Kamakura is an hour south of Tokyo by train. Geographically it is surrounded by mountains on three sides and Sagami Bay to the south. It is a natural fortress, which is one of the reasons why Kamakura became the seat of the first military/samurai system of government in Japan. Appointed shogun in 1192 by the imperial court in Kyoto, Minamoto no Yoritomo established the first shogunate, which lasted until 1333. These years are also known historically as the Kamakura Period. Zen Buddhism was embraced by the samurai warriors because it was tough-minded and disciplined, so many temples and shrines were built during this era. Today, Kamakura is considered to be the little Kyoto of eastern Japan.
In 2016, Kamakura had the distinct honor of being designated a Japan Heritage Site. New construction in town often includes extensive archeological excavations prior to building. Kamakura is rich with history. Around every corner there is a stone marker indicating that something of significance happened upon that spot. Today it’s the perfect getaway from Tokyo. There are no tall buildings, it’s walkable, casual, pet friendly, and the locals are creative and warm-hearted. There is a thriving arts community that includes everything from wood carving to theater. There are lively festivals and cozy little cafes from which to watch the trains go by or the sunset over the ocean.
Kamakura has dozens of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and other interesting sights to see. A word most frequently used to describe this town is “Kawaii!” - the Japanese word for “quaint”. Wherever you turn, there are cute little shops and restaurants, but many more hidden away down the endless footpaths (“neko michi” literally means cat walks) that weave their way throughout the town connecting one neighborhood to another. It is this more local view of Kamakura that we will focus on in the website, but we will try to cover everything. Most visitors will likely concentrate on the handful of most popular sights to see in Kamakura, because that’s about all you can do in one day. However, there is so much more to experience and we highly encourage you to stay longer and explore all of it.
Weather & Seasons
Kamakura experiences all four seasons. We may also receive the occasional typhoon between March and November, so be sure to watch the weather forecasts.
The springtime is pleasant, mostly dry and sunny. Bring long sleeves and rain gear just in case. Cherry blossom season is in early April. May is wonderful in that it never gets too hot or humid. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that summer is around the corner. In June, the weather takes a detour. This is the rainy month here. Downfalls can be torrential and the temperatures can be cool. June is also the best time to see the countless varieties of hydrangeas, for which Kamakura is famous.
Summer is like nothing we have ever experienced, and we came from the humid swamp of Washington, DC!
July and August are oppressively hot and humid. However, with the ocean breezes, Kamakura stays cooler than Tokyo. The thermometer will often show temperatures above 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees fahrenheit), but the heat index can be significantly higher. Come with sunscreen, appropriate sun gear, and stay hydrated.
The fall is beautiful. Long pants and a light jacket may be needed between September and December. The temples and shrines are filled with old trees. The peak change in colors occur from mid to late November. We will highlight where to see some of the best fall foliage in our blog.
Winter is cold, wet, and windy from December until March. Occasionally, we will see snow. The upside is that the tourist crowds are gone and the winter air is clear, so it is the best time of the year to view Mt. Fuji from Zaimokuza beach.
Earthquakes and Tsunami
In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake and tsunami that followed devastated Kamakura. Scientists warn that there is a 70% chance of another large earthquake striking this area within the next 30 years. We hope they are wrong. As frightening as it is, it’s part of life here in Japan, so you should be aware of your surroundings and evacuation routes. Most of the earthquakes we have are minor and would never trigger a tsunami. If a large earthquake hits, sirens will alert people to run for higher ground. The officials tell us that we will have only 8 minutes to evacuate low-lying areas. Signs on electrical poles, road surfaces, and sidewalks indicate your elevation above sea level and the direction in which you need to run for safety.
Transportation within Kamakura
At the east exit of the Kamakura Train Station is a visitor’s center where maps and transit details can be found. In general, Kamakura is a small town with many options. If you stay on foot, you can walk from one side of town to the other in about 40 minutes. On both sides of the train station, you can find taxis as well as the more traditional form of transportation: rickshaws. The rickshaw boys are friendly and informative. Many people rent kimonos, hire a rickshaw, and are transported back in time. Several drivers speak English, so it may be prudent to go online and reserve ahead of time to guarantee one who speaks your language. Rickshaws can accommodate up to two adults. A child under 6 years of age can ride for free. We have listed their contact information under the Resources section. The east side of the station is also a starting point for all of the local buses. If you want to rent a bike, there are many rental shops near the train station. We have listed several under the Resources section. Finally, the Enoshima Electric Railway, or Enoden, which is a tourist site in itself, starts from the west side of the Kamakura Station and leaves about every 12 minutes.