Hasedera (長谷寺, Hase Kannon Temple), is located south of Tokyo, Japan on Mount Kamakura with an ocean view. It’s home to a giant statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. In this post, we’ll share our photos from Hasedera, thoughts about visiting this temple, and general info about it.
In terms of Hasedera Temple’s history, it’s a bit unclear what’s fact and what’s legend. Either way, it’s generally-accepted that the temple was founded in 736 after the monk Tokudo Shonin found a huge tree in the forests of Nara. He cut the tree in half and carved two statues of Kannon in 721.
The first statue, carved from the lower half of the tree, now resides in Nara’s temple of the same name. The second statue, from the upper half, was thrown into the sea and washed up on the Miura Peninsula in 736. Kamakura’s Hasedera Temple was founded thereafter to house the sacred image of Kannon.
Let’s take a look at the highlights and what to see at Hasedera Temple…
First, the most renowned feature of Hasedera is the 9.18 meter tall, gilded wooden statue of the 11-headed Kannon Goddess of Mercy. This is one of the largest wooden sculptures in Japan, and can be viewed in Hasedera Temple’s main building, the Kannon-do Hall. This is the unequivocal highlight for most visitors.
Just in case there’s any confusion, that is not it above. Photos are not allowed of Kannon, so you’ll just have to take our word for it being beautiful and a bit imposing.
There are seven main buildings in Hasedera Teemple’s complex and its surrounding garden grounds.
The Main Hall (Hondo) is flanked by two smaller halls. One features a statue of the Amidha Buddha carved in 1189, which was created for Minamoto Yoritomo’s birthday to ward off evil influences associated with advancing age. The other hall houses a statue of Daikoku.
While that statue is impressive, the highlights for me are the number of smaller statues, along with a cavernous area that almost requires crawling through, and is lit only by candles.
Let’s take a look at some of the smaller statues and more subtle details of Hasedera Temple…
We’ll start with my favorite: the Benten-kutsu Cave is located in the north corner the temple. Its entrance is marked with a red torii, and inside the cave is a statue of Benten, the Buddhist and sixteen statues carved around the walls of Benten’s disciples.
This is undoubtedly the most memorable aspect of Hasedera Temple for me, likely because it’s the most unique element of the temple. We’ve visited dozens of temples throughout Japan, and at a point, they begin to blend together because there are a lot of similarities (at least to my novice eye). This was a clear distinction, and my fondest memory of our visit to Hasedera (and frankly, Kamakura as a whole).
We visited during the summer, which is said to be the ideal time to visit because the grounds of Hasedera Temple are full of blooming hydrangeas.
The downside is that it’s Japan’s rainy season, and there was a slight drizzle and overcast skies for the duration of our visit. Given the plethora of trees, I’m guessing this temple would also be stunning in the autumn at the peak of fall colors.
Throughout Hasedera, there are rows of small statues of Jizo, the guardian deity of children. Historically, parents came to Hasedera to place these statues in the hope that the deity would protect and watch over their children.
Thousands of these Jizo statues are scattered among the grounds, and today they are dedicated to children lost in miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.
The Jizo are just one of many details at Hasedera. As you can see, there are myriad smaller statues that are easy to overlook.
As is often the case, we find that people are drawn to the grander main buildings, and don’t spend much time savoring the more intimate areas.
That was our experience in Kamakura. There were significantly more visitors crowding Daibutsu, than at Hasedera, period.
This temple was fairly devoid of crowds, and most of the crowd that was there was congregated around the main buildings. Once you got further up the hillside, there were areas with few people.
Not that we’re complaining (it also started raining, which could’ve played a role) about the lack of crowds at Hasedera Temple. Given that Kamakura requires a significant time investment for tourists from Tokyo, we would’ve expected to see visitors taking their time and stopping at multiple temples in this region.
If our experience is any indication, most people go to Kamakura for Kotokuin Temple, with the other points of interest at which we stopped having significantly fewer visitors.
Hasedera Temple is around 5-10 minutes by foot from Kotokuin Temple and the Kamakura Daibutsu, which is the main reason visitors are drawn to Kamakura.
Hasedera is also close to Kosokuji Temple…which is close to Amanawa Shinmei Shrine. While we did not see them all, there are numerous temples and shrines dotting Kamakura, which is why it’s known as “The Kyoto of Eastern Japan.” (That’s a huge stretch.)
Admission to Hasedera Temple is 300 yen, with the Kannon Museum costing an additional 300 yen. This museum includes English placards, and features the eleven-headed Kannon statue, a 13th century temple bell, scrolls, calligraphy, and other historical documents. We’d say it’s worth the surcharge to see this museum.
Other recommendations for Hasedera Temple mirror those that we already covered in our Kamakura Great Buddha & Kotokuin Temple Review. That post also covers the pros and cons of visiting Kamakura, and to whom we recommend this day-trip destination. Whether you should go is a threshold question, so definitely read that post if you’re on the fence about Kamakura.
Overall, if you do decide to make the trek south from Tokyo to Kamakura, we would consider Hasedera Temple a must-visit. The iconic statues–like that of Kannon–are what garner the attention, but there is so much subtle beauty at Hasedera, including the environment itself. The unique cave, and ocean views overlooking Yuigahama Beach are definite draws. This is one of our favorite, relatively under-the-radar temples in Japan–we prefer it to the Great Buddha–and should definitely be included on any itinerary to Kamakura.
Have you visited Hasedera Temple? Did you think the commute to Kamakura was worth your time, or do you wish you would’ve stayed in Tokyo? Any other highlights to Hasedera that we missed? Would you recommend the side trip to Kamakura, or would you recommend skipping it? Any other temples in Kamakura you’d recommend? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!