The eastern side of Kamakura contains a scattering of less-visited shrines and temples, including two of the town’s most enchanting corners. Though it’s possible to cover the area on foot in a half-day (less if you hop on a bus for the return journey), by far the best way to explore these scattered locations is to rent a bicycle.
If you’re starting from Hachiman-gū, you can work your way eastwards through a quiet suburban area north of the main highway, the Kanazawa-kaidō, until you find signs indicating an optional left turn for Kamakura-gū (鎌倉宮). Mainly of interest for its history and torchlight nō dramas in early October, this was founded by Emperor Meiji in 1869 to encourage support for his new imperial regime. The shrine is dedicated to Prince Morinaga, a forgotten fourteenth-century hero who was held for nine months in a Kamakura cave before being executed. The small cave and a desultory treasure house lie to the rear of the classically styled shrine, but don’t really justify the entry fee.
A road heading north from Kamakura-gū marks the beginning – or end – of the short cut to the Ten’en Hiking Course, though the main trail starts 900m further east, near Zuisen-ji (瑞泉寺). The temple’s fourteenth-century Zen garden, to the rear of the main building, is rather dilapidated, but the quiet, wooded location and luxuriant gardens in front of the temple make it an attractive spot.
From here you have to drop south and join the main road for the last short stretch to one of Kamakura’s oldest temples, Sugimoto-dera (杉本寺), at the top of a steep, foot-worn staircase lined with fluttering white flags. Standing in a woodland clearing, the small, thatched temple, founded in 734, exudes a real sense of history. Inside its smoke-blackened hall, spattered with pilgrims’ prayer stickers, you can slip off your shoes and take a look behind the altar at the three wooden statues of Jūichimen Kannon, the eleven-faced Goddess of Mercy. The images were carved at different times by famous monks, but all three are at least 1000 years old.
Just a couple of minutes further east along Kanazawa-kaidō, turn right over a small bridge to reach the entrance to Hōkoku-ji (報国寺), or Take-dera, the “Bamboo Temple”. The well-tended gardens and simple wooden buildings are attractive in themselves, but the temple is best known for a grove of evergreen bamboo protected by the encircling cliffs.