great Buddha of Kamakura” or Daibutsu as it’s known, is a large bronze statue of Buddha which sits in the middle of the Kotoku-in Buddhist temple grounds, and was cast almost 800 years ago, around the year 1252. Throughout the temple grounds are a broad range of trees, including the popular maple, which looks particularly beautiful throughout this Autumn period. Located a 25-minute walk from Kamakura Station, Kotoku-in is open from 8am to 5pm year-round and charges 200 yen for entry.
For those visitors who are looking for something a little more peaceful and a little more ‘Zen’, Hokoku-ji has you covered. About a 30-minute walk from Kamakura Station, the Zen Buddhist temple Hokoku-ji is home to a breathtaking bamboo grove. Also known as the ‘Bamboo Temple’, Hokoku-ji was established in the early 1300s as a family temple to two of the clans that ruled Kamakura at the time. Visitors can pay 200 yen for entry to the bamboo gardens, where a trail will lead them past the main temple structure and through the forest, or for 500 yen visitors enter the forest and stop at the bamboo forest tea house for a cup of delicious matcha tea. Hokoku-ji is open from January 4 to December 28, between 9am and 4pm.
During the autumn season, Kamakura produces some spectacular sights, but as we move into the colder months don’t let that stop you from visiting. It is a beautiful city with an incredible variety of things to attract curious and open-minded visitors, so no matter what time of year you visit you will never leave disappointed. Escape the rat race, enjoy Kamakura!
Matt De Sousa
Matt is a punk music-loving videographer from Melbourne, Australia. He usually spends his time at live shows, touring Japan with bands or sitting at home re-watching Dragon Ball. In his time off he enjoys traveling around Tokyo for decent ramen.