Visiting the Great Buddha of Kamakura with Kids
One of our planned day trips during our Tokyo trip was to visit the Great Buddha of Kamakura and its nearby temples. We bought the Kamakura Free Pass at the Odakyu sightseeing center located on the West exit of the Shinjuku station. It turned out to be a money and time saver when making this trip. The adult tickets were 1430 Yen (about $18 at that time) and kids’ ticket price were 720 Yen and was valid for 1 day. Our 5 year old was able to travel for free.
The staff spoke English and answered all our questions. It was really helpful to get the time table for the Odakyu trains to know when the trains were returning to Shinjuku. Be sure to get the Express ones to minimize the train stops and travel time.
Tokyo to Kamakura Train Travel
We boarded the Odakyu train near the ticket center at around 8 AM from Shinjuku to Fujisawa for about an hour. Once we got to Fujisawa, we followed the instructions from our Kamakura free pass brochure. We crossed a bridge to the Odakyu department store and just followed the signs to the Enoden line Fujisawa station. This was a local, cable car and smaller green train that ran a little bit slower but would take us to the Kamakura sights.
The 30 minute ride through the beachside city of Enoshima was stunning with views of the Pacific Ocean. Too bad we didn’t have enough time to visit this beach town. The Enoden line went through the town and at times was between two houses which got pretty narrow on some areas. It must be a bit strange to live on some of those houses and look out your kitchen window and see a slow moving train a couple of feet away.
We took it all the way to Hase station for 30 minutes. We followed some signs and a few elderly Japanese women to the Great Buddha on what seemed to be the major street in town. It was a bit cooler than Tokyo since there was a slight ocean breeze but still hot and humid. The street was lined with restaurants and some souvenir stores.
The Great Buddha of Kamakura
It was about a 10 minute walk along narrow sidewalks to the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Admission was 200Yen(about $2.50) and 100 yen for children ages 6- 12 while ages 5 and under were free. Our tickets looked like little bookmarks which were pretty neat.
Near the ticket entrance was a cleansing station for visitors to purify themselves before approaching the Buddha. We had learned what to do from an earlier visit to a couple of other temples and watching the worshippers wash their hands and many foregoing the mouth washing part.
The imposing bronze statue of the Amita-Buddha greeted us as we rounded the corner. The Great Buddha of Kamakura or Daibatsu was very impressive at almost 44 feet and weighing 121 tons. The grounds weren’t very crowded when we got there.
There was a group of children on a field trip all wearing yellow hats that caught my kids’ interest. We’ve seen some of the school children on the trains in white hats so I guess they have yellow hats for field trips. We watched them with their little activity sheets and a photographer was following them around as they posed with the Buddha.
We went inside the Buddha for 20 Yen and admission was through a little shack next to the statue. It was hollow inside with a narrow staircase and an explanation of how the Buddha was constructed. Apparently, the statue was cast in 30 separate stages due to its size. It was pretty interesting that this structure had survived a tidal wave and earthquake since it was cast in 1252 A.D.
We also explored the back area where there were some rocks for sitting and shade. This was a pretty popular place for the kids on fieldtrips to gather and eat. There were some vending machines and another store that sold souvenirs which only accepted cash around here too. The restrooms were around this area and were pretty clean. They were western style and a disappointment to my daughter who had gotten used to having bidets and push button toilet controls in the ones she’s encountered so far.
For our Kamakura souvenirs, we stopped by a store right outside of the gate which had a lot of the Great Buddha and Japanese craft items. My main objective here was to buy a geisha doll since I buy native dolls from every country I go to. After choosing the one I wanted, the older lady disappeared with the doll for about 5 minutes and came back with the box perfectly wrapped in a beautiful paper. How can I even attempt to open this now when I get home? I had forgotten how the Japanese painstakingly love the art of presentation. One of the things I love about shopping in Japan.
Visiting Hasedera Temple of Kamakura
Satisfied with our shopping, we headed back down the street towards Hasedera Temple or Hase Kannon which was another main attraction. You will pass this attraction before the Great Buddha. It was on a side street with more restaurants and souvenirs. Admission was 300 Yen and 100 yen for kids 6 and up. We got a postcard holder for showing our Kamakura day pass.
There was a peaceful garden with a koi pond by the entrance. It was simple yet serene and one I wished my backyard would look like someday.
We passed by another cleansing station where the kids were excited to do another “washing”. I wish they’d get this excited about washing their hands before and after eating. We climbed the staircase to a landing area with the small Jizo-do Hall. Jizo statues, which looked like little children surrounded by many flower offerings, lined the hillsides around the hall. Jizo stone statues are supposed to comfort the souls of dead children and the offerings are made by parents who have lost them.
The main attraction here through was the group of shrines and temples. The biggest of them is the Kannon-do hall which held Hase Kannon – the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy who stood at 30 ft tall and had 11 heads plus its main one. She was truly very impressive. From their little guide book – “Each face has a different expression, signifying that the deity listens to the wishes of all types of people.’
Towards the back of the walkway was a platform that had a lookout to Sagami Bay which was quite scenic. There were vending machines, seating areas, picnic tables and a vendor selling yakitori. There was also a misting machine by the picnic tables which was such a welcome relief. There was a restaurant called Kaikoan next to the viewing platform and had some great views but was a little pricey so we passed on it.
