If at all possible, visit Kamakura between Monday and Friday. Weekends are extremely crowded and the waiting time to enter any sightseeing spot, including temples, is likely to be extremely long.”Kamakura is a small town in Kanagawa Prefecture less than an hour from Tokyo by train. Kamakura is saved from obscurity mainly by its history and the legacy of that history.
Kamakura was the place where, in the twelfth century, the leader of the almost annihilated Minamoto clan, Yoritomo, established himself in 1180 in his struggle against his clan’s great rival, the Taira. Upon his final victory in 1192, Kamakura became the center of the nation’s power.
Today, Kamakura is a small city and a very popular tourist destination. Sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, Kamakura offers numerous temples, shrines and other historical monuments. In addition, Kamakura’s sand beaches attract large crowds during the summer months.
Kamakura as a geographical location has a special feature of being surrounded to the north, east and west by mountains and to the south by the open water. On sunny days, you can see Mt. Fuji which can be said is a symbol of Japan. Kamakura is famous for its many seasonal flowers whose colours paint the city in a kaleidoscope of natural beauty.
The oldest pottery fragments found come from hillside settlements of the period between 7500 BC and 5000 BC. In the late Jōmon period the sea receded and civilization progressed. During the Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD), the sea receded further almost to today’s coastline, and the economy shifted radically from hunting and fishing to farming. The extraordinary events, the historical characters and the culture of the twenty years which go from Minamoto no Yoritomo’s birth to the assassination of the last of his sons have been throughout Japanese history the background and the inspiration for countless poems, books, jidaigeki TV dramas, Kabuki plays, songs, manga and even video games; and are necessary to make sense of much of what one sees in today’s Kamakura.Read More
The Kamakura shogunate era is called by historians the Kamakura period and, although its end is clearly set (Siege of Kamakura (1333)), its beginning is not. Different historians put Kamakura’s beginning at a different point in time within a range that goes from the establishment of Yoritomo’s first military government in Kamakura (1180) to his elevation to the rank of Sei-i Taishogun in 1192. It used to be thought that during this period, effective power had moved completely from the Emperor in Kyoto to Yoritomo in Kamakura, but the progress of research has revealed this wasn’t the case. Even after the consolidation of the shogunate’s power in the east, the Emperor continued to rule the country, particularly its west. However, it’s undeniable that Kamakura had a certain autonomy and that it had surpassed the technical capital of Japan politically, culturally and economically. The shogunate even reserved for itself an area in Kyoto called Rokuhara where lived its representatives, who were there to protect its interests.
On July 3, 1333, warlord Nitta Yoshisada, who was an Emperor loyalist, attacked Kamakura to reestablish imperial rule. After trying to enter by land through the Kewaizaka Pass and the Gokuraku-ji Pass, he and his forces waited for a low tide, bypassed the Inamuragasaki cape, entered the city and took it. In accounts of that disastrous Hojo defeat it is recorded that nearly 900 Hōjō samurai, including the last three Regents, committed suicide at their family temple, Tosho-ji, whose ruins have been found in today’s Omachi. Almost the entire clan vanished at once, the city was sacked and many temples were burned. Many simple citizens imitated the Hojo, and an estimated total of over 6,000 died on that day of their own hand. In 1953, 556 skeletons of that period were found during excavations near Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū’s Ichi no Torii in Yuigahama, all of people who had died of a violent death, probably at the hand of Nitta’s forces.
The fall of Kamakura marks the beginning of an era in Japanese history characterized by chaos and violence called the Muromachi period. Kamakura’s decline was slow, and in fact the next phase of its history, in which, as the capital of the Kantō region, it dominated the east of the country, lasted almost as long as the shogunate had. Kamakura would come out of it almost completely destroyed.
Takauji, founder of the Ashikaga shogunate which, at least nominally, ruled Japan during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, at first established his residence at the same site in Kamakura where Yoritomo’s Okura Bakufu had been , but in 1336 he left Kamakura in charge of his son Yoshiakira and went west in pursuit of Nitta Yoshisada. The Ashikaga then decided to permanently stay in Kyoto, making Kamakura instead the capital of the Kamakura-fu (or Kanto-fu ), a region including the provinces of Sagami, Musashi, Awa, Kazusa, Shimosa, Hitachi, Kozuke, Shimotsuke, Kai, and Izu, to which were later added Mutsu and Dewa, making it the equivalent to today’s Kanto, plus the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures.
Kamakura’s ruler was called Kanto kubo, a title equivalent to shogun assumed by Ashikaga Takauji’s son Motouji after his nomination to Kanto kanrei, or deputy shogun, in 1349.The kanto kubo era is essentially a struggle for the shogunate between the Kamakura and the Kyoto branches of the Ashikaga clan, because both believed they had a valid claim to power. In the end, Kamakura had to be retaken by force in 1454. The five kubo recorded by history, all of Motouji’s bloodline, were in order Motouji himself, Ujimitsu, Mitsukane, Mochiuji and Shigeuji. The last kubo had to escape to Koga, in today’s Ibaraki prefecture, and he and his descendants thereafter became known as the Koga kubo.
