Kamakura’s Big Buddha hiking trail
Kamakura (鎌倉) is a small city on the coast to the south of Tokyo, famous for its many temples and shrines, sea views, and for being the home of the Kamakura Daibutsu (大仏, Great Buddha). It’s also surrounded by (small) forested mountains, which are home to various hiking trails. Even if you’re not a hiker, Kamakura and the Great Buddha make a great day trip from Tokyo and should definitely be on your itinerary if you have time to get out of the city for a day. For hikers, you can combine a spot of temple action with a nice hike back over the hills to catch a return train to Tokyo.
See the ever-useful Japan Guide page for details on how to reach the Great Buddha (and other famous Kamakura hiking trails and sites). While this Buddha isn’t anywhere near being the largest in Japan, it’s the easiest to visit (along with the Todaiji Great Buddha in Nara). If you’re interested in the biggest of the lot, there’s an enormous standing Buddha in Ushiku (a couple of hours northeast of Tokyo by train, in Tochigi prefecture), and a large seated stone Buddha at Nokogiriyama (a couple of hours southeast of Tokyo by train, in Chiba prefecture). The latter was visited by the Top Gear team in their car vs bullet train race. My favourite’s the one in Nara, with its almost-as-huge statues of guardian deities and the enormous temple buildings housing them. The Kamakura Buddha is little more modest, but (unlike the one in Nara) it sits outdoors – the surrounding temple structures having been repeatedly destroyed by natural disasters, the Buddha has been left to face the elements unprotected for the last 500 years. Hence it has its distinctive blue oxidised colouring from the long years of exposure.
Once you’re done snapping photos of the Great Buddha, leave the temple and turn right on the main road. After five minutes or so you’ll find a flight of steps leading up the hill on the right just before the road goes though a tunnel – these steps are the start of the Daibutsu hiking trail which leads over the hills to Kita-Kamakura station. It’s only a one or two hour hike, depending on how long you spend at the various shrines and temples along the route, and I did it without a map, phone, or guidebook (a phone would definitely help though!). The trail’s well maintained and well marked; the main things to look for on the signposts are Zeniarai Benten shrine (銭洗弁天神社), at roughly the half-way point, and then Jochi-ji temple (浄智寺) at the end of the trail. There’s also a large park (Genjiyama Koen, 源氏山公園) you can visit in the vicinity of Zeniarai Benten. The trail is around 3km long, never climbs above 100m, and isn’t particularly strenuous. Vending machines (and a cafe) are located at the shrines and temples along the trial, so you can probably get away without bothering to carry snacks and drinks as long as you don’t mind paying the steep markups. It’s a nice trail, and would be particularly good in autumn once the leaves have changed. I did it in summer, which was a bit hot and sweaty but the sea breezes were pleasant at the various view points. (edit: I did go again in autumn, but it was cold, windy and raining. The wind had the surf up and the surfers out in force, see pic below!)
So, if you’re in Tokyo and want to take a day trip which combines traditional Japanese culture with some hiking and scenery, the Kamakura hiking trails should tick all the boxes (Mt Takao is another good choice). If you’re looking for something a bit more strenuous, you could try Mt Kuratake or Lake Okutama; and for something a lot more serious, head for Kumotoriyama (Tokyo’s highest mountain at over 2,000m, usually done as a 2-day hike).
Have you done any of the Kamakura hiking trails? How were they? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
For some other hikes in and around Tokyo see here, and check out my guide to hiking in Kyoto. For further Japan hiking inspiration, check out this great blog and this one (also see my pages on hiking in Taipei and hiking in Seoul)
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