I Say "Kama," You Say "Kura"
Located about an hour away from the center of Tokyo, Kamakura is a popular daytrip for many urbanites looking for a reprieve in the bustling, crowded concrete jungle. Referred by some as a “mini Kyoto,” Kamakura is a city known for its traditional architecture, temples, and shrines. It boasts a long history, and a giant Buddha.
Although I had been to Kamakura once before with CIEE, I and two of my non-CIEE Japanese classmates had decided to go back to Kamakura as a part of our Japanese project. A few weeks of flippant assertions of “going to Kamakura sometime before the project is due,” we finally decided on a day and a time.
Fast forward (or in this case, backwards) to 9:00 am on May 22, and you’ll find me asleep on a train heading towards (Kita-)Kamakura. No, I did not miss my stop. It was a hot, sunny day, and I hated myself almost as much as I hated the mosquitos that flocked around me greedily.
Our first destination was Engaku-ji Temple It is known for being one of the most important Zen Buddhist temple complexes in Japan, but we primarily chose it based on mere convenience. It was less than a 5 minute stop from the station, and we paid the 300 yen entrance fee without much fuss, and found ourselves staring at a beautiful, spacious temple space that we didn’t quite have context for. This confusion was exacerbated by the hordes of elementary school children who had a field trip and/or assignment to speak to foreigners in English. Nonetheless, we managed to enjoy the temple between our brief Q&A sessions with 11 year olds, and the “Hello, how are you” greetings they offered (over, and over, and over again).
We next headed to Kencho-ji so we could access the Ten-en Hiking Course. Although there are several ways to get to the trail, we decided to enter through the temple, which means we unfortunately also had to pay an entrance fee. Of course, the temple itself is well worth a visit, but if you’re keen on saving money, there are several other routes that lead to the exact same trail.
The Ten-en Hiking Course itself is steep. There are many stairs. These stairs are not fun. This was the resolute conclusion my (admittedly inactive) friends and I came to a few minutes into our hike. The trail itself? Absolutely gorgeous. It isn’t a hard hike at all, and after a brief incline you’ll be taken into a forested mountain area (with a sight-seeing spot where Mt. Fuji is occasionally visible!) It takes about an hour to get through the trail the short and slow way, and an hour and a half if you efficiently take the longer path.
Our next stop was the Hokokuji Temple, which boasts a lovely bamboo forest. It costs 200 yen to get in, and the garden itself is a lovely little pocket of nature. I highly recommend visiting during the summer, as the bamboo helps to cool down the surrounding area, and provides a sense of relief in the hotter days.
We ended our very frantic, sweaty-trip with a few leisurely hours at the Kamakura shopping street and the beach. There are tons of delicious snacks and temptations at the street, so be sure to come hungry (and/or with a very eager separate dessert stomach). We grabbed some dango and some fuwa-fuwa (airy, light) fruit shaved ice, and headed to the beach for the sunset.
We were absolutely exhausted and I eagerly succumbed to sleep on my commute home.
I (again, somehow, luckily) did not miss my stop.