The second grand adventure of my trip to Japan was to visit Kamakura. This day trip involved train rides, walking, temples, shrines, and a beautiful day. This was a great day that was full of some really amazing cultural experiences. It also was a day that really impressed me with how kind the Japanese people are. I’ll get to that later, however. For now, let’s get into this day and adventure!
To get to Kamakura from where I’m staying a train ride is a good option. It is definitely possible to drive but… it will take longer and be more expensive after toll roads and parking. The trains, on the other hand, are actually quite inexpensive. They also don’t require paying for parking. With that in mind, we made our way to the local train station this morning to make our way up to Kamakura. The whole train experience here in Japan was really quite lovely. Everything was very efficient and very straightforward. The train ride itself was quite pleasant and quiet. Quiet enough that many people were asleep on the train. It was a very relaxing and quick trip up to Kamakura and I loved it.
Once off the train in Kamakura, we made our way to a local shopping district called Komachi-Dori Street. The entrance was marked by a Torii Gate. Once inside, the street was packed with people. Despite being packed, it was not stressful at all and people were very polite as we made our way up the street. We stopped at a nice little store that had local honey and also gave us samples of little drinks that were flavored with honey. One was yuzu flavored and the other was grape flavored. The staff inside was very sweet, especially to my niece and nephews.
Back on the street, we wandered out way further into this shopping area. There were a lot of different and very random vendors to check out. There were kimono stores, candy stores, candy coated strawberries, seafood that could be cooked to order, restaurants, and more. There were also maneki-neko (lucky cat) statues in front of many different businesses along the way. The whole experience was full of things to see, do, buy, and eat. Other than getting some honey, we saved these types of experiences for another day as we had another destination in mind.
We made our way away from Komachi-Dori Street and then headed toward Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, one of the most important shrines in Japan. It also is THE most important shrine in Kamakura. As we made our way to this shrine, we made a detour… a delightful detour… a delicious detour. The detour I’m talking about was Verve, a local coffee shop that was absolutely delicious. There, we ordered snacks for the kids (including fresh squeezed apple juice that the youngest was obsessed with) and coffee for the adults. Specifically, we enjoyed a rosemary honey latte. There was lovely seating out front that was very enjoyable to sit and enjoy this beautiful and delicious coffee on a very lovely day. I did not realize that I would be getting to enjoy such a wonderful coffee experience before I came to Japan but I am very glad that I did!
Coffee finished, it was time to continue to make our way up the street toward Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. The street had a tree-lined walkway up the middle where you could walk which was very nice. We did this before arriving at Verve. For the rest of the walk, however, we walked up the sidewalk. Along the way, we passed a Sherlock Holmes/British museum. It was a small storefront that said it was a museum that had a British car out front, a statue of Sherlock Holmes, and also a British phone booth. It was quite popular for people to take photos with it appeared from the few minutes we observed as we walked by.
Finally, we arrived at the intersection that was at the entrance to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. There was a big Tori gate there. Behind it was what looked like an ancient bridge and then further up was the main shrine itself at the top of a hill. There were other shrines that were also found here as well. It really was a beautiful destination. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu was founded by Minamoto Yoriyoshi in 1063, and enlarged and moved to its current location in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, who also was the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government.
After taking multiple photos at the entrance, we made our way up the walkway toward the main shrine. It was at the top of a lot of stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was a stage called a Maiden and some other buildings (including another shrine on the right). We took pictures around this area as well. Then my sister walked us over to a line. I had no clue what was happening. She then asked me to pick what appeared to be a piece of art. I was wrong. It was actually a book called Goshuincho. A Goshuincho, or “honorable stamp/seal book,” is a book that is handed over (along with whatever the price is at that shrine for this service) to an attendant who then paints and stamps one of the pages in the book to serve proof of the person’s pilgrimage to that location. Traditionally, a completed Goshuincho gives some sort of spiritual fulfillment. However, for many today it is less about a spiritual cleanse and more about the journey itself. The book that I was given was beautiful and the calligraphy and stamp inside for this shrine was very cool as well. I look forward to going to more shrines in the future and getting more of these in my book.
