Kamakura (鎌倉) is a coastal town endowed with not only beautiful ocean views, but rich history in its numerous shrines and temples. Only one hour away from Tokyo, it is no wonder that it gets extremely crowded on weekends, especially during the hydrangea season, which is right now in June. But as Kamakura is pretty big, there are still certain spots whereby you can still enjoy a stroll along the sandy beach and on the streets without bumping shoulders with another person.
How to get around Kamakura: 1-Day Pass Ticket
In order to fully explore Kamakura, and also get to Enoshima, which is a lovely island connected to Kamakura, you should buy an Enoden 1-Day pass ticket, known as the “Noriorikun (のりおりくん)“. With this ticket, you can unlimited rides for the entire day! You can purchase the tickets at any stations on the Enoden line at only 600 yen. Besides it being a convenient mode of transport, the Enoden train is also famous for its retro appearance, evoking nostalgic charms as it weaves pass the sparkling seas and quaint town sights. I didn’t manage to get a photo of it, but I did get a whole clip of it passing through one of the famous photo spots, the hydrangea train path just outside the Goryō Shrine (御霊神社). Do check it out on my Youtube video! If you are looking to take a photo or video of it though, do note that the wait is quite long, for it is a 12-minute interval wait! And don’t forget, safety always comes first, the tracks are very narrow, so don’t put your arms out too far to get that perfect shot!
Goryō Shrine (御霊神社)
Access: 3-minute walk from the Hase Station (長谷駅) on the Enoden Line
Visiting Hours: 9.00-17.00
Admission Fee: Free
Ajisai (Hydrangea) the Flower of Rain
I was mostly aiming to go to Kamakura during ‘tsuyu’ (rainy season) for the ‘ajisai’ (hydrangeas). Ajisai is one of my favourite seasonal flowers in Japan, what I am saying, it probably is my favourite. What I love about them is that they come in different colours and shades, and are just such a vivacious pop of colour especially during a gloomy season like tsuyu. There are hydrangeas to be found everywhere in Kamakura, but if you head to Hasedera Temple ( (長谷寺) , you will be in the hydrangea Garden of Eden. Over thousands of multi-coloured flowers bloom in abundance on the sloping hills.
Another place where you can find ajisai would be the Jojuin Temple (成就院). While I have read in many blogs that it is under construction and hence the ajisai could not seen, the ajisai were around when we went, coupled with a breathtaking view of the ocean up ahead. While Hesa-dera also does have a view of the sea, the view is a lot more interrupted by the sheer number of people, so I find Jojuin’s landscape to be much more beautiful. And just opposite Gokurakuji Station (極楽寺駅), I found a whole cluster of lovely blooming hydrangea bushes over a wall as well. There are also many hydrangea to be found in parts of Enoshima. Kamakura is the land of ajisai.
Besides the aijisai, there are many other noteworthy things to check out as well, and if you are a fan of temples and shrines, Hasedera Temple has a corner with unique ema (絵馬) made from oyster shells. Usually ema are small plaques made from wood, in which worshippers will write their prayers and wishes on. Now you can write your wishes on an oyster shell ema instead!
At the right corner of the main entrance of Hasedera, there is also a cave in the temple which is actually a shrine as you can see the torii gate entrance right before the cave. It is a small, tucked away inconspicuous corner, so you might miss it if you don’t look carefully. This is the first time I have seen a shrine in a temple, which is interesting as the shrines (jinja) and temples (tera) actually belong to two different religions, Shinto and Buddhism, respectively. By the way, I had plenty of time to explore Hasedera as we had to wait for 80 minutes to enter the ajisai garden despite reaching at past 9am in the morning, such is the popularity of the garden during the hydrangea season. There were also some lovely hydrangea around the temple, so it was not a tedious wait.
Hasedera Temple (長谷寺)
Access: 5-minute walk from the Hase Station (長谷駅) on the Enoden Line
Visiting Hours: 8.00-17.00 (Mar – Sept) ; 8:00-16.30 (Oct – Feb)
Admission Fees: Adult 300¥, Child 100¥
Jojuin Temple (成就院)
Access: 5-minute walk from the Gokurakuji Station (極楽寺駅) on the Enoden Line
Visiting Hours: 8.00-17.00 (11/1～3/1: 8.00-16.30)
Admission Fee: Free
Kamakura’s Icon: Kamakura Daibutsu
And whilst in the area, you have to visit Kōtoku-in Temple (高徳院) to see the second largest Buddha statue in Japan, the Kamakura Daibutsu (The Great Buddha of Kamakura), since it is just walking distance from Hase-dera, and an iconic sight of Kamakura. Cast in bronze at 11.3 metres tall, it is second only to the Buddha statue in Nara’s Todaiji Temple.
Kōtoku-in Temple (高徳院)
Access: 5-minute walk from Hasedera Temple
Visiting Hours: 8.00-17.30 (Apri – Sept) ; 8:00-17.00 (Oct – Mar)
Admission Fees: Adults 200¥, Child (6-12) 150¥, Child below 6 Free
Side trip to Enoshima
Also, as Enoshima (江ノ島) is just a few stations and a scenic stroll away, you should visit this little island, a perfect summer getaway that holds many natural wonders from mysterious caves to deep blue seas. And if you are not into beaches and caves, there is also a traditional shrine, the Enoshima Shrine, and as you climb up the hills you will be rewarded with various beautiful lookout points of the ocean. The Enoshima Shrine (江島神社) is dedicated to the sea deity Benzaiten, which is also known as the Goddess of Love, so the ema are actually shaped into hearts. And if you don’t mind the crowds, the Benzaiten-Nakamise shopping street leading towards the shrine does have a boisterous charm. Enoshima is extremely touristy, but still doesn’t quite lose its lure.
Enoshima Shrine (江島神社)
Access: 15-minute walk from Enoshima station (江ノ島駅) on Enoden line, cross a bridge to enter Enoshima and walk through Benzaiten-Nakamise shopping street
Visiting Hours: 8.00-17.00
Admission Fee: Free
Kamakura’s specialty: Nama Shirasu
Naturally, when you are by the sea, you have to eat some quality seafood, and Kamakura is known for its shirasu rice bowl (shirasu don), and there are two kinds, the nama shirasu (raw white bait) and the kamaage shirasu (boiled white bait). Shirasu is only in season from April to December, and raw shirasu is not something you can easily get in other parts of Japan, so it is a must to try it whilst in Kamakura! There are many places which serve the raw shirasu don, and we chose one that seemed quite popular and yet wasn’t as overcrowded as other places. The shop was called 池田丸 (Ikedamaru), and though austere in appearance, it does have a rather good sea view.
I have eaten boiled shirasu many times, they are actually one of my favourite food, I especially love them on pasta. But it was my first time trying raw shirasu. Raw shirasu is springy in texture, and has a deep ocean taste while boiled shirasu is soft and sweet.