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Kamakura 鎌倉

Daibutsu, Kamakura ( martinhosmat083 - Fotolia.com)
Daibutsu, Kamakura

Capital of the first shōgunate between 1192 and 1333, Kamakura is famous for its medieval temples and especially its Giant Buddha in bronze , one of the most recognisable Buddha statues in the world.


Kamakura holds an important place in Japanese history. It is where the first shōgunate was established in 1192 and lasted until 1333. During the Heian period (794-1185), the Emperor had only a ceremonial role and the real power was in the hands of the Fujiwara clan.

When their power began to decline, the Taira clan, led by Taira Kiyomori, and the Minamoto clan, led by Minamoto Yoshitomo fought for supremacy. In 1159, the Taira managed to defeat their enemies, but spared the life of Yoshitomo's 3rd son, Yoritomo. He went to live in the Izu peninsula (next to Kamakura) and started gathering support against the Taira as soon as he grew old enough to do so. He set up his base in Kamakura for the strategic situation it offered, encircled by sea and hills, and therefore easy to defend. By 1185, he had destroyed the Taira clan, and was appointed shōgun in 1192. At his death, however, the lack of heir prevented the Minamoto to continue to rule, and the power passed on to his wife's family, the Hojo.

The legendary battle is described in the classic of literature The Tale of the Heike (平家物語 Heike Monogatari).


Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) 大仏

Kamakura's architecture is thus older than anywhere else in Kanto. It's most prominent feature is the giant Buddha statue ("Daibutsu") which dates from 1252.

It used to be housed in a huge hall, which was destroyed by a tsunami in 1495. It is 11,5m tall and weighs 850 tonnes.

Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shrine, Kamakura Kamakura Daibutsu (photo by Eckhard Pecher) San-mon Gate, Kenchō-ji Temple, Kamakura (photo by Wiiii)

Buddhist temples

Hōjō, Kenchō-ji

There are too many Buddhist temples in Kamakura to list here. The so-called five great Rinzai Zen temples of Kamakura are the Kenchō-ji (建長寺), Engaku-ji (円覚寺), Jufuku-ji (寿福寺), Jōchi-ji (浄智寺) and Jōmyō-ji (浄妙寺). The Hōkoku-ji (豊国時) is also worth mentioning.

Between the Daibutsu and Hase station (Enoden line), Hase-dera Temple (長谷寺) has beautiful gardens and renowned Kannon statues and Jizō statuettes. The latter are dedicated to the soul of children lost by abortion or miscarriage.

Sugimoto-dera (杉本寺), founded in 734, is the oldest temple in Kamakura. There are three Kannon statues, including the 11 faced Kannon of Sugimoto (十一面杉本観音).

Tsuruoka Hachiman-gu Shrine 鶴岡八幡宮

Halfway between Kamakura and Kita-Kamakura stations on the Wakamiya-dōri (main road), you will find Tsuruoka Hachimangu, the largest Shinto shrine in town, and one of the most important in the Kanto area.

The shrine was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi, and is dedicated to Hachiman, the god of war and protector of the Minamoto clan.

As all Shintō shrine, its entrance is marked by a torii gate, and a sanctuary of trees encircle the main building. The ponds and arched bridge near the main entrance are also worth a look.

How to get there

Direct trains to Kamakura depart regularly from Tokyo (1h, ¥890), Shimbashi, Shinagawa (40min, ¥690) or Yokohama (25min, ¥330) stations on the JR Yokosuka line.

You can also take the JR Tokaido line, but be aware that you will have to change train at Ofuna (大船).

Map of attractions in Kamakura

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