Kamakura: the Great Buddha, Zazen practice & money washing

Mayo Harry | Live the World

November 23, 2022

If you wish to see one of the Great Buddhas of Japan, enjoy** Zazen practice or try your luck by washing** the money with Zeniarai water, this is a story you must read. Kamakura is a town in Kanagawa prefecture, next to Enoshima, surrounded by mountains on three sides and facing the sea on one side. Kamakura was established as a political centre of Japan after the Kamakura government in 1192 declined its establishment. Kamakura era lasted until 1185, followed by the samurai era, which finished in 1867. Today’s Kamakura is a very popular tourist destination. Its historical atmosphere is like those in Nara or Kyoto. Kamakura is located only one hour away from Tokyo, and it is close to Yokohama, the capital of Kanagawa prefecture. You can also easily reach the hot spring resort of Hakone and Mt. Fuji from Kamakura. It is even possible to view Mt. Fuji in the distance from some places in Kamakura, like Imamuragasaki and Gion-Yama hiking trail. 

Kamakura’s historical culture can be experienced not only by visiting temples and shrines but also by joining a Zen meditation session at the temples, attending a tea ceremony, and taking a Kamakura-bori lacquerware curving class. 

Due to its geological location, Kamakura offers fresh seafood from the ocean and fresh vegetables. Many restaurants and cafes in Kamakura offer photogenic high-quality food with a gorgeous atmosphere to have a comfortable rest between visiting temples. Tabearuki (walking while eating) is a typical way of enjoying Kamakura’s delicious gastronomy in a casual way.

Kamakura Daibutsu, the Great Buddha

© iStock/Patryk_Kosmider

Among the popular tourist spots in Kamakura is Kotoku-in temple, where you can see the classic Kamakura Daibutsu, the symbol of Kamakura. Kotoku-in temple is within walking distance from Enoden line, Nagaya station, or 20 minutes by bus from JR Kamakura Station. Along with the Great Buddha in Nara Prefecture, it is one of the three Great Buddhas of Japan. The height of the Kamakura Great Buddha (including the pedestal) is about 13.35 meters, the total weight is about 121 tons, and its overwhelming size is worth seeing. The Great Buddha has an entrance from which you can enter the Great Buddha's womb. There is an admission fee, but you will not often have a chance to "enter the Buddha", so do not miss this one.

Zen practice at Kenchou-ji

© iStock/zomby007

Zazen is one of the Zen practices in Buddhism that adjusts posture and breathing to unify the spirit. Apparently, by doing "conditioning" to sit with your back straight and crossing your legs, "breathing" to perform abdominal breathing slowly,  "conditioning" & "breathing" will calm your busy mind, and all unnecessary thoughts will disappear naturally. Many temples offer Zen experience through Zazen practice in Kamakura, and Kencho-ji temple is very popular among overseas visitors as the practice is led by a monk who speaks English.  

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine

© iStock/Korkusng

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu is a Shinto shrine and another representative historic site in Kamakura, alongside with Great Buddha. There are many must-see spots at this Kamakura’s historical footprints within Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

© iStock/khuntapol

From JR Kamakura Station, you can see the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu entrance. The warship path called Wakamiyaooji Street will take you to the main part of the shrine. Wakamiyaooji connects Kamakura’s most famous beach called Yuigahama beach to the shrine directly. After the third Torii entrance, you are surrounded by thick nature and a sacred atmosphere. Keep walking until the end of the path, where the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine appears. The shrine is detailed and amazingly impressive, and the view toward the sea from the shrine is breathtaking.

© iStock/nature picture

There are three free rest areas in the precincts of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu: Yanagihara, Mitani, and Genji Pond. Each has its own special meals and tea. If you get a little tired while walking around the precincts, you can relax at a nearby rest area.

Kamakura’s Zeniarai Benten in the cave, Uga shrine

© iStock/yukihipo

Uga shrine is Kamakura's premier fortune profit spot. It is said that it is beneficial to wash money with the Zeniarai (money washing) water that springs from the cave's depths. When you arrive, buy incense sticks and candles at the office. You need to borrow a colander for washing money together there. Then, you visit the main shrine building, light up the incense stick with a large candle on the candlestick that you can also purchase at the office to the designated spot. After placing the candle, donate incense sticks to the incense burner. Finally, you enter the Okumiya cave shrine located a little further and wash the money with a colander. It is unlucky to dry the washed money unnaturally, so let it dry naturally. Use the washed money meaningfully.

© iStock/yukihipo

Retro shopping street, Komachi-dori 

© iStock/Nirad

There is a street called Komachi-dori on the west side of Wakamiya Oji, the main street that connects Kamakura Station to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. There are souvenir shops and various shops lined up in the shopping street with a slightly retro atmosphere, and the most common is the light meal shop that sells food for eating at the store or take out. It seems that there are more than 100 restaurants in this street alone, so it is an eating paradise. There are various types of sweets, from standard sweets, uniquely Kamakura sweet to side dishes such as croquettes and sausages.

© iStock/coward_lion

Kotoriya is a famous croquette shop in Komachi-dori. It is handy to eat while you are exploring Kamakura township. Purple sweet potato croquette is mind-blowingly delicious, and it costs only 200 yen per piece. There are different flavour croquettes at Kotoriya, like everyone’s favourite traditional beef croquette, black sesame, chocolate matcha, yuzu and ume-miso (plum and Shiso herb). Drop by and get you this convenient, tasty Kamakura snack.

As you could see, in Kamakura, you can visit the Great Buddha, have the Zazen experience, wash your money with Zeniarai water, and much more. Japanese traditional history, rituals, culture, as well as modern hip gastronomy & fashion and beautiful nature are some of the things that expect you in Kamakura. It takes only one hour by train from Tokyo, and do not forget that Kamakura is next to Enoshima, close to Yokohama, and on the way to Mt. Fuji. Why not have a day trip to Kamakura to soak up the energy of a gorgeous small town with a lot to offer? It is a great option to have a break while you are visiting Tokyo.    

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