When going to Tokyo going to Kamakura is a good alternative in case you do not have enough time to visit Kyoto, but its still worth it even if you have that time.
The most famous sight is the Daibutsu - Great Buddha statue. But more of that later. Kamakura, a former capital of Japan, is a city full of old temples and shrines. I will describe the highlights, which are managable in a day.
When arriving from Tokyo it is convenient to get off at Kita-Kamakura station. After walking a little bit south you will find the Engakuji Temple (entrance 200 ¥), that hosts two National Treasures, a tooth of Buddha and a large bell casted in bronze. Whereas the builing hosting the tooth is the oldest Zen-building in Japan.
From there follow the train line south-east and after a short walk you will arrive at Kenchôji Temple (200 ¥). It has a elaborate gate as well as other fine temples and its grounds stretch far into the mountains behind it. Peculiar are probably the strange statues of Samurai that look like ducks found at the steps to the hillside.
Then if you go further south-east you will find the Tsurugaoka-Hachimangû shrine, the most important shrine in Kamakura, with nice views of the town as well as the sea. This shrine has lots of history and close-by is the grave of Minamoto Yoritomo, one of the most important shoguns in Japanese history.
From here follow the avenue of cherry trees to the main station where you take a Enoden train to Hase station. Hase-dera temple close to the station has a terraces with gardens and temples as well as nice views of the bay. More famous are the thousand of statues dedicated to aborted children. As lots of signs show you the way it won't be a big hassle to find Kôtokuin with the famous Amita Buddha.
For ending your trip take the Enoden Line again to Enoshima a cosy little islet.
For more information look at my upcoming Kamakura page
If you are looking for a pleasant day trip that simple to pull off, you might consider taking a train to the town of Kamakura. Kamakura is on the coast about 1 hour from Tokyo (leaving from Shibuya station). Kamakura has a feel of an older Japan, with it's many shrines and temples. The biggest attraction is probably the Great Buddha. Apparently the second largest in Japan.
There is also some nice shopping on the main street (right outside the station, and through the torii. I found some unique handbags there as well as some incredible pastries. Make sure you stop at some of the street-side cooks for some fresh made snacks.
The cost was about 890 yen from Shibuya to Kamakura Station
This is one of the most renowned attractions of Kamakura. We took a train to Hase Station, and walked about 5-10 minutes. This statue is a national treasure, and it was constructed in 1252. It originally was housed inside a building (which was later washed away by a tsunami at the end of the 15th century), and since then, this statue has remained outdoor.
The statue is 13.4 m tall (including its pedestal), height of the cast is 11.3 m and it weighs approximately 121 tons.
To visit the interior of the statue, there is an admission fee of 20 Yen. Admission ticket to see this statue costs 200 Yen per person.
less than an hour south of tokyo is the coastal town of kamakura, home to japan's second largest buddha statue, the daibutsu. the bronze statue, with a height of 13.35 meters, can really make a great impact to visitors. it used be inside a large temple hall but a tsunami in the late 15th century washed away all the buildings. the great buddha remained. surrounding the buddha are various stores selling buddhist items as well as souvenirs. it's a must-visit when in japan.
Considering most ancient temple and shrines within Tokyo have been destroyed from earthquakes and WWII, the area of Kamakura has alot to offer within an hour from Tokyo station. Agreat day trip and opportunity to shop in the town of Kamakura. There are many temples and shrines however the most famous are the Great Buddha , Hase Kannon Temple and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Day trip to Kamakura (about an hour south of Tokyo station)
As most guide books rightly say, Kamakura is the most rewarding cultural day trip from Tokyo, without question. It's a smallish city on the coast noted in the annals of history as the capital of Japan from 1185 to 1333, hence the name of Japan's first samurai era, the Kamakura period. This is where it all started.
Kamakura is noted for its many temples and shrines (there are literally dozens of magnificent and well-situated shrines and temples), but most come to pay homage to the Great Buddha (or Daibutsu). I went to Kamakura the first time because of its religious and architectural importance, but I came back (and keep going back) because of the incomparable natural beauty of the area.
