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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
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
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
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