“It’s better to see something once than to hear about it 1000 times” ~ Asian proverb.
A Tokyo to Kamakura day trip had been on my seemingly endless list of things to do when visiting Japan for some time. Everyone I’d spoken to who had been exclaimed it’s a must-visit destination, even one of their favourites! Now I’ve seen for myself, I completely understand the universal praise Kamakura receives and I’m about to share why with you.
Encircled by dense woods, seaside coastline (and a view of Mount Fuji if you’re lucky), Kamakura is not just a pretty face. As one of Japan’s ancient capitals and with over a millennia of significant history, this picturesque destination boasts dozens of temples earning it the nickname “Kyoto of the East.”
Naturally, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo as it can be reached in an hour from Japan’s present-day capital.
Perhaps you’re a fellow invisible tourist and enjoy decoding the history and culture of the destinations you visit? There’s no one better to learn about Japanese culture than from a trusted local! Someone who can make your visit more authentic by explaining the intriguing evolution of Kamakura throughout the centuries, from Japan’s powerful military capital into the lovely seaside town it is today.
But where can you find these locals?
This Tokyo to Kamakura day trip blog will detail what to expect when visiting the must-sees in this ancient capital with a friendly local guide. If you’re interested in finding out, read on for more!
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What is MagicalTrip?
If you like the idea of a guided tour without contributing to the negative impacts of overtourism in Japan, MagicalTrip is for you! This platform connects travellers with local guides in various cities throughout the country. I’ve now enjoyed several small tours with them, such as a tea ceremony in Kyoto and bar hopping tours in Kyoto and Tokyo.
A small group is a much more personal, customised experience and exploring in this way doesn’t contribute to issues (I explain why in my guide to overtourism solutions). Also, I love that each local guide is carefully selected for their outgoing personality because this adds to a great experience!
There is an ideal balance of structure and flexibility in this Kamakura itinerary, exploring the city with a local is the perfect way to blend in and “be invisible” – something I am very passionate about.
For my tour of Kamakura, my local guide was Tommy-san. He was just like an old friend! Tommy-san had so much knowledge to share about the history of Kamakura and Japanese cultural etiquette.
I experienced this Kamakura one day trip as a press invite, but as always this did not influence my opinion in any way and all thoughts are my own. So let’s dive into the Kamakura one day itinerary!
How to get from Tokyo to Kamakura
For this day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo, you’ll need to make your own way south from Japan’s current capital.
- The easiest and fastest way to get from Tokyo to Kamakura is on the JR Shonan Shinjuku line, approx 1 hour. This direct train can be caught from JR Shibuya or JR Shinjuku stations in the Zushi direction. You may need to ask a local to make sure the train is direct, otherwise you’ll need to switch at Osaki station (I found that out the hard way).
- Alternatively, a direct train to Kamakura from JR Tokyo station will also get you there in about an hour on the Yokosuka Line local train towards Zushi.
- Tokyo to Kamakura train cost: This journey is covered by the Japan Rail Pass if you have one, or tap on and off with your Suica Card (1090 JPY one way).
The tour begins at 10:00am and it’s important to be on time.
What to expect in a Kamakura one day itinerary
Is Kamakura worth a day trip? My answer is absolutely! Some people may say spring is the best time to visit Kamakura, but I actually think summer in Japan would be if you love ajisai (hydrangeas). As you’ll see down the page, Kamakura is known for ajisai and they burst to life from June!
Meeting at JR Kamakura Station
Just before 10:00am I first met Tommy-san outside the east exit of JR Kamakura Station, holding the orange MagicalTrip sign. A lovely couple from Hawai’i also accompanied us on this tour so we were all excited to learn what to do in Kamakura.
Eat your way along Komachi-dori
First stop on our Kamakura day trip was Komachi-dori, or Komachi Street. This was a great place to start as we were naturally drawn to the incredible aromas of street food sizzling away here! We got an idea for what was available and decided to come back here for snacks and souvenirs towards the end of the tour.
Explore Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
From Konmachi-dori shopping street our little group made the 5 minutes walk to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, an icon of Kamakura. Founded in 1063, it’s steeped in history and dedicated to Hachiman, the God of Victory and samurais in general. This spot will always be memorable for me because this is where I saw my first ever sakura in Japan.
On the approach to the shrine we were greeted by a massive torii gate and gorgeous stone bridge, Tako-bashi. It arches over two ponds, the one to the right with three islands represents the Minamoto Clan, while the one to the left represents their arch rivals, the Taira Clan.
