KM 8

Although Kyoto served as Japan’s capital before the imperial residence was moved to Tokyo in the 19th century, for roughly 150 years the real seat of power was located in the city of Kamakura.

Many of the samurai living in Kamakura at the time were devout followers of Buddhism, and their dedication to their faith is reflected in the numerous historic temples located in Kamakura. Of course, visiting them all is bound to tire out your feet, and when that happens, there’s no better way to refresh yourself than by relaxing in one of Kamakura’s beautiful temple gardens while sipping from a cup of freshly brewed green tea.

The Kamakura Period began in 1185, when the ruling Shogun chose the city as the base for his feudal government. Kamakura is bordered by mountains on three sides and the sea on the other, and these natural defensive barriers are thought to be one reason the city was selected.

Today though, getting into Kamakura is a breeze, as JR trains can whisk you there from downtown Tokyo in just over an hour, making the former de facto capital the perfect place to get away from the din of the city and steep yourself in traditional culture for a day.

As is often the case in Japan, many of Kamakura’s temples feature beautiful gardens. In order to fully appreciate the exquisite landscaping on display, it’s best to stop and take a few moments to contemplate how all of the components come together. In order to help put visitors in a reflective mood, the four temples below even have refreshment stands selling maccha, the frothy, flavorful green tea traditionally used in tea ceremonies.

KM 6

1. Engakuji / 円覚寺

KM 3

Address: Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura, Yamanouchi 409
神奈川県鎌倉市山ノ内409
Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (April-October), 8 a.m.-4 p.m. (November-March)
How to get there: One-minute walk from Kita Kamakura / 北鎌倉 Station (Yokosuka Line)
Admission: 300 yen

KM 2

Engakuji is the first of the four temples visitors coming from Tokyo in the north will reach. Built in the late 13th Century, the temple houses a 700-year-old bell, and is particularly beautiful in the fall and spring as the leaves turn or cherry blossoms bloom.

Those who make the climb up the temple’s 140 stone steps will come to the Bentendo Chaya, a teahouse with a view of the surrounding peaks, and, on clear days, Mt. Fuji.

KM 4

KM 5

2. Hokokuji / 報国寺

KM 7

Address: Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura, Jomyoji 2-7-4
神奈川県鎌倉市浄明寺2−7−4
Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
How to get there: Three-minute walk from Jomyoji / 浄妙寺bus stop (15 minutes from Kamakura Station)
Admission: 200 yen (US $2)

KM 9

Hokokuji is also known as the Bamboo Temple, due to the lush bamboo grove found on its grounds. The temple was founded in 1334, and counted among its patrons the powerful Ashikaga and Uesugi samurai clans.

At the end of the pathway that winds through the bamboo, passing by stone lanterns and Buddhist statues, visitors can rest their heels in the Kyukoan teahouse with a relaxing cup of maccha.

KM 10

3. Jomyoji / 浄妙寺

KM 12

Address: Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura, Jomyoji 308031
神奈川県鎌倉市浄明寺3丁目3−8−31
Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
How to get there: Three-minute walk from Jomyoji / 浄妙寺bus stop (15 minutes from Kamakura Station)
Admission: 100 yen

KM 11

Located in the same district of Kamakura as Hokokuji, Jomyyoji is another temple that flourished under the patronage of the Ashikaga Clan.

Maccha is served in Kisenan, the temple’s traditionally-designed tearoom, where visitors can sit upon the reed flooring while admiring Jomyoji’s dry landscape garden.

KM 13

4. Hasedera / 長谷寺

KM 14

Address: Kanagawa Prefecture, Kamakura, Hase 3-11-2
神奈川県鎌倉市長谷3-11-2
Open: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (March-September), 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (October-February)
How to get there: Five-minute walk from Hase / 長谷 Station (Enoshima Dentetsu Line, 6 minutes from Kamakura Station)
Admission: 300 yen

KM 15

Last but not least, we come to Hasedera, founded in 746 and the oldest temple on the list. Located within walking distance of Kamakura’s Great Buddha, Hasedera’s prime attraction is its figure of Kannon, the goddess of mercy, which stands at 9.18 meters (30.1 feet) tall and is said to be the largest wooden statue in Japan. In addition, a series of shrines are built into a cave in the hill on which the temple sits. Hasedera is particularly popular with day trippers who come to see the hydrangeas that bloom there each June.

Hasedera’s café, the Kaikoan, may not have the same rustic appeal as the other teahouses on the list, but it does offer a sweeping view of the nearby coastline, and its enclosed design makes it by far the coolest to sit in on a muggy summer day. Aside from maccha, the menu includes a variety of entrees such as curry, soba, and udon.

KM 16

Aside from its historical sites, the city of Kamakura is considered one of the best places to see the autumn leaves in the Tokyo area, and the slight chill in the air that comes with the season makes each warming sip of maccha all the more satisfying. Some may argue that drinking green tea while looking at the garden in a Japanese temple is clichéd, but even if you choose to look at it that way, it’s only because people have been doing it for hundreds of years. We figure any tradition that’s lasted that long must have something to it, and we’re happy to join in the procession through the centuries.

Sources: Naver Matome, Japan National Tourism Organization, Kamakura Bura Bura
Top image: Fukei Kabegami
Insert images: K-Img, Engakuji, Exblog, Exblog, Tabelog, Rakuten, Photozou, Mapple, Wikipedia, Living, Nifty, Kamakura Bura Bura, Livedoor