If you have a spare day or two and want to get away from the crowd of Tokyo, whether you are yearning for some cultural exploration weekend or just a breath of fresh air, I suggest you take this opportunity to take a trip to the coastal town of Kamakura. It could be one of the best side trips that you will do, but of course depending on what you’re after or things that you like. Though Kamakura is known for open beach parks, it’s a more popular destination for visting numerous Temples and Shrines of different sect, with the 13.35meters bronze statue of the Great Buddha (Daibatsu) as the main attraction.
Access is fairly easy, there are several train lines (Shohan Shinjuku, Yokosuka) that operates on the said route and you need only a good 1 to 2 hours travel time. There are 3 area of interest for those who are planning a day of temple hopping- Hase, Kamakura and Kita-Kamakura. You might want to try riding the local Enoden Electric Railways when switching between Kamakura and Hase. It’s a well-decorated old fashioned train that passes on each town via small railway along the villages; on which to go from one platform to another you need to cross the tracks.
For my exploration, I started at the town of Hase for the Great Amida Buddha and the Hasedera Temple of the Jodo sect. You can reach both by 5-10 minutes walk from the station. After 2 hours of picture taking, roaming around, conversing to a few locals about sea rocks and eating a sweet potato-green tea home made soft ice cream, I decided to go back to Kamakura.
Kamakura is a lovely well developed town, with tourist information desk right outside the JR station, Starbucks and the popular shopping-dining street of Komachi-dori. If you continue to walk up to the end of the shopping street, you will arrive at Kamakura’s most important shrine- Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. This is a huge shrine with so many interesting things to see, I suggest you take your time exploring every part of the place. During my visit, there was an Oil Painting Art Exhibition displayed along the pathway towards the main shrine. There are varieties of beautiful works which depicts both traditional-modern Japan and viewing the exhibit alone consumed a good 1 hour of my time.
Most of the temples and shrines in Kamakura are open up to 4pm only, so I ran out of time to check the other temples and decided to head to Kita Kamakura instead. I managed to enter the Zen temple of Engakuji 30 minutes prior closing. Located on the slopes of Kita-Kamakura forest hills, exploring the temple is a pleasant activity, the old gate of Sanmon and the cemetery are my favorite spots.
If you’re really serious about temple hopping, a whole day might not be enough. I only managed to visit 4 out of the 13 and majority of the temples will require you to go for a hike. I’m still undecided if I should continue visiting the rest of the shrines, maybe on a good Autumn day.