It’s interesting that the Taira Clan pond features four islands to represent their defeat (the number four in Japanese can sound like the word for death). The Minamoto Clan sure had a sense of humour, it’s small things like this amuse me!
Tommy-san proceeded to teach us the differences between shrines and temples. Do you know? For context, Shinto is the native religion of Japan and 2300 years old. Buddhism came to Japan in 552 AD from India via the Korean peninsula (more about this in my Nagano itinerary and 3 weeks in Japan itinerary). Until the Meiji Restoration, the two religions were very intertwined and were not exclusive.
Maiden & Main Hall
Next we approached the Maiden, a large covered stage for music performances and where worshippers leave edible offerings. You’ll notice the giant wall of sake barrels left as offerings nearby, and even beer! Tommy-san said samurai were the first to introduce beer to Japan after a visit to the United States during the 19th century.
As we made our way up the steep stairs to the Main Hall, Tommy-san explained to saisen (a money offering in the hall’s wooden box) and why the 5 yen coin is said to be the luckiest for relationships! He also explained the correct way to make a wish.
Like any popular shrine, thousands of wooden ema (wishes) were on display. The ema shaped as gingko leaves are dedicated to the Great Gingko Tree, which stood beside the stairway to the main hall for over a thousand years. It fell during a storm in 2010, yet a new tree has since sprouted in its place.
Maruyama Inari Shrine
From there we made our way under dozens of torii up the small Maruyama Inari shrine. Listed as an Important Cultural Property of Japan, this small shrine has a big history!
It’s actually the oldest structure in the shrine complex and predates the building of the more famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. For success in business and a good harvest, this is the place to make a wish. I bought a red torii gate ema as a souvenir.
Sample local Kamakura snacks
The part we’d been waiting for! Our group strolled back to Komachi-dori for our included snack: dango! These bite-sized rice dumpling balls are a popular Japanese treat and can be sweet or savoury.
I opted for the combo that included four different flavours – sakura, green soybean, chestnut bean and matcha bean jams as toppings. Its mochi-like consistency had me chewing for ages, but it was the freshest dango I’ve ever had (learn more about mochi in my guide to snacks from Japan). Sakura was my favourite flavour, as I’d imagined it would be!
After our dango, we picked up some more local snacks. It was hard to narrow the choices down, there are so many foodie spots in Kamakura. Our favourite shop sold peanuts encrusted in different coatings, such as raspberry cheesecake, chocolate crisp and loads more.
Admire the Giant Buddha at Kotoku-in Monastery
Next stop on our Kamakura day trip was Hase station. We were about to see another Kamakura icon – the Great Buddha I’m sure you’re familiar with. On arriving at Kotoku-in Monastery, Tommy-san mentioned the significance of the two fierce-looking guardian statues on the entrance gate.
I had waited for this moment for so long, I let out a gasp when I stepped around the corner to see the daibutsu. The giant sculpture is the second-largest bronze buddha in Japan (after the one in Todai-ji, Nara), but is perhaps considered the most handsome.
TIP: While the daibutsu was built in 1252, it was originally housed in a hall since destroyed by natural disasters. For the bargain price of 10 yen, you can take a peek inside the daibutsu and stand in awe of its ancient construction techniques. Note the spiral staircase inside is VERY narrow and only fits one person at a time.
Tommy-san explained the meaning behind the daibutsu’s hand gesture. Being brought together in this way signifies the reaching of highest enlightenment, making this spot one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Kamakura. Keep an eye out for the daibutsu’s giant woven sandals hanging nearby.
Uncover the amazing history of Hasedera Temple
Of all the places visited in this Kamakura day trip itinerary, Hasedera Temple was hands down my favourite – it was founded in 736 AD. On entry, exquisite gardens greeted us with beauty at every turn – early-blooming flowers and green shoots on hydrangeas made me yearn to revisit in summer. First impressions reminded me a lot of Kenroku-en in Kanazawa (which I’ve written all about in my Kanazawa itinerary), although there is a very spiritual atmosphere here.
We made our way up the hillside’s winding Oceanview Path. The higher we climbed, the more of the ocean and surrounding scenery was visible through the trees.
Stumbling across the ryoen-jizo sitting discreetly in the gardens, Tommy-san explained there are three sets to be found throughout the temple grounds – and they can be easy to miss! If you happen to find all three, it’s believed you will make good connections and relationships with others.
