The city of Kamakura still holds a lot of hidden gems and it is possible to discover them avoiding the tourists' crowds mainly attracted by its Great Buddha. Kamakura is located on the seaside and boasts several beaches in its downtown’s south, but its surrounding hilly forest is also worth the attention for its three hiking trails, that initially connected temples and shrines of the area:
- Tenen Hiking Trail: located in Kita-Kamakura, it connects Kencho-ji temple to Zuisen-ji temple;
- Daibutsu Hiking Trail: located West of the city, it connects Jochi-ji temple and Kotoku-in temple;
- Gionyama Hiking Trail: in eastern Kamakura downtown, it links Harakiri Yagura tomb to Yagumo Jinja shrine.
The advent of fastest means of transportation, like train, caused to forget these hiking courses, that are indeed a good way of retrieving Kamakura’s Zen atmosphere and associating a spiritual visit to a nature outing, at less than one hour from Tokyo. The hikes are not very long: about thirty minutes’ walk for the shortest Gionyama, and one hour and a half for the two other courses.
Kencho-ji Temple: Tenen Hiking Trail’s starting point
The simplest way to enter the Tenen Hiking Course is to visit Kencho-ji, the oldest temple in Kamakura. On the left of the main hall, a path goes to the bottom of the valley and to Hansobo shrine’s great concrete torii gate. After a steep flight of steps, flanked by numerous Tengu statues, the warring deities of Shinto pantheon, lies a small resting area indicating the limit of Kencho-ji’s precincts and the beginning of the hiking trail. Located on the hillside, this place offers a faraway view on Mount Fuji on clear weather days.
The hike then continues to the top of the hill. It is quite a tiring walk and other visitors become scarce in the forest. The quiet trail allows for a self-centered moment in nature and is a source of peace and relaxation.
At the top of the hill, hikers are rewarded with a new panorama: the temple’s building in the foreground, then the green forest, Kamakura downtown and the blue of the sea that blends with the horizon.
Most of the walking trails consist on narrow paths crisscrossing the valley in the woods. There is nothing to say about the forest itself, but it is interesting to try spotting yagura, artificial apertures that were used as tombs and to shelter Buddha statuettes. The walk offers many other nice views on the surroundings. At about the two thirds of the hike, an area was arranged for picnic. There, you can admire flying buzzards but be aware of their predatory instincts than can lead them to attack your lunch.
Zuisen-ji Temple’s entrance: the end of the hiking trail
Tenen walking trail is easily identifiable altogether thanks to English language panels indicating Ten-en Hiking Trail/Course. There is however a fork in the path where directions are only in Japanese. Just continue on the left and follow the signs: 瑞泉寺経由鎌倉宮 (Zuisen-ji keiyu Kamakura-Gu), meaning "to Kamakura-gu, via Zuisen-ji."
The hiking trail ends in a narrow stairway hidden behind a parking lot and leading to Kamakura’s residential area’s little streets. Zuisen-ji temple and its gardens, a few meters away, come as a pleasant conclusion to this spiritual journey.
How to get to Tenen Hiking Trail
From Kita-Kamakura Station, South Exit, about 15 minutes' walk to Kencho-ji temple, then climb the stairs at the limit of the site enclosure. Tenen Hiking Trail begins at the top of the stairs.
The entrance to Zuisen-ji, at the end of the hike, is more difficult to find, hidden behind bushes.
Location reachable with the JRP : order your Japan Rail Pass (from ~US$ 281)
Free (expect for temples' entrance fees)
Get your Japanese Yens free of charge
Kencho-ji's entrance: open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
How long / when to visit
Allow one hour and half to two hours walk
Hike at any time of the year on a good weather day
天園ハイキングコース ("Ten-en Hiking Course")
Due to typhoon#15 Faxai damages in September 2019, all the hiking trails in Kamakura are closed until June 2020 at least and until further notice.