This traveler suggests getting off the train at Kita-Kamakura (i.e. north Kamakura), which is one stop before the main station. Apart from the many splendid temples buried in refreshing sylvan glades, Kita-Kamakura is great because there is a path you can catch here that leads you through some spectacular scenery and deposits you at the foot of the Great Buddha (nearly), in central Kamakura (hiking/walking time between 40min and 1hr 30min). If you opt for the walking tour through the lush hills, make sure to wear appropriate footwear and take the obvious along with you, i.e., water, rain slick, etc.
There is a small pedestrian friendly road that extends radially from the east side of Kamakura train station that is lined with interesting and cozy shops, mostly of the antique and arts and crafts variety. If you follow this road to the end you'll find yourself at the footsteps of the main shrine of Kamakura, Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu (although, the stairs you come to are actually at the back of the shrine...but not to worry). I suggest you climb the steep steps to this shrine, turn around and gaze out over the tree-covered environs and then breath deeply…the majesty of the place will consume you!
Most importantly, however, your day trip to idyllic Kamakura should include an hour or two of simple, aimless wandering: many streets are edged by rows of towering cherry and Linden trees, among many other varieties...and the lush green hills that seem to surround you are heavenly. Kamakura is my favorite place in Japan, rivaling in my mind even Kyoto and Nikko!
This one took me a long time to find because I got off at the wrong station, get off at Kamakura if you are taking the train, nothing with the an extension to the name, just KAMAKURA! :)
Anyway, this was quite something to see, a very old Buddah statue which has been sitting for hundreds of years in this spot has lost part of its structure but the main body remains fully intact. There is even a small area to go inside if you are interested. This is mostly for history people, if you have no interest in seeing a statue this isn't really worth it to you!
Although it's not right in the city, the historic town of Kamakura isn't far away and is easily accessible via the express trains (even easier if you have a JR pass). The day I spent in Kamakura was the highlight of my trip, and I would recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area.
Although overrun with tourists, Kamakura manages to keep a lot of its charm. It's a town with a lot of historical and cultural importance, as it was for a brief period Japan's capital and contains several famous religious sites (including Daibutsu, the largest outdoor statue of Buddha in Japan). And with its location in the hills, Kamakura offers a lot of natural beauty as well.
If you are in Tokyo it worths to make a day trip to Kamakura and visit its temples. Don't miss the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), completed in 1252. It is possible to get inside and at its right, near the wall, there are its big slippers!
This Zen temple was named after Engaku-Kyo (The Sutra on Perfect Enlightenment), and was built in 1282. Admission costs 300 Yen for each person. The entire building premises are designated as a national historic site.
It is believed that its Sanmon Gate frees one of various obsessions and brings about enlightenment, and visitors should pass under this gate with a pure mind.
This is the famous Sanmon Gate of the Engakuji Shrine, which is often mentioned in Japanese literature. The Gate represents the three gates to emancipation, with san meaning 'three'.
This gate was rebuilt around 1783, is two-storied and has a roof covered with copper.
This pond (Myokochi Pond) is designated as a 'Place of Scenic Beauty' by the government. On the bank beyond the pond is the Kotogan Rock, which translates in the 'Tiger Head Rock'. When we were there, we saw a crane in the pond, looking at its own reflection.
There are many reasons why I love this temple - it has beautiful Japanese gardens; there's a cave; a nice tea house; a museum, a viewpoint of the coast of Kamakura; rows of jizos; and a magnificent wooden statue of the boddhisattva kannon with eleven heads. Indeed, there's so much to see in this one place alone. And this is why it's worth the visit.
The Hase Temple is houses the statue of Buddhist god/goddess of mercy, Kannon. At 9.18 meters, it is said to be the largest wooden sculpture in Japan.
Hachiman, the war god and god of the samurais is honored at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine. This site has been moved here in 1180 by Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder and first shogun of the Kamakura government.
It is said that the shrine is host to various events, including the Yabusame, horseback archery, in April and September. I defnitely got a different feel of the place as we visited it on a rainy night, with just one or two local worshippers there.
Kamakura's a little bit of a train ride from Tokyo. About hour and a half, but its comfortable and straight. This is home to the famous Daibatsyu. This huge hollow statue is extremely impressive and always crowded. Buy some incense and you can remember the atmospher forever. Take the bus through the neighborhood and make friends with the friendly school children. It is so safe that 2nd graders followed us around taking the bus and pointing out new things to see.