Towards the top of the hill we reached Jizo-do, where worshippers have left thousands of little stone guardians dedicated to lost babies and children. Adjacent is the star attraction, Kannon-do main temple hall that houses a huge golden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion. The golden Amida-do is visible from the outside.
NOTE: Photos of Kannon are prohibited, but she is an amazing sight! Her 11 heads are said to be on the lookout to help people with worries and the vase of water in her left hand is said to wash these worries away.
Lunch at Hasedera Temple Restaurant
By now we had worked up an appetite so it was time for lunch at Hasedera Temple’s Kaikoan Restaurant. It was great to have the chance to try delicious local ingredients, I opted for the tasty vegetarian Japanese curry pictured below.
Check out the amazing view we were spoilt with!
Kyozo Sutra Archive
After lunch we discovered the Kyozo Sutra Archive, directly opposite the restaurant. I had seen these in a few other locations throughout Japan (Zenko-ji in Nagano and Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto to name a few) but wasn’t really sure what they were about. Tommy-san explained the hundreds of small scrolls stored within this archive are records of teachings by the historical Buddha.
In ancient times, most people were illiterate and couldn’t read these teachings themselves. To pass on the knowledge to these people, bronze sutra barrels were designed to be spun and believed to transfer the knowledge. There is a small bamboo grove next to the archive.
Benten-Kutsu Cave was a real highlight of the tour and the entrance to the cave is quite discreet. Chiseled into the cave’s walls and glowing by candlelight are figures representing each of the Japanese Seven Lucky Gods. Tommy-san explained worshippers purchase a candle, light it and place it next to the god they wish to pray to. This has been in practice for almost a thousand years, which is very impressive!
Benzaiten is quite popular here as she is the only female of the seven gods and is the patron for people in the arts, such as musicians, dancers, writers, artists and even geisha. You’ll find thousands of miniature figurines of her placed in every little crevice around the cave’s tunnels by worshippers.
TIP: If you’re tall you’ll need to duck down as you walk through the caves as there isn’t much headroom in the cave’s tunnels.
The cave is a rare example of the blending of ancient religions of Shinto and Buddhism in Japan. After the Meiji Restoration, previously interwoven Shinto and Buddhist relics at temples and shrines were separated in a process called shinbutsu bunri. This cave is a treasure as it managed to remain unchanged.
With this extraordinary cave as our last stop, it concludes our Kamakura day trip tour!
Final thoughts of my Kamakura one day itinerary with MagicalTrip
I thought I had a fair understanding of Japanese religions before I took this tour, however I learnt so much from Tommy-san about symbolism used at these temples I wouldn’t have found out on my own. I definitely wouldn’t have known about our lunch spot, it was so wonderful to eat local food overlooking such a stunning landscape with great company!
The tour runs at a relaxed pace over 4.5 hours, allowing you to leisurely soak in the beauty of Kamakura and fascinating information provided by your guide. It’s so enjoyable to just be in the moment and not having to rush around to each spot. Just like a long-lost friend, guides like Tommy-san happily show you around and share the love of their hometown with you, which is so much fun.
After the tour, I’d recommend spending the rest of the afternoon exploring more of Kamakura, such as the lush bamboo groves at Hokoku-ji Temple, Engaku-ji Temple in the forested hills, wash your coins in the hopes of making them multiply at Zeniarai Benten Shrine, enjoy the mountainous hiking trails and catch the Enoden line electric railway to watch the sunset from Enoshima or Yuigahama beach.
TIP: I definitely felt yugen during my time in Kamakura (here’s the meaning of this beautiful Japanese word) and I hope you will someday, too!
Preventing Overtourism in Japan
One of the things I personally value most about MagicalTrip is having all the benefits of a guided tour without contributing to the negative impacts of overtourism in Japan.
In recent years, many large coach tours have sprouted up offering day trips to Kamakura, resulting in overcrowding at popular attractions and strain on local infrastructure. This small tour helps to alleviate those pressures while making each visit more authentic and meaningful.
A huge thanks to MagicalTrip for kindly inviting me on this Kamakura trip and making this article possible. I’m so grateful to have had a local guide share their knowledge with me during my Kamakura tour! Now you know how to get to Kamakura, the best places to visit, what to eat and even what you’ll learn from a friendly local guide.
Have I provided you with some insight as to what you can expect on a day trip from Tokyo to Kamakura Japan? Would this be somewhere you’d like to visit someday? Let me know in the comments below. You may also enjoy my comprehensive guide to modern and traditional cultural experiences in Japan for more ideas.
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Until next time,
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