Day Tripping From Tokyo

Leaving the modern metropolis for a piece of the past

By: Mark Edward Harris

I love Tokyo: I consider it a must destination for any world traveler. But clients who come to this modern city and don’t venture out for a taste of “old” Japan miss out on a slice of history. While a visit to the capital’s Asakusa District can offer an indication of the past, an excursion to the seaside town of Kamakura is, without a doubt, the best day trip into Japan’s past.

The country’s capital from 1185-1333, Kamakura is home to 19 Shinto shrines, 65 Buddhist temples including the Sugimoto-dera Temple dating back to 734 and one huge bronze Buddha, all within walking distance of each other.

In Tokyo, I based myself at the five-star Grand Hyatt in Roppongi Hills, a new development that also houses restaurants, high-end shops, condos, cinemas and the world’s highest museum atop Mori Tower.

From Tokyo, the best way to get to Kamakura is via rail. At the Tokyo Central Station, the Yokosuka Line will have clients in Kamakura in under an hour for a fare of about $8. Reserved seating in the green cars is available for an additional fee.

We got off in Kamakura to explore the Engaku-ji Temple but first crossed the tracks to try udon noodles at the Yamamoto Restaurant. The English menu suggested that the tori udon (chicken on udon noodles) is a “foreigner favorite,” and the first of many efforts by Kamakura’s residents to welcome visitors.

Moving a little slower after a great lunch, we entered the Engaku-ji Temple grounds. Here, clients may be surprised to encounter an archery practice area. Besides the practical uses of archery in feudal Japan, this martial art has long been used as a means to study Zen. A mausoleum that serves tea is among the buildings in the temple complex. Nobel Prize-winning author Kawabata Yasunari used this location as a setting for his novel “Senbazuru” (Thousand Cranes).

From the Engaku-ji, we continued on foot to the Hachiman-gu Shrine, dating back to 1191. In addition to the shrines, two beautiful lotus ponds decorate the grounds.

A walk from Engaku-ji through the heart of Kamakura, the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) gives visitors the opportunity to bring part of Japan’s history home. The shops along Wakamiya-oji, Kamakura’s main street, sell everything from kimonos and woodblock prints to swords and tea sets.

Finally, we came face to face with the Great Buddha or at least his likeness. The 44-foot-tall bronze statue was cast in 1252 and survived the 1495 tsunami and the 1923 Kanto Earthquake to remain Kamakura’s enduring iconic symbol. (From the Great Buddha it’s a short walk to Kamakura Station for the train back to Tokyo.)

Because of its moderate weather, Kamakura is a popular year-round destination. Yet, different seasons yield special rewards spring brings out the flowers, fall the foliage and in mid-September, the town hosts the Hachiman-gu Festival featuring equestrian archery contests.

Kamakura is also preparing to apply to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to become a World Heritage Site. Those who have already visited the town likely know that it deserves a place on that list.


Grand Hyatt Tokyo

Japan National Tourist Organization