Fifty minutes south of central Tokyo lies one of my favorite places in Japan.
In truth, there’s a host of things that could bring you to the town of Kamakura – the Daibustsu (Big Buddha), the second largest Buddha statue in Japan; the beautiful pageantry of archers on horseback at the Hachiman Shrine’s autumn festival; the hiking trails; the crisp sea breeze and fresh food grown in surrounding fields.
What brings me back time and again are the beautiful gardens of the Meigetsuin Temple. You won’t find this temple in your guidebook – trust me, I’ve looked in several. You might even overlook the temple itself, hidden down a tiny lane in Kita Kamakura (north Kamakura). In June and July, however, you can follow the crowds – Meigetsu-in is also known as the Hydrangea Temple and the blue and purple flowers that literally blanket the temple grounds are a sight to behold.
You can steal a break in the temple’s private rear garden, which deters the hordes with its additional entrance fee (though it’s not much). At the entrance, a spherical portal gives a tantalizing glimpse of seasonal irises and maple trees. The porch also overlooks a dry landscape garden, whose features supposedly represent the mythical Buddhist Mt Shumi. You can purchase a cup of green tea and a sweet and enjoy the view from the veranda or stroll the paths around the grounds.
If you find yourself feeling hungry, there are a few cute cafes that line the street leading up to the temple. My favorite choice, however, is a few meters farther along on the main road (towards Kencho-ji Temple) where Kyorai-an serves a savoury beef stew in a beautiful old villa in the hills. It’s the perfect way to cap off a visit to Kita Kamakura.
Hours: 9am-4:30pm (8am-5pm in June and July)
Fees: ¥300 for the main temple; additional fee for the rear garden
The new Japan Tourist site has some beautiful pictures of the garden in all seasons.