While you could spend a third day — and even a fourth and a fifth — visiting more attractions and soaking up the atmosphere of Tokyo's diverse neighborhoods, visitors with limited time in Japan and confined to the Tokyo area should consider a day trip to the nearby town of Kamakura, located an hour south of Tokyo by train. One of Japan's most important historical sites, Kamakura served as Japan's first feudal capital when the ruling shogun set up military headquarters here in 1192. Many noteworthy temples and shrines of the Kamakura Shogunate (1192–1333) remain, including one of Japan's most celebrated bronze Buddhas.
Start: JR Yokosuka Line from Shinagawa or Tokyo Station to Kamakura Station.
1. Komachi Dori
After exiting Kamakura Station, walk catty-corner to the left across the square to Kamakura's main shopping street, a narrow pedestrian lane lined with shops selling clothing, accessories, and other goods. It's always bustling with shoppers, giving it a fun, lively atmosphere. At the end of the street, to the right, is the entrance to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.
2. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
It's just a 10-minute walk from Kamakura Station, but this vermilion-colored shrine, built by Japan's first shogun, Yoritomo Minamoto, is a millennium away from Kamakura's modern center in age. The shrine itself, providing a sweeping view of a grand processional leading straight to the sea, contains a small collection of ancient swords, suits of armor, and other items relating to Yoritomo's rule. A counter sells individual fortunes, as well as good-luck charms that ensure good health, a long life, success in business, and other endeavors.
3. Wakamiya Oji
The wide processional that runs from Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine 1.8km (about 1 mile) to Yuigahama Beach is called Wakamiya Oji. Marked by three massive torii gates, it was once more than three times wider at its far end near the sea, an optical illusion that reportedly made the lane appear longer than it actually was. In the middle of the lane is an elevated median with a footpath flanked by cherry trees and azaleas. Lining the street are restaurants, cafes, and souvenir stores offering Kamakura-bori (a locally made lacquerware), pottery, and other crafts, making it good for a stroll back to Kamakura Station.
Take the old-fashioned JR Enoden Line from Kamakura Station to Hase Station.
4. Hase Kannon Temple
The founding of this Buddhist temple, on a hill with views of the sea, is shrouded in myth. In A.D. 721, a priest supposedly carved two statues of the 11-headed goddess of mercy from a single camphor trunk. One of the statues was enshrined in a temple near Nara (another ancient capital), while the other was thrown into the sea. It turned up in Hase 16 years later, prompting the construction of this temple. More than 9m (30 ft.) high, the gilded statue is the tallest wooden image in Japan. On the stairway to the temple are hundreds of likenesses of Jizo, the guardian deity of children, donated by those grieving over miscarried, stillborn, or aborted children.
5. Take a break
Sit with a drink and enjoy the sweeping views toward the sea on the small open-air pavilion. Next to the pavilion is a restaurant, Kaikoan, serving noodles, other simple fare, and drinks.
6. Great Buddha
This is Kamakura's top attraction, and with good reason. Measuring 11m (36 ft.) high and weighing 93 tons, it was cast in 1252 and was once enclosed in a huge hall washed away by a tidal wave. Set against a dramatic background of rising wooded hills, it ranks second in size after Japan's tallest bronze Buddha in Nara, but this one with its outdoor setting is much more impressive.
There's no finer conclusion to a trip to Kamakura than a meal at this traditional restaurant, situated among rolling hills on the outskirts of the city. You can dine on inexpensive noodles and obento lunchboxes or splurge on kaiseki. In any case, be sure to wander the verdant grounds of the restaurant after your meal. Located at Takasago (tel. 0467/32-5656).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.