A Day Trip to Kamakura

A Day Trip to Kamakura

The weather in Tokyo lately has been deliciously crisp and cool, so we decided to take advantage of fall's clearer skies with a day trip down to Kamakura. Located about an hour south of Tokyo, Kamakura is a small city perched on the coastal side of Japan's Kanagawa prefecture. As a former capital of Japan (during the samurai days) with scenic wooded mountains and dozens of beautiful temples and shrines, Kamakura is considered by many to be the "Kyoto" of Eastern Japan. In warmer months, Tokyoites seeking respite from the concrete jungle flock to Kamakura for its sandy beaches.

There are many trails covering the hills that border Kamakura, and hiking them is a great means to visiting the area's attractions. One of my favorite things about Japan is that so many of its hiking trails lead to gorgeous mountain temples. Trekking them is such a spiritual experience. I always know that we've reached our destination when my nose is greeted by the soothing scent of burning incense as it wafts through the air. I don't think I'll ever tire of that smell. Incense smoke is believed to have healing powers, so temple visitors will light up a stick, place it in a large burner and then fan the smoke over themselves.

On our trip we decided to tackle the Ten-en hiking course, which takes you through the northern hills of Kamakura, connecting Kencho-ji Temple in Kita-Kamakura with Zuisen-ji Temple in eastern Kamakura. We began at Kencho-ji, the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura and the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. The temple grounds extend far back into the forested hills, where a small shrine, Hanso-bo, is positioned to overlook and protect Kencho-ji. This is where you pick up the Ten-en hiking trail - it's a relatively easy ridgeline course that takes about an hour and a half to complete. Along the way you'll encounter numerous yagura (tomb caves) and there are fantastic lookout points from which you can enjoy ocean views and (fingers crossed!) spot Mount Fuji.

We had a late start to the day and spent quite a while visiting Kencho-ji, so by the time we finished the hiking trail and reached Zuisen-ji, the sun was setting and it was closing time. Although I was a little disappointed to not complete the course, our tardiness proved fortuitous as we were treated to a stunning golden hour in the forest. Scroll on for photos from our visit!

 A street vendor grilling an  osenbei  (rice cracker).

A street vendor grilling an osenbei (rice cracker).

 Savory  osenbei  hot off the grill.

Savory osenbei hot off the grill.

 Passing through  Sanmon,   the Main Gate at Kencho-ji.

Passing through Sanmon, the Main Gate at Kencho-ji.

 A large incense burner in front of Butsuden   (Buddha Hall) .

A large incense burner in front of Butsuden (Buddha Hall).

  Osenko  (incense).

Osenko (incense).

 The Hatto (Dharma Hall), the largest wooden temple building in eastern Japan.

The Hatto (Dharma Hall), the largest wooden temple building in eastern Japan.

 The golden Karamon (Chinese Gate).

The golden Karamon (Chinese Gate).

 The view from the Hojo (Main Hall).

The view from the Hojo (Main Hall).

 Ground cover along the path to Hanso-bo, the protecting shrine of Kencho-ji.

Ground cover along the path to Hanso-bo, the protecting shrine of Kencho-ji.

 The Torii gate-covered path to Hans-bo.

The Torii gate-covered path to Hans-bo.

 Japanese Maples awash with color.

Japanese Maples awash with color.

 The elusive snow-capped Fuji-san.

The elusive snow-capped Fuji-san.

 The winged Tengu - a Shinto god - outside Hans-bo.

The winged Tengu - a Shinto god - outside Hans-bo.

 A rope with which to sound the gong and get the  kami's  (Shinto god's) attention at Hans-bo.

A rope with which to sound the gong and get the kami's (Shinto god's) attention at Hans-bo.

 Looking down on Kamakura.

Looking down on Kamakura.

 Beautifully tangled tree roots underfoot.

Beautifully tangled tree roots underfoot.

 Wild bamboo grass.

Wild bamboo grass.

  Yagura  (tomb caves).

Yagura (tomb caves).

 Peeking inside the tomb caves.

Peeking inside the tomb caves.

 A stairway created by nature.

A stairway created by nature.

   Susuki  (pampas grass) - an indicator that autumn has arrived in Japan.

Susuki (pampas grass) - an indicator that autumn has arrived in Japan.

 Forget my Jeep - I want a Wild Wind.

Forget my Jeep - I want a Wild Wind.

 Forest food offerings.

Forest food offerings.

 The beginnings of an epic golden hour...

The beginnings of an epic golden hour...

 A happy hiker with vending machine (hot!) tea in hand.

A happy hiker with vending machine (hot!) tea in hand.

 Last light in the woods.

Last light in the woods.

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