There are many historical temples and shrines in Kamakura, a popular sightseeing spot with easy access from the city center. Here are some spots that are particularly recommended.
1. Hokokuji Temple
Formal name: Koshinzan Hokoku-ji Temple
Established in 1334, Zenshu-ji Hokokuji Temple is a cozy temple that sits right in the middle of the surrounding residential area. There are many highlights such as the flowers that occasionally show its beautiful form throughout the 4 seasons, the grounds covered in a green carpet-like moss, and the Japanese rock gardens. Something particularly recommended is the Bamboo Garden behind the main temple. About 2,000 bamboo shoot straight up to the heavens, swaying with a boisterous tone in the wind, with the suns soft rays spilling through from between the thickly grown bamboo leaves, it's a beautiful spectacle that will leave you lost for words. At the base of the bamboo garden there's a tea ceremony spot called "Kyukoan," so by all means, feel free to stop by! You can enjoy a moment of luxury while you sit staring out at the dignified bamboo thicket and drink the Japanese green tea.
Entrance fee to the Bamboo Garden: 200 JPY
2. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a popular spot representative of the Kamakura established by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura shogunate. With easy access from Kamakura Station, tourists come in great numbers from all over the world to visit it. The remarkably beautiful main shrine, decorated by brilliant scarlet and modest embossed carvings right at the top of its huge stone staircase, was reconstructed in 1828, and is designated as one of the countries important cultural assets. There are a lot of pigeons inside the grounds, but here they are protected and revered as messengers of the Hachiman deity. The character for eight in the "Hachimangu" hung on the two-storied gate at the main shrine, consists of two pigeons, so try and notice it while you're there.
Formal name: Daiizan Kotoku-in Shojosen-ji
The Great Buddha of Kamakura is Kamakura's only Buddhist statue national treasure, and a symbol of Kamakura. The temple that proudly has this great Buddha as it's principal object of worship is Kotoku-in. The 13.35m height and 121t weight really have an impact. In present day it sits outside in the open air, but in 1252, at the time of its founding, there was a special hall for it, along with being completely covered in a gold foil, making for a seemingly dazzling appearance. The angular features on the surface, comparatively large head for the body, and stooped appearance, were characteristic of the "Sung style" Buddhist statues popular in the 13th century, and it has great value as a representative Buddhist sculpture of the Kamakura period. Also, when compared to the later repaired enormous great Buddha in Nara, another important point is that it has mostly maintained its form from the mold used at the time. You can even go inside the Kamakura Great Buddha, so please go and see it for yourself! You can catch a glimpse of on part of the advanced art of the time.
4. Kenchoji Temple
Formal name: Kofuku-san Kencho Kokokuzen-ji
Kenchoji, established in 1253, was Japan's first genuine expert Zen dojo, and is a temple of extremely high social status, being ranked as the number 1 Zen (Rinzai sect of Buddhism) temple among the 5 in Kamakura showing the status of Buddhist temples. The building at the time of foundation, was lost to the repeated large earthquakes in Kamakura during 1293, however, the placement of the temple main gate, large triple gate, Buddhist temple, lecture hall, and monks chamber, were lined up in a straight like in Chinese fashion, conveying the vestiges of the time of foundation even now. These building, designated as the countries important cultural assets, were dismantled and re-constructed between the 17th and 19th centuries in various styles. Looking for, and studying those differences is also a lot of fun. It is also said that the pond garden behind the monk's chambers was created by Muso Soseki, the builder of Kyoto's Tenryu-ji Temple, so make sure you don't overlook it either!
5. Hasedera Temple
Formal name: Kaikozan Jishoin Hasedera
Hasedera Temple, lingering on the mountainside of Kannonyama, commanding a view of the ocean, it is an ancient temple, founded in 736. The grounds are colored with beautiful trees and flowers for every season that never die out throughout the year, which has led to it being called "Kamakura's Western Paradise. The magnificence of the hydrangeas inside are also famous, and every year, when the rainy season comes, it is visited by large amounts of tourists. You can enjoy the area around the viewing walk path, within which, using the incline of the inner grounds, there are around 40 different species, among over 2,500 hydrangea plants. Also, from the outlook on top of the hillside elevation, you can catch a view of the Shonan sea and the Kamakura streets, known as a prominent scenic spot of Kamakura. Please make the effort to go and see the beautiful scenery that Kamakura has to offer.
The simplicity and fortitude is a characteristic of the Kamakura temples and shrines. Please observe and enjoy the differences from places like Kyoto and Nara.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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