The small seaside city of Kamakura lies in Japan’s Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Yokohama and Tokyo, and enjoys a picturesque position on the Miura Peninsula, clasped between forest-clad hills and Sagami Bay. Once Japan’s feudal capital, the city boasts numerous Buddhist and Shinto temples, as well as sandy beaches, hiking trails and first-rate shopping, making it one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
Kamakura’s rise to fame began in the 12th century when the shogun Minamoto Yoritomo established a feudal government here in 1192. By 1221, the government had defeated the imperial armies based in Kyoto, allowing Kamakura’s shogunate to take complete control of Japan - a period of power that lasted until the mid-14th century. During this time, many Buddhist sects sprouted up in the city, lending it the Buddhist Zen shrines and temples that now draw its many visitors.
Topping the sights is the Great Buddha statue, known as the Kamakura Daibutsu. Sitting in the grounds of the Kotokuin Temple, this stunning bronze figure is 13.35 meters in height and was cast nearly 800 years ago, in 1252. The second tallest Buddhist figure in Japan after the Buddha at Nara’s Todaiji Temple, the statue is seated in the lotus position and set against a fittingly serene backdrop of forested hills.
Equally impressive is the Tsuugaoka Hachimangu, an 11th-century temple in the heart of the city that was moved to its current site by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1180.
Considered Kamakura’s spiritual heart, this picture-perfect, red-painted temple perches on a wooded hill among gardens dotted with shrines, ponds, peonies and cherry trees. Reached by a steep stairway, the main shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the Minamoto family and Japan’s samurai. Inside is a richly gilded hall and museum showcasing treasures such as swords, masks and manuscripts, but most visitors come here to savor the ornamental gardens and panoramic sea views from the hillside.
Other Kamakura highpoints include botanical gardens, additional Zen and Shinto temples, and the popular Komachi-Dori street, a permanently crowded lane leading to the Tsuugaoka Hachimangu which is believed to have started life as a market around the shrine. Filled with restaurants, food stands and stores selling knick-knacks and Kamakura specialities and sweets, this shopping and food hotspot extends into tiny alleyways of old Western-style houses and traditional shops, making it great not just for souvenir-hunting, but for strolling, eating and sightseeing.