Kamakura

Kamakura is set on the coast a little under an hour south of Tokyo. It was the political, religious, and cultural center of Japan beginning in the late twelfth century when the shogun clan of Minamoto began ruling the country—a rule that lasted more than a century. During the city’s political heyday, numerous shrines and temples were built. Today this small town is noted for its Buddhist and Shinto temples, and virtually all Kamakura sightseeing will include more than one of them.

The beaches, numerous temples, and proximity to Tokyo make this a popular tourist destination today. Additionally, there is a some kind of Kamakura festival occurring virtually every month of the year. Most of these festivals feature the temples and the shogun history of Tokyo and Japan. A Kamakura tourist may visit for the surfing, the temples, or the festivals. You might also come for the cherry blossoms, which are spectacular during late March and early April. Rewarding Kamakura sightseeing can be had during a simple stroll through town, as you will see that there are temples and shrines everywhere. There are three main Shinto gates (torii) in the town, including one that is covered resplendently in cherry blossoms in the spring.

The Great Kamakura Buddha is one of the most iconic such statues in the country. It was once housed in one of the city’s temples, but that was washed away in various typhoons and tsunamis hundreds of years ago. This massive bronze statue of the Amida Buddha stands more than 45 feet high, and is featured in the novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling. The Kamakura Buddha was built during the height of the Minamoto Shogunate in 1252. Today, it stands in the open air for all to admire. These statues, called Diabutsu, can be found all over both Japan and China. The Kamakura Buddha is the largest that remains in its original form. The largest was in Kyoto, but it was damaged in a 1596 earthquake and destroyed by fire in 1602. A small wooden replica replaced it. In the town of Nara near Osaka, are two of the oldest statues of the Buddha, built in the seventh and eight centuries.

The Kamakura Period is the term used to describe the era of the great shoguns. This is the time of the samurai, and several of the Kamakura festivals commemorate this glorious time in Japanese history. These are attractions drawing thousands of visitors. In the beginning of May, the Kusajishi Festival is held at the Kamakura Shrine and archers in ancient samurai armor shoot arrows at a straw deer. In mid-September, the Yabusame Festival (the most famous of the events) takes place. This involves horseback archery, an ancient and honored military tradition. Other holidays include the January ceremony honoring the rebuilding of the the Tsurugaoka Hachima-gu Shrine after its destruction in a twelfth century fire. The entire month of July signifies the Little Thailand Beach Event, when the local Thai restaurants and shopping venues stay open late. In August, fireworks are set off on the beach.

If you venture a little outside the city, Kamakura sightseeing will reveal ancient caves and lovely temples and shrines dating to the period of Nichiren, a monk who founded one of the many sects of Buddhism during his lifetime in the thirteenth century. Kamakura is the center of this sect. The city is set on the sea, and enclosed on the other three sides by steep mountains and hills. There are seven very famous and scenic natural passes through these hills, which are very popular for hiking.

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