This was a wonderful place to walk around with many gardens, statues and benches to admire this park-like setting. There was a pathway and stairs behind the temples lined with beautiful hydrangea blooms and little pagodas and statues. It was a bit of a hike in the heat but well worth it. It was way cooler on the staircase and we were rewarded with better views of the town, the ocean and the temple area.
Our last stop was near the left side of the entrance which was another water garden, pond and the cave. Caves are magnets for exploring with kids. The Benten-kutsu cave was a small one but definitely worth a visit. This was where Benzaiten, the sea goddess and 16 children statues were chiseled out of rocks. There was a section where the ceiling was pretty low and a path leading to a side area with little statues that almost looked like chess pieces. I wish I knew what they stood for and there were so many of them and some were propped in different rock crevices. There were some wet areas so this was not a good place for little kids to be left alone.
We walked back to the Hase station and stopped by a 100 yen store next to it for water and snacks. We love these stores, which are the equivalent of dollar stores here in the US, because water was generally cheaper and bigger than the vending machines around town. We lost count on how much water we all drank that day due to the heat. These stores also sold great snacks and some unique items only sold in Japan. This was where we picked up a couple of Hello Kitty Rubik’s cube that made train rides go a bit quicker for them.
Again, we followed our trusted guide map and started heading into the actual town of Kamakura. From Hase station to Kamakura station was a short 5 minute ride. This station was a bit bigger with some bakeries and restaurants inside. We found our way to Komachidori Street with plenty of restaurants and a variety of shops.
Eating in Kamakura
Having no idea where to particularly eat, we decided to follow a Japanese couple who stopped every so often to look at the restaurant menus displayed outside. We figured they must know a good menu when they see one. They went into one of the side streets and we ended up at this small family run restaurant with some of the best udon and dishes we had during the trip with reasonable prices. We spent less than 2500 yen (about $31) for the four of us with plenty of food. FYI – there was no tipping in Japan. Unfortunately, the restaurant name was only in Japanese.
We followed the free pass guide which recommended taking the Wakamiyohji Street and it was truly worth it. There was a red torii (entrance gate) with two stone guard dogs symbolizing Shinto shrines.
This led to the raised pedestrian path lined with cherry trees. We would love to come back here in Spring and see the trees in full bloom decorating this pathway. The trees provided the perfect shade and the paths were pretty wide. We didn’t have to worry about the kids walking here too. Both sides of the pathway were lined with souvenir and antique stores and restaurants.
The walk was about 15 minutes to the other torii. As we were walking, it looked like an elementary school had just finished their day. We saw many school age kids walking in groups with no adult supervision. They were adorable in their white hats and their standard square backpacks. Some of the kids looked as young as my 5 year old son walking home by themselves. I stared at them in both disbelief and admiration. There was no way I could even think of letting my kids walk home by themselves from school even in my suburban San Diego setting at such a young age. How lucky for them to still live in this type of environment.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine of Kamakura
The second torii entrance led to a bridge and on top of the hill was an impressive looking red building. This was the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and often referred to as the “Symbol of the Ancient Capital Kamakura” and is considered the city’s most important shrine. It is dedicated to Hachiman, the Shinto god of war.
The walkway was very sandy and my husband’s allergies started to act up and he had the sneezing fits. It was either all the dust from the road or cedar pollen or everything else from the azaleas and cherry blossom trees surrounding us. He desperately needed those masks the Japanese wore when they were sick. So, take note allergy sufferers.
The main hall and the smaller buildings were lined with wishing tablets, white leaf shaped papers with green and pink leaves on them. I wish we knew what these represented. It was times like these I wish I had a wireless Internet connection to use to look things up. The top areas of the shrines were lined with circular looking and colorful paper kites adorned with flowers. It was very festive looking around here.
It was a hard climb of 60+ steps to go up to the main hall as the kids were struggling (and bits of whining) but we pulled through. Steep stairs, heat and humidity are just not good combinations for sightseeing. Once again we saw two animal guardians on each side of the staircase leading to the main temple.
The views of the surrounding areas were quite impressive though as we reached the main hall. There was a museum and some small hiking trails at the top too but we didn’t have a chance to venture out to these areas.
We saw plenty of ema votives or wishing/prayer wooden tablets hanging on structures at the temple. Unlike the ema votives we saw at the Meiji Shrine, we didn’t see ones written in English by tourists. There were a lot of tablets with a white rabbit picture on them too. We also saw a stand with many strips of white paper tied to it. These are the Omikuji fortunes sold in shrines and people leave the bad luck fortune they drew for the shrine spirits to purge.
We took the path back to the station on Komachi-dori street. It was a shopping haven of souvenirs and unique items even a store selling Hawaiian items. There were many rickshaws parked here too for rides around the area. Our last stop was a bakery with a dove emblem. I wish I knew the name and we found one inside the Odakyu food hall in Shinjuku too. We saw so many people carrying bags from this bakery we had to try it. They had a variety of cookies and the packaged ones we bought were all delicious they never made it back home with us.
We were so happy we spent a day in Kamakura and highly recommend this wonderful city. What a unique and picturesque place that offered plenty of attractions for visitors as well as being kid-friendly. Our kids can now add the Great Buddha as one of their lasting impressions of Japan. It was such a contrast from the Tokyo metropolis and the other shrines and temples around Tokyo.
Have you visited the Great Buddha at Kamakura? Are you planning a day trip to Kamakura? Please share.
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