Epic Kamakura Day Hike

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The pink line is roughly what you’ll hike.

Looking for more nature, less temple-/shrine-hopping? Perhaps you’ve done the Kamakura Big Three (Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu, Kotoku-in and the Daibutsu, Hase Dera) so many times with visiting friends that your repeated entry fees alone would have been enough to pay for the Daibutsu’s recent freshening-up. Or maybe you just need an escape from the concrete jungle in which you live and all that goes with it. Whatever the case, you’ll be pleased to know that Kamakura has three longish hiking trails, which, with a little urban trekking thrown in, can be joined together into an epic day-long hike around the city through the Kamakura Alps (yes, the hills are actually referred to as the Kamakura Alps).

 

Daibutsu-Kuzuharaoka Trail
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Stone monument along the trail

The hike begins with the Daibutsu-Kuzuharaoka trail, connects with the Ten-en trail, adds the Asahina Kiridoshi trail (a short trail that can technically be left out, but why, oh why, would you leave it out?) and ends with the Kinubariyama trail. Finally, you’re left with the choice of walking back into the city or walking Zaimokuza and Yuigahama beaches right back to Hase Station where you began.

Technically you can start elsewhere, but I prefer to begin with the Daibutsu trail from the Hase trailhead, whose closest station is Hase Station on the Enoden Line. Follow the crowds down the street towards Kotoku-in and the Daibutsu, but keep walking along Prefectural Road 32 past the temple’s entrance. Just before you reach the tunnel through the hill, look to your right and head up the staircase. The trail has two offshoots (one to the left over the tunnel, and one heading straight up and over the hill — this is the short Daibutsu Kiridoshi hiking trail), but ignore these two options and keep right, following the trail into the forested hill.

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A small bamboo grove near the end of the trail

The first scramble up the hill is the hardest, and from there, it’s mostly smooth sailing, with a few quad-burning staircases and a small scramble or two along the way. There are a few places of note along the trail, the first being a side path to the left heading to Cafe Terrace Itsuki Garden, a terraced cafe (as the name suggests…) that many liken to Laputa, the floating city from the Ghibli movie Castle in the Sky. Expect long waits during hydrangea season, as the cafe has quite a nice collection of the flowers drawing guests in.

 

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Vermillion torii of Sasuke Inari

There’s also a side path heading to Sasuke Inari Shrine, a beautiful hillside spot generously peppered with tiny ceramic foxes and larger fox statues. The sando leading back towards town from the shrine runs under several dozen vermillion torii, and it’s up to you whether you walk down the sando and around to the left and up (very steeply) towards Zeniarai Benten before rejoining the trail by Kuzuharaoka Shrine, or double-back along the trail and continue on towards Kuzuharaoka Shrine on the dirt path. Those who choose to double-back rather than follow the road around will have another chance to visit Zeniarai Benten once the trail opens up by a park. Simply head down the stairs to your right, and go partway down the hill. Zeniarai Benten is accessed through a tunnel in the rock.

 

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Jochi-ji

To continue on to Kita-Kamakura, walk through the park (or head back up to the park if you took the side trip to Zeniarai Benten), following the signs to Kuzuharaoka Shrine. The shrine is a nice place to rest, as it sits beside a picnic area with low tables and chopped logs for chairs. The path continues to the right of the shrine, and in roughly 30 or 40 minutes, you’ll find yourself walking down a paved road beside Jochi-ji, one of Kamakura’s great Zen temples and one of the temples on the Kamakura Seven Gods of Fortune pilgrimage and the Kamakura Thirty-Three Kannon pilgrimage.

 

Ten'en Trail
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Ten’en trail

To connect to the next hiking trail, turn right onto the main road (Prefectural Road 21), and follow it until you reach Kencho-ji, the first of the great Zen temples of Kamakura. While there is another entrance to the Ten’en hiking trail from the Meigetsu-in area that won’t set you back a ¥300 temple entrance fee, the easiest entrance is found at the very back of Kencho-ji, up a wicked set of stairs, and at the back right corner of the temple’s hilltop shrine. (If you do want to save ¥300, here’s a video showing how to access the Meigetsu-in area trailhead from in front of Meigetsu-in, plus of the entire hike.)