With my Goschuincho in hand, we started to explore the grounds further. There was a lovely bridge on one side, the stairs up to the shrine in the middle, and then at the top of the stairs, there were more stairs covered by multiple Torii Gates that led up to an Inari Shrine. It was a beautiful little location at the top of the hill that was very peaceful. The next stop was also found on the grounds on a little island with a lovely bridge one had to cross to access it. It was called the Hataage Benzaiten Shrine. There was an opportunity to get another page filled in on my Goshuincho but we had run out of coins/cash, so that had to be passed up. It was a great place to take some photos, however.
As we continued to wander the grounds, there was also a place officially called the Genji Pond Rest Area. Beyond offering a place to sit and enjoy the pond, one could also purchase fish food and feed the carp that were in the pond. These carp LOVED to get fed. Feeding them was quite the experience and totally worth it. They literally jumped out of the water to try to get at the food before the other carp could. They really were aggressive with each other as they tried to get at the fish food. It was also hilarious to watch.
Having fed the fish, we started to make our way out of the grounds of the shrine and head to a temple that was a bit of a walk away. This was a great opportunity to walk through Kamakura and see what daily life was like for people in the town. The streets were quite narrow and the drivers were quite polite. It was very interesting to see. We stopped for a snack and some water at a FamilyMart. There we got some teriyaki chicken, steamed egg buns, and some water. I continue to be surprised at how these little quick marts have food that is as good as it is. Having snacked, we continued to make our way to our next destination.
The next destination was the Hokokuji Temple. This seemed like it was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We walked through many streets and suddenly discovered this temple. It almost felt like it was in the middle of a jungle, even though in the middle of the city. It was very serene and peaceful and it appeared that we just beat the rush of people showing up to check it out. We made our way up a garden-lined entryway that was really lovely and found ourselves in a small courtyard at the entrance of the Hokokuji Temple. For this place, tickets were required. We secured these and made our way inside. There we found gardens, a bamboo forest, and a tea ceremony in a building in the back. There was also a place for getting my Goshuincho marked. However, there was quite a long line and the kids were starting to drag. We enjoyed wandering through the bamboo forest and opted to skip the tea ceremony for the same reason.
The Hokokuji Temple is known as the “bamboo temple” and this was not surprising at all. It was founded in 1334 by Tengan Eko or Uesugi Shigekane, under the patronage of Ashikaga letoki. On the grounds, there were also the burial sites of Ashikaga Ietoki and Yoshihasa and the Hojo – Nitta clan battle memorial tanka inscription along with the Kinoshita Rigen memorial tanka inscription. The entire experience was beautifully serene and solemn.
Having checked out the Hokokuji Temple, it was time to start making our way back toward the train station. As we walked back, we saw an older gentleman driving a minivan through the neighborhood. We had seen him and waved as we walked to the temple. He opened his window, waved, and laughed with us as we bumped into each other again. It was a very charming experience that made everyone smile.
The last destination before the train stop was the entrance to the walkway for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. There was a Torii Gate there with two lions guarding the entrance. I got pretty lucky as it was very busy and then suddenly everyone disappeared for a few seconds, allowing me to get a photo or two of the entrance. Having seen the entrance, it was time to head back to the train station and then home.
The train ride back to my sister’s house was mostly uneventful. At one point, an announcement was made that the first four cars of the train would be terminating their run at a station. We had a moment to confirm we weren’t in one of those cars. Thankfully, we weren’t. We made our way back to the home station and then walked home along the waterfront. The sun was beginning to set and the light was warm and lovely. Some Japanese Navy ships could be seen along the waterfront, which was kind of cool as well. Finally, we also saw a Starbucks overlooking the water that looked pretty impressive. I may have to check it out before this trip is over.
The day trip to Kamakura was a spur of the moment idea that wasn’t originally the plan for the day. However, it was a wonderful choice and totally worth visiting. I would definitely like to visit there again. Our next stop will be at the Tokyo Disney Resort at DisneySea tomorrow! I will get a trip report about that as quickly as I can!
I hope you enjoyed today’s trip report. Have you been to Kamakura before? What did you like the most? If you haven’t been there before, what do you think of our adventure there? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!