A long period of chaos and war followed the departure of the last Kanto kubo . Kamakura was heavily damaged in 1454 and almost completely burned during the Siege of Kamakura (1526). Many of its citizens moved to Odawara when it came to prominence as the home town of the Late Hojo clan. The final blow to the city was the decision taken in 1603 by the Tokugawa shoguns to move the capital to nearby Edo, the place now called Tokyo.
After the Meiji restoration Kamakura’s great cultural assets, its beach and the mystique that surrounded its name made it as popular as it is now, and for pretty much the same reasons. Many temples founded centuries ago have required restoration, and it is for this reason that Kamakura has just one National Treasure in the building category . Much of Kamakura’s heritage was for various reasons over the centuries first lost and later rebuilt.
Places Not To Miss:
The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amitabha Buddha located at the Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The bronze statue probably dates from 1252, in the Kamakura period, according to temple records. It is the second tallest bronze Buddha statue in Japan, surpassed only by the statue in Nara’s Todaiji Temple. That wooden statue was damaged by a storm in 1248, and the hall containing it was destroyed, so Joko suggested making another statue of bronze, and the huge amount of money necessary for this and for a new hall was raised for the project. The bronze image was probably cast by Ono Goroemon or Tanji Hisatomo, both leading casters of the time. At one time, the statue was gilded. There are still traces of gold leaf near the statue’s ears.
The temple buildings were destroyed multiple times by typhoons and a tidal wave in the 14th and 15th centuries. So, since 1495, the Buddha has been standing in the open air.
According to the description on the bronze plaque known as the Hokke Sesso-zu , which is enshrined at Hase-dera. The temple was first built in 686 and dedicated to Emperor Temmu, who was suffering from a disease. Later, in the year 727, the temple was expanded by order of Emperor Shomu and a statue of the eleven-faced Kannon was placed near the original temple that enshrined the bronze plaque. The temple has been burned down and rebuilt as many as ten times since the 10th century.
Hasedera is built along the slope of a wooded hill. The temple’s main buildings stand halfway up the slope on a terrace which allows for nice views of the coastal city of Kamakura. The temple entrance is located at the base of the slope. A pretty garden with ponds welcomes visitors as they enter the grounds. A small temple hall in the garden is dedicated to Benten (also known as Benzaiten), a goddess of feminine beauty and wealth. Sculptures of Benten and other gods can be found in a small cave (Benten-kutsu) next to the hall.
- Kamakura Hiking Trails:
Kamakura is surrounded by the ocean in the south and by wooded hills in all other directions. Attractive hiking trails lead through the woods along these hills and connect various atmospheric temples. They are a great way to travel between some of Kamakura’s sights. The Daibutsu Hiking Course connects Jochiji Temple in Kita-Kamakura with the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) in the west of the city. The Tenen Hiking Course connects Kenchoji Temple in Kita-Kamakura with Zuisenji Temple in the east of the city, leading mostly along the ridge of the hills. The Gionyama Hiking Course connects Myohonji Temple, Yagumo Shrine and the Harakiri Yagura, a cave tomb where the remains of the last Hojo regent are buried. The trails are not paved and are narrow and steep at times. It is recommended to explore them only during dry weather and with good walking shoes.
- Zeniarai Benten Shrine:
Zeniarai Benten, is a Shinto shrine in Kamakura, Kanagawa, Kanagawa prefecture, Japan. In spite of its small size, it is the second most popular spot in Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture after Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu. According to the sign at the entrance, Zeniarai Benzaiten was founded in 1185 (Bunji 1) after Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199), first of the Kamakura shoguns, on the day of the Snake in the month of the Snake dreamed of kami Ugafukujin. The kami told him that “In a valley to the northwest, there is a miraculous spring that gushes out of the rocks. Go there and worship (Shinto) kami and (Buddhist) hotoke, and peace will come to the country. I am the kami of this land, Ugakufujin.” Yoritomo reportedly found the spring and built a shrine for Ugafukujin, a kami whose symbol is a snake with a human head.
Zeniarai Benten Shrine is a popular shrine in western Kamakura, which people visit to wash their money (zeniarai means “coin washing”). It is said that money washed in the shrine’s spring, will double.
- Tsurugaoka Hachimangu:
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is Kamakura’s most important shrine. The shrine is at the geographical and cultural center of the city of Kamakura, which has largely grown around it and its 1.8 km approach. It is the venue of many of its most important festivals, and hosts two museums. The shrine is dedicated to Hachiman, the patron god of the Minamoto family and of the samurai in general. The deified spirits of the ancient Emperor Ojin who has been identified with Hachiman, Hime-gami and Empress Jingu are enshrined at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
Various events are held at the shrine throughout the year. During the New Year holidays, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is with over two million visitors one of the country’s most popular shrines for hatsumode (the year’s first visit to a shrine), and in mid April and mid September, horseback archery (yabusame) is performed along the main approach to the shrine.