The most impressive site in the ancient city and religious center of Kamakura, located 30 mi/50 km south of Tokyo, is the photogenic Daibutsu, a giant 120-ton/108-metric ton bronze statue of the Buddha. The statue has an amazing history: Cast in the 13th century, it originally was housed in a temple about a mile/kilometer farther inland. In 1495, a giant tsunami washed the temple away, and since then the Daibutsu has sat in the open.

Kamakura also offers scores of ancient shrines and temples, many of them scattered in the hills that surround the city on three sides. The imposing Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine is in the center of town; Zeni-arai Benten (the "money-washing" shrine) is also a favorite pilgrimage spot; Engakuji is one of the oldest and most important Zen monasteries in Japan; and Tokeiji (the Bamboo Temple) is also an atmospheric site.

The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hayama, in the precinct of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, was designed by a Japanese student of Le Corbusier. Kamakura also boasts one of the closest beaches to Tokyo.

You can take a ride on the Enoden, a railway that is part train, part streetcar that runs along the coast from Kamakura to Enoshima, a traditional pilgrimage spot, and then to Fujisawa, southwest of Yokohama—this journey will give you unique glimpses of the hills and ocean (and some people's backyards).

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