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Postcard from Japan: Kamakura Day Trip

I’m back from my holiday now which means I can focus on writing posts again, including sharing more my trip. In this post I’ll cover a day trip we took to Kamakura, a seaside city south of Tokyo that is known for a number of festivals as well as Buddhist shrines and temples. The city is surrounded on three sides by some steep hills which help to make you feel like you’re in a very different location, despite not being all that far from Tokyo. We actually traveled there a day before our trip to Hakone that I’ve already written about.

kamakura-day-trip-aerial

Kamakura is about 50km south of Tokyo by rail making it very similar in distance as Britomart to Pukekohe – and one of the reasons I felt it was useful to discuss here. To get there we first made our way to Shinagawa, like we did for going to Hakone, and transferred to the Yokosuka Line which runs through Kamakura. There are only 10 stops on the 47km between Shinagawa and Kamakura and while not high speed, the trains would often reach 120km/h with that section of the journey taking around 54 minutes.

By comparison the approximately 49km between Pukekohe and Britomart has 15 stops and takes around 1:18 including a 6-8 minute transfer at Papakura. I suspect we could get travel times down to that kind of level if we can sort out the electrification issue (either by battery powered EMUs or extending the wires), completing the much needed third main to allow some faster limited stop services to run. This would also need to be after the CRL when there is some additional capacity on the rail network as all of the current capacity will be needed.

Like many of the lines around Tokyo, the trains running down the Yokosuka line have some serious capacity. They have the same length as about three of our 3-car trains combined but can hold many more people as nine of the eleven carriages use metro style bench seating – like the middle of our trains – while the other two carriages are first class but are also double deckers. I don’t know what the capacity is but I assume it would easily be in the 1500-2000 per train range and that capacity is clearly needed. Even on a mid-morning on a weekday heading away from Tokyo the train was decently busy. As a comparison, one of our 6-car trains has a stated capacity of 750 people. Moving to bench style seating is something we may need to consider to improve capacity and something I’ll look at in a later post – the good news is our trains are designed for it to be done easily.

Arriving at the station in Kamakura there was a nice bit of wayfinding in the form of some walking routes options. We decided to do The Great Buddha Course although we didn’t follow it exactly as suggested. We also did a bit of The Kamakura Quick Course, although we didn’t realise it at the time.

kamakura-day-trip-wayfinding

Setting off one of the first things I noticed was the infrastructure, the hills have had plenty of tunnels punched through them for local connectivity. Like many places in Japan though, the local roads where most people live are designed to a completely different scale. Footpaths might not exist but it’s not such an issue when cars are only travelling slow anyway. If a car came the other way – and they did – they definitely couldn’t pass at speed.

kamakura-day-trip-narrow-street

As seen on the wayfinding, one of the highlights of the route we took was the Great Buddha at Kotoku-in Temple. It is made from bronze, is 13.5m tall, was built in 1252 and has survived undamaged both a Tsunami (which wiped out the buildings around it), and later an earthquake which damaged the base it sits on. For a nominal fee you could also go inside for a look which also shows how it was made 764 years ago.

kamakura-day-trip-buddha

Moving down further to the Hase-dera Temple we got our first good view of the beach and back over a decent part of the city.

kamakura-day-trip-overlooking-beach

Shortly after that we reached the end of the course. It was suggested that we catch a small, mostly single track railway back to the main station however we decided to walk instead and go via the beach. The beach was fairly deserted, being a Friday afternoon and not particularly warm. I imagine it’s quite popular in the heat of summer though. Along much of the beach there was a decently wide seaside walkway/cycleway but it is next to a coastal highway which felt like much more of a barrier than its size or traffic volumes at the time might suggest. I was also surprised to see very little in the way of making better use asset the town had.

kamakura-day-trip-beach

So with seemingly not a lot to do at the beach we made our way back to town, about 1km north.

We’ve talked recently about the proposed Victoria St Linear Park that Auckland Transport seem to be neutering, even though it’s not really a park and is in fact vital to the operation of the City Rail Link. In Kamakura it is much more of a linear park and is in fact part of a shrine to the north. The park/walkway is split in two equal halves and totals around 500m long. It is straight down the middle of the road and is also raised above it. Access to it is only at either end or in the middle.

kamakura-day-trip-linear-park

In spring with the cherry blossoms in bloom I imagine it would be very pretty but also very different to why we need more people space on Victoria St.

kamakura-day-trip-linear-park-2

By now it was mid-late afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch so we were getting hungry. We made our way to an area that had a bit of activity and it turned out to be where all the activity was. Running almost 600m north from the train station and bus terminal, Komachi St was lined with food and retail options and with a lot of people, it had a great atmosphere.

kamakura-day-trip-komachi-st

After looking around for a bit it was time to head home. We made our way back down the street to the train station and not long later we were on our way back to Tokyo.