Ten’en winds through the hills past Kakuon-ji (down a side trail) and then to Zuisen-ji, a temple roughly two kilometres northeast of Kamakura Station. Along the way, a plethora of yagura — burial caves carved into the rock — can be seen, in addition to impressive views.

Asahina Kiridoshi Trail
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Asahina Kiridoshi trail

Tired hikers can cut out at Zuisen-ji and walk city streets back to Kamakura Station. Those who wish to keep going should skip the Zuisen-ji exit and continue ahead along the much-less-travelled path until it ends at a small cluster of houses. Head down the road to your right, continuing in the same general direction (you might have to do a few detours) until you reach Prefectural Road 204 (Kanazawa Kaido), where you should turn left and follow the road until signs point you in the direction of the Asahina Kiridoshi Pass (sometimes spelled “Asaina”). This forested trail will lead you down one of Kamakura’s ancient roads, through one of its seven old entranceways, and all the way to the Yokohama City limits.

 

Kinubariyama Trail
Kinubariyama Mandarado yagura
Mandarado yagura

Double back along the trail, and trek down Prefectural Road 204 towards Kamakura until you come to a Japanese sign for Kinubariyama on the left side of the street (衣張山まで15分 — it’s under a bilingual sign for Hokoku-ji, and next to a motorcycle dealership). Follow the side road up through the houses until it dead-ends into the entrance to the Kinubariyama trail, which will take you up and around the eastern edges of Kamakura (keep an eye out for signs at forks in the road, and when all else fails, stick to the main trail). There are a few points of interest along (or close to) the Kinubariyama trail, including the Mandarado yagura, a group of tiered burial caves (open only occasionally but visible from the trail), and Osarubatake Okirigishi, a roughly 800m stretch of Kamakura rock that until recently was believed to be old fortifications but which turns out was just a spot where Kamakura rock was harvested.

 

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Zaimokuza and Yuigahama beach

The trail ends at Nagoe Kiridoshi Pass, another of the old entrances to Kamakura, and hikers can continue down into the Kotsubo area of Zushi, or double-back and head down a side trail into a different area of Kotsubo. Local buses pass through both neighbourhoods, though there might be a bit of a wait, and head to either Zushi Station or Kamakura Station (both on the Yokosuka Line), depending on the area. If you’re still good to go, though, head down through your chosen subdivision towards the ocean, and make your way to Zaimokuza and Yuigahama beach, where you can cool your feet off in the waves.

 

To truly complete your around-the-city hike, continue all the way to the other side of the beach, and head back into the city to find Hase Station.

Bring Sustenance

This hike takes six or seven hours at a good pace. Make sure to bring lots of liquids and snacks with you, although there are a few vending machines and the odd convenience store along the urban part of the way, including a perfectly placed Mini Stop on Prefectural Road 204 between the Asahina Kiridoshi Pass and the entrance to the Kinubariyama trail, to supplement what you’ve packed.

くis for Kuzuharaoka Jinja

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Kuzuharaoka Jinja (sometimes referred to as Kuzuharagaoka Shrine) owes its existence to the execution of Hino Toshimoto, a scholar famed for his poetry.

Hino, a court official loyal to Emperor Go-Daigo, was twice caught plotting to overthrow the Kamakura Shogunate. Though released the first time, he was found guilty and sentenced to death the second time. In June 1332 (the exact day varies depending on the source — in fact, the year does, too), Hino was executed where the shrine now stands.

Roughly 555 years later, Kuzuharaoka Shrine was established, with the spirit of Hino Toshimoto the object of worship.

The shrine sits mid-way along the Daibutsu-Kuzuharaoka hiking path that runs from Jochi-ji (Jochiji Temple) in Kita-Kamakura to the Hase area of Kamakura, near the Great Buddha of Kotoku-in (Kotoku Temple). It has a small water garden with fish, turtles and water irises, a spot to smash some little clay plates against a large stone (¥100 per plate), and a picnic area under tall trees. (Beware the crows!)

Though the shrine is not one of the main hydrangea-viewing shrines, it should be. The grounds are covered in hydrangea bushes, and during the rainy season (late May/early June to late June/early July), the shrine is covered in blossoms. The grounds also have quite a few cherry trees and bushes from the rhododendron family (whether azaleas or rhododendrons, I’m not sure — I never get it right).

