Head south out of Tokyo on the train and you’ll find yourself in Japan’s second largest by population city, Yokohama, within minutes. Head further south again and suddenly you’ll emerge into an ancient town of Buddhist temples, bronze statues, gardens, and ocean views. A trip to Kamakura is one of the best ways to spend a weekend away from the deafening roar of Tokyo life. Home to its very own bamboo groves and historic shrines, Kamakura is very much the Kyoto of the East, with as much charm and beauty as can be found in its more famous counterpart.
History and Background
Many know that the old capital of Japan was Kyoto, but fewer know that the nation has had many capitals, one of which was Kamakura – during the aptly named Kamakura period of 1185–1333 CE. This was the period of Japanese history which saw the rise of the samurai class, the expansion of schools of Buddhism across Japan, and the beginning of intense Japanese feudalism.
So much of what is globally famous in Japanese ancient history occurred or began during the Kamakura period, making this town rich in fascinating and tantalizing local history. Kamakura was Japan’s capital during the two famous Mongol invasions of 1274 and 1281, which were both largely thwarted by a “divine wind” in the form of a typhoon.
Kamakura is very much the Kyoto of the East, with as much charm and beauty as can be found in its more famous counterpart.
Because the Kamakura period gave rise to the popularity of Zen Buddhism, as well as several other schools of Buddhism in Japan, the great Daibutsu bronze Buddha statue of Kotokuin Temple was erected in 1253 – and this statue still stands today as the crowning tourist attraction of the area.
The Kamakura period was defined by its feudalism, with the warrior (samurai) class swearing loyalty to their shogun, the first of which, Minamoto no Yoritomo, had his seat in Kamakura, establishing it as the capital. His grave is now situated only a hundred meters north of the site where the palace of Kamakura had once stood.
What to Do
A lot of what makes up Kamakura sightseeing is its history, and that means a lot of shrines and temples. However, because of the development of Buddhism during the Kamakura period, each shrine and temple has something very unique about it that truly makes each one worth visiting, exploring, and studying.
The town is small and manageable, and it’s easy to get around on foot. If you arrive early in the day, you can make a perfect summer walking day