Kamakura is a seaside city located just south of Tokyo, in Kanagawa prefecture, that is not only well-known for its time-honored shrines and temples with the Great Buddha statue, but also for its variety of hiking courses, ranging from easy paths, that young children and elders can enjoy, to steep rocky trails that not even the locals know exist.
I recently participated in a trail/road run and hike group event held by a running & cycling station in the Minato-Mirai area, Yokohama (The Space – http://thespace.jp). The event was held for trail running beginners and for experienced runners who would like to explore the deep Kamakura forest.
The event was guided by a local, who I seriously think knew the trails better than the squirrel we encountered. Going in and out of trails, sometimes on roads and hiking up the steep hills occasionally, this was a full day event starting from Kamakura station on the JR Yokosuka Line, with our final goal to watch the sunset at Inamuragasaki Park.
Despite the snow the day before, both a perfect blue sky and the guide for the day greeted me at Kamakura station. Lockers were available right outside of the station gate to keep my belongings I wouldn’t be needing during the day. The condition of the trails and details of the course were explained, followed by self-introductions to the members – this might seem a bit awkward, but here in Japan, we’re all about being polite, so it’s conventional!
The course was meant to be 15km, and by saying “meant to be”, yes, there were a few unexpected impromptu arrangements as the day went on.
Anyway, off we go!
Starting from the historical Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, we entered the trail from the back of the shrine. Then going in from the back entrance of Kenchōji, I was fascinated by the multitude of Crow-Tengu statues that vigorously welcomed us. One interesting titbit the guide told us, there’s a Japanese soup dished called “Kenchin-jiru” which is cooked with root vegetables, tofu and shiitake mushrooms in clear kombu stock. It is said that the soup was named after Kenchōji when it was first made and eaten by Buddhist monks.
During the trails, there were a few parts where ropes and handrails (some untrustworthy) were fixed to help climbing up and down, but mainly it was a narrow trail road, just enough for one or two people to get by. The area is known for the seven “Kiridoshi,“ which are man-made passages through the rugged mountain. They were used for transportation and defense system for the “bakufu” (government), during the Kamakura era.
12:30 PM – Lunch time!
We stopped at a convenience store to have a quick bite. As introduced in our previous blog article (Cheap & Healthy Eating in Japan), it is super easy to eat clean in Japan. So, 100% fruit juice for recovery and carb-loading for the afternoon, but still keeping it healthy is no problem. This time of year (mid-February), having a cup of soup with the hot water service provided by the store or a ”niku-man” (Chinese steamed meat bun) straight out of the steamer is a great and delicious way to keep yourself warm.
Sidenote – Kamakura is a city with big shrines and temples, which means there are lots of cafes and yummy Japanese dessert shops. Good research, in advance, and course planning to visit them is an appetizing way to enjoy Kamakura.
After a quick lunch, resuming our run, the course lead us to more shrines such as the famous Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine, which worships the god of money, 銭洗い”zeni-arai” – literally meaning “coin washing”, it is said that when the money is washed with the shrine’s spring water, the amount will multiply. We also stopped by Sasuke Inari, one of the least visited, yet possibly the most breathtaking and photogenic shrine, honoring the Fox God.
At this point, I started doubting my Strava app having a glitch from the Shogun spirits being angry at us for wandering and running around their grave, but we had actually already run way more than it was planned (and we were still kilometers away from the sunset point).
To be honest, my running career is not that long. Running itself seemed and felt like torture just a while ago, but for the past 20km, the lush forest kept me so energized and the trivia our guide told us every now and then kept me intrigued (even for someone like me who never paid attention in history class).
I kept on forgetting the whole purpose of the event was to watch the sunset until the temperature suddenly dropped and bits of snow started to fall. Then, it was something that kept on bothering me until…
Around 5:00 PM
Running along the nostalgic Eno-den train tracks, we finally caught a glimpse of the ocean with the shimmering reflection of the sun getting ready for bed after a long day.
We made it just in time and luckily, the snow cloud that kept on following us (our own personal flurry is what Olaf would call it) was gone by then. I have seen the sun set from the same point in the past several times but this time was definitely my favorite by far after the 23km adventure.
If the entire west side of the scene was clear, we would have been able to see Mt. Fuji clearly, but, unfortunately, we could only see the skirt of the mountain this day. Maybe next time:)
After taking in all the satisfaction of achieving our goal (and taking lots of pictures), it was time to go home. The group was divided into two; people running back or taking the Eno-den line back, either way to Kamakura station where we started off that morning. I chose to run but if you have never taken the Eno-den line, I am sure the mini journey from Inamuragasaki station to Kamakura station will be a memorable experience. The single-track train with just 4 cars (or 2 cars depending on the day and time) that goes through notable tourist spots will let you enjoy a retro time travel – a sight for sore eyes… and hopefully for sore legs too :)
Where you can eat Kenchin-jiru
A small Japanese restaurant, Kamakura Gozan (鎌倉五山) is located close to Kita-Kamakura station. The casual, but classic, Japanese style restaurant looks like time has stopped for a long time. The Kenchin-jiru they serve has a slightly different recipe from stated as the original but still a delightful warm dish especially in the wintertime. Reservations are not needed.
Address: 1435 Yamanouchi, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa-ken 247-0062