It’s said that one of the best ways to do Kamakura is to start in Kita-Kamakura. I arrived in Kita-Kamakura, took in just three temples, and reached the most famous Kamakura shine — Tsurugaoka Hachimaguu — just before dusk. It should be pointed out that these “temples” are not the small buildings you might find in a Tokyo neighbourhood, but sprawling estates filled with buildings. One even had a two hour hiking course.
My three temples were Engakuji (円覚寺), Meigetsuin (明月院) and Kenchoji (also Kenchouji – 建長寺). All cost 300 yen to enter and all are famous for flowers not completely in bloom right now, hence the low number of people in the photographs. Tourism in Japan is sensitive to seasonal changes, so when visiting you should consider whether you want to see a location at its best or if you’d prefer fewer people around.
The grounds of Engakuji are famous for a large bell, which is also a national treasure. It can be found at the top of a large flight of stone steps. It was here that I saw a wild squirrel. As a Brit, I grew up with squirrels; they’re in your garden, in the parks, everywhere. People have to buy squirrel-resistant bird feeders because — in Britain — it’s fairly probable you’ll see a squirrel.
I hadn’t seen a squirrel in Japan in the five years I’ve lived here. This was very exciting for me.
Meigetsuin was my second temple. It contains one of the Ten Wells of Kamakura and a cloudy white-green stream runs through it. You can walk across it on an amazing-looking bridge which I’m sure will look even more awesome when the trees aren’t bare. It’s famous for hydrangea too, which aren’t due to bloom for a while yet, either. I did see some fantastic wintersweet, which flowers at Chinese New Year.
Finally, the temple seems to have a rabbit motif going, which I initially assumed was because the temple’s name is linked to the moon. However, the brochure I was given upon entering makes no mention of it and instead touts the grave of Hojo Tokiyori as its main point of interest.
My final temple in Kita-Kamakura was Kenchouji, another Zen temple, this one so big that it even has room for a shrine from a different religion. This is the Hansoubou, a Shinto shrine which is surrounded by tengu. I’m a big fan of tengu, ever since I first saw them at Mt. Takao in Tokyo.
Around one of the smaller temples, something strange fluttered in front of me, like a ghost. When I looked closer, it turned out to be a small brown and yellow bird. After a short investigation, I believe it was a Yellow-Breasted Bunting, which is actually listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species. Lucky me.
I arrived in Kamakura just before twilight and headed for Tsurugaoka Hachimangu as I sensed I didn’t have much time before nightfall. The was a wedding going on and I also saw this beautiful grey heron atop a pine tree before heading home.