The big draw at Kuzuharaoka Shrine is the enmusubi ishi, or marriage-/love-knot stone. The enshrined deity is Daikoku-sama, who in addition to being one of the Shichi Fukujin (Seven Gods of Fortune) is also known as a god of matchmaking. Not surprisingly, the ema or votive plaque at Kuzuharaoka is in the shape of a heart.

け is for Kencho-ji

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Temples in Kamakura always seem small and compact to me. Even if the grounds are large, there are hillsides and towering trees to make them seem not so. Not that I’m complaining, of course — I love Kamakura’s earthy little temples.

Kencho-ji, however, about 1km from Kita-Kamakura Station and 1.5km from Kamakura Station, is anything but small and compact. It’s open and sprawling — the largest in Kamakura, in fact. Its wide sando and grounds are airy and open, and it’s easy to see why it’s the first of Kamakura’s Five Great Zen Temples.

Founded in the mid-13th century, Kencho-ji is not a terribly old temple (for comparison, Kamakura’s oldest, Sugimoto Dera, was founded in 734 CE), though it does sit on the site of an older temple, Shinpei-ji. In ancient times, the valley in which Shinpei-ji (and now Kencho-ji) sits was known as Jigokugayatsu (or Jigokudani, depending on the source) — the Valley of Hell.*

With a name like that, it’s not terribly surprising that the valley was known for something a bit sinister. The beautiful cherry tree-filled grounds upon which you walk were once execution grounds.

To help the souls of the unfortunate, Shinpei-ji had as its primary object of worship the bodhisattva known in Japan as Jizo-sama. Jizo-sama protects those in danger and those who are lost, as well as those who fall down to hell. Nowadays, though, he’s perhaps best known as patron saint of travellers; expectant mothers; children; and babies, including those who die before or during birth. (Hasedera, in the Hase region of Kamakura, has an area dedicated to fetuses, babies and children, and the area is full of Jizo-sama.)

Kencho-ji continues the tradition of having Jizo-sama as its primary object of worship, and a large statue of Jizo-sama sits in the butsuden. In Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Iso Mutsu writes that Jizo-sama is

enthroned upon a mighty lotus; it is carved in wood, lacquered, and originally gilded, but the latter has almost entirely disappeared leaving the dark lacquer, which invests the great figure with a somber and forbidding appearance. (p. 110)

Jizo-sama sits under an impressive ceiling, so make sure to look up when you’re there.

Behind the butsuden is the hatto, where you’ll find Senju Kannon, or One-Thousand-Armed Kannon. The ceiling above Kannon-sama is also pretty amazing.

Beyond the hatto is the hojo, where zazen practice takes place. (A glowing review of a zazen session — yes, there are special sessions in English — can be found here.) Kencho-ji is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, so anyone with an interest in zazen should definitely try to fit in a session. Behind the hall is a garden — a National Scenic Spot, and benches upon which to relax and enjoy the view.

The road to the left of the hojo leads towards Hansobo Shrine and Shojoken Observation Deck, located at the top of the hills behind Kencho-ji. The walk up involves a lot of stairs, but the view will distract you from your burning quadriceps: after the first set of steps, the remaining hill is studded with tengu, a supernatural creature often depicted with a very long nose. Most of the tengu at Kencho-ji, though, are a bit different — they’re beaked. These raven or crow tengu (Jisho.org calls them “crow-billed goblins”) are an older tengu, more animal than the more common red-faced, long-nosed tengu. They stand guard on the hill, wings on backs, weapons (kendo shinai swords?) in hands. (For more info on tengu, check out Tofugu.com‘s post on the demon/spirits.)

At the top of the hill is Shojoken Observation Deck, where on a clear day, Mt. Fuji is visible. If you hope to see the mountain, it’s best to visit in late fall or winter, as once the temperature rises in spring, Mt. Fuji disappears into a haze that lasts until late fall, bar a few clear early mornings.

The Ten-en hiking course runs past Kencho-ji, with a path leading to it to the right of Hansobo Shrine. It’s a fantastic course — about two or three hours, not too challenging but also not too easy, and runs to Kakuon-ji (shorter hike) or Zuisen-ji (longer hike), both much smaller but still fantastic temples.

*You’ll also find Jigokugayatsu/Jigokudani translated as Hell’s Valley and Hell’s Hollow.