All up a good day and one that I feel can provide some lessons for us.

18 comments to Postcard from Japan: Kamakura Day Trip

  • Jolisa

    Great report, Matt! Those linear parks are such breaths of fresh air in tightly-built cities.

    Also, we need a crowd-sourced list of how to turn almost anyone into a fully-fledged urbanist:
    1. Take them on a bike ride round their own neighbourhood
    2. Take them to Japan
    3.

  • Matt, this is a transport blog and you didn’t even mention the “well known truck”? Or maybe that’s a typo and it’s meant to be track? Although the route map does say truck twice.

  • mfwic

    The ‘breathing of history course’ might be interesting. Much more pleasant than the ‘sweating of geography course’.

  • Vinny

    We stayed for a week in Kamakura and really enjoyed it. It obviously gets a lot of internal visitors as a major shrine and temple destination and Komachi street can suddenly empty as they take the excellent PT back home. We were also struck by the narrow lanes and consequent slow traffic- our daughter happily ran on a head of us in the middle of the lane and we had no concerns for her safety. Some great bike parking options too.

  • Guy M

    re: not much to do at the beach – could that be to do with the tsunami that have hit there in the past? I imagine it might be difficult to sell seats in waterfront property with a rep like that?

    I must say though, that I like their idea of small scale roads – and no on street parking. By the looks of the pictures above, if you want parking, you have to sacrifice some of the space you could have for a living room. And less cost for the Council in terms of road maintenance, no verges to mow (hooray from Aucklanders), and higher density achieved at less cost. Lessons for us to learn?

  • There are only 10 stops on the 47km between Shinagawa and Kamakura and while not high speed, the trains would often reach 120km/h with that section of the journey taking around 54 minutes

    The Kapiti line in Wellington does 55km with 12 intermediate stops in 60 mins, so a sub hour to Pukekohe should be possible once the transfer is (somehow) elimated.

  • TimR

    Love the narrow residential streets in Japan. Not always beautiful, but so urbanely sound as shared living / moving / playing spaces. AT have been pushing back so hard on the many people who have proposed these, which is is so disappointing. So much potential for helping Auckland to intensify, but AT seem wedded to the notion that _every_ part of the road hierarchy needs future-proofing, to be capable of being wider, and that frontage parking is not OK off such a street. At the lowest level of the road hierarchy, and for residential streets in particular, this is completely nonsensical. A compilation of great Japanese examples would be great. Can we crowd-source this…?

  • Shinagawa and Kamakura in 54 minutes is good, but not as good as the Pukekohe-Britomart railcars which did the run in about 42 minutes in the 2000’s.

  • john smith

    The interesting thing about the residential street picture is it’s obvious that if you want to own a car, it’s YOUR responsibility to find somewhere to store it. No whining about how to ration kerbside parking.

    • Doug

      Yes, in Tokyo you need to prove you have an off-street parking space in order to register your vehicle. I’m not sure about the rules elsewhere.

      It’s almost heaven being able to ride a bike without the fear of being doored, or having to deal with aggro motorists who can’t wrap their head around why you’re riding wide to avoid risking being thrown under the wheels of a following vehicle by somebody who carelessly opens a door.

      • Rob Mayo

        For our house in Tamagawa, I had to go to the local police station with my house rental agreement, car registration papers and JP ID card in order to get the ok, from the police, to be allowed to park my car in my driveway.

  • Matt P

    those Japanese streetscapes are brilliant. So intimate

  • Rob Mayo

    The Yokosuka Line runs E217 series EMUs in 15-car sets (4+11 formation). The full passenger loading per car is between 142 and 162 with the two double decker Green Cars holding 90 passengers each. The total passenger loading for a 15-car E217 EMU is around 2,209. 15-car E233 series EMUs which run on the Shonan Shinjuku and Tokaido Lines are a similar 2,200+ passenger loading.

    Here’s a clip of a monster E217 30-car set heading south to the maintenance yard – it was one 15-car set towing a second dead 15-car set (had a pantograph problem that day) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nL4s5VgpRY

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