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!