Early History

The earliest traces of human settlements in the area date back at least 10,000 years. Obsidian and stone tools found at excavation sites near Jōraku-ji were dated to the Old Stone Age (between 100,000 and 10,000 years ago).

During the Jōmon period, the sea level was higher than now and all the flat land in Kamakura up to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū and, further east, up to Yokohama's Totsuka-ku and Sakae-ku was under water. Thus, the oldest pottery fragments found come from hillside settlements of the period between 7500 BC and 5000 BC. In the late Jōmon period the sea receded and civilization progressed. During the Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD), the sea receded further almost to today's coastline, and the economy shifted radically from hunting and fishing to farming.

water garden at Kannon

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Fortress

large shrine at KannonSurrounded to the north, east and west by mountains and to the south by the open water of Sagami Bay, Kamakura is a natural fortress. Before the construction of several tunnels and modern roads that now connect it to Fujisawa, Ofuna and Zushi, on land it could be entered only through narrow artificial passes, among which the seven most important were called Kamakura's Seven Entrances (鎌倉七口?), a name sometimes translated as "Kamakura's Seven Mouths".

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large shrine at Kannon

The natural fortification made Kamakura an easily defensible stronghold. Before the opening of the Entrances, access on land was so difficult that the Azuma Kagami reports that Hōjō Masako came back to Kamakura from a visit to Sōtōzan temple in Izu bypassing by boat the impassable Inamuragasaki cape and arriving in Yuigahama. Again according to the Azuma Kagami, the first of the Kamakura shoguns, Minamoto no Yoritomo, chose it as a base partly because it was his ancestors' land (his yukari no chi), partly because of these physical characteristics.

Pre-Shogunate

small statues on a shrineThe Azuma Kagami describes pre-shogunate Kamakura as a remote, forlorn place, but there is reason to believe its writers simply wanted to give the impression that prosperity was brought there by the new regime."Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo.

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"To the contrary, it is known that by the Nara Period (about 700 AD) there were both temples and shrines. Sugimoto-dera was built during this period and is therefore one of the city's oldest temples. The town was also the seat of areal government offices and the point of convergence of several land and marine routes. It seems therefore only natural that it should have been a city of a certain importance, likely to attract Yoritomo's attention."

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