Despite the relatively small size of the city, historically it served as the seat of shogunate power from from the 12th to 14th centuries. It’s strategic location, surrounded by mountains on three sided and the ocean on another, made it the ideal location allowed it be be defended quite easily. Over time the shogunate in the area began to weaken as new clans were created and fought to become the new rulers of Japan.
When I walked around Kamakura on both cultural trips and with friends, the most notable thing was the massive amount of shrines and temples. While in the past I have talked about Japan and its love of temples, Kamakura takes it to a whole new level; in effect it is impossible to walk anywhere in the city without running into a new shrine or temple. This is not inherently a bad thing though, especially because the architecture is so impressive.
History has not always been kind to the architecture, with many temples having to periodically be rebuilt due to war, rebellion, political upheavals and earthquakes. While visiting Kamakura it is easy to appreciate the hard-work that has gone into restoration. The center-piece of the city is Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū a temple on a hill that is visited by thousands, especially for yearly ceremonies with samurai horse-riders.
Another noteworthy attraction is the giant Buddha of Kamakura (daibatsu) which is all that is left of a once large complex that was devastated by a tsunami. Finally we have Zeinari Benzaiten Ugafuku Shrine which impressed me because its entrance literally is a tunnel carved from a mountain. The water that emanates from this shrine is said to be able to multiply one’s money if it is washed in the water; this is a tradition that dates back to the shogun and his encouragement of subjects to wash their money here.
Regardless of where you go in Kamakura, you’ll be a short distance from a temple so it’s a good thing they are so interesting and cool to look at.