Not to be outdone by the Daibutsu Hiking Course, Kamakura's rugged hills provide the perfect backdrop for the equally impressive yet more challenging Tenen Hiking course.
Located to the northeast of Kamakura Station, this seven-kilometer hike traverses through dense forest and over rocky terrain, offering some impressive views of Yuigahama Bay from the peak of Mount Ohirayama whilst incorporating the picturesque Hanzobo Shrine and Kenchoji Temple.
A popular option for most people is to start from Zuisenji Temple in the east and finish at Kenchoji Temple in the west; close to Kita-Kamakura Station. However, I decided instead to start this hike at the lesser-known Myoo-in Temple, located about 15 minutes southwards of Zuisenji. Although this option will add some additional walking time, you are less likely to encounter as many people since this starting point is located within a quiet residential area visited by few tourists.
From Kamakura Station, you can catch either buses 23, 24 or 36 to Sensuibashi (泉水橋), with single fares costing 210 yen. Alternatively, it's about a 40-minute walk. From the bus stop, continue walking eastwards along the main road until you see a set of bright yellow traffic lights then follow the signs pointing toward this temple which is now only a few meters away.
As you pass Myooin's large wooden gate, look for the small alleyway on the left, running parallel to the side of this temple where there should be a white sign marking the trailhead for this hike! Shortly after entering this alleyway, you will reach a small Y-junction. After taking the path on the left, a concrete staircase will take you up into a forest marking the southernmost starting point for the Tenen Hiking course.
Ascending to Mount Ohirayama
Within a few minutes, the trail will become noticeably more rugged, traversing through dense undergrowth and over hilly terrain. For the next 1.3 Kilometers follow the signs for Tenen (天園), where you'll see several small yagura, (caves). After seeing these caves, the trail will pass several large boulders before entering a bamboo grove. To the left of this grove is the Tenen Tea House which makes a good place to rest whilst admiring its colorful flower garden.
A short distance away from the teahouse the trail will split into three separate paths. Be sure to take the path on the far left which runs parallel to a golf course before leading up to Mt Ohirayama, the highest point on this hike! Although it's called a mountain it’s actually more like a big hill but the pleasant views are at least worth the walk.
Downwards to Kenchoji Temple
From the top of Mt Ohirayama follow the signs eastward for Kenchoji Temple, (建長寺). This part of the trail traverses over a narrow ridgeline before descending through some dense forest, passing several more large boulders along the way. After about 20 minutes you will encounter another series of caves along with a couple of religious statues. A short distance away from these caves is a clearing on the right with an observation deck offering a bird's eye view of Kenchoji Temple below.
In order to reach this temple, you must first descend via the small but atmospheric Hanzobo Shrine with its long staircases and dozens of Tengu (Guardian Deity), statues that appear to be looking down at you from all directions. Perhaps it was because there was no one else around, coupled with the fading daylight, that created a surreal (and at times) slightly eerie atmosphere. As you exit this shrine via its long pathway, follow the signs for the unmissable Kenchoji Temple, now only a couple of meters away.
Normally there is a 300-yen entrance fee for this temple but by sheer coincidence, I must have arrived after closing time through a 'back exit' because there wasn't anyone around, not even at the ticket booth!
To exit this impressive complex head towards the front gate that leads out onto a main road. Once outside, turn right and walk eastwards along this road. After about 10 minutes Kita-Kamakura Station will gradually appear in the not too far distance.
As I waited amongst the sizable crowds of commuters for my homeward bound train something suddenly dawned upon me. Except for the occasional hiker who I encountered along the way, this was the first time in almost two hours that I had encountered such a large number of people. Perhaps this point best illustrates one of the Tenen Hiking Courses many great qualities which is difficult to find in most other places in Kamakura; Solitude!
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