Café Rencon

Kamakura's Best Kept Secret!

By Heera Melrose-Woodman    - 4 min read

            “How about a coffee?”

            “Where shall we go?”

             “Ummm, somewhere near the station, where we can relax ... ”

Whether you live in Kamakura or are just visiting, the moment always comes when you just need to sit down, relax and recharge your batteries. Kamakura has so many cafés, so why is it often difficult to find that pleasant interior with just the right atmosphere? Let alone a café set in woodland with excellent views of a lotus pond, just 5 minutes walk from Kamakura station. Yet just such a place exists, right in the center of Kamakura—in the Museum of Modern Art, to the left as you face towards Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine.

Walking from Kamakura station up the cherry-tree lined central walk of the main street to Kamakura’s most famous, must-see shrine actually takes you right past The Museum of Modern Art. Hidden by the trees to the left of the famous Drum Bridge, the Museum is easily missed, but in fact is worth a visit in itself. The building was designed by Junzo Sakakura, a student of the famous French architect, Le Corbusier. The Museum itself, which celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 2011, was the first public museum of modern art in Japan and is the third oldest in the world, after MoMA, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Even better hidden, inside the museum, is Café Rencon, with its balcony overlooking one of the famous Hachimangu lotus ponds. Formerly accessible only to museum patrons, Café Rencon has been operated by the non-profit organization, Root Culture, since 2011, and you can now ask at the museum ticket window for a pass, which will see you straight through to the café.

Root Culture is an artists’ collective, based in Kamakura. It was started in 2006, by a group of creative people working in media arts, fine arts, food, music, theater and film, and the performing arts. Although the founder members love living in Kamakura, they had increasingly found themselves being drawn into Tokyo for event spaces and activities. The solution? Revitalize Kamakura by creating a livelier arts and entertainment scene right here.

Kamakura has about 50 historic shrines and temples but it has also been the home of many renowned cultural figures, such as Nobel Prize-winning author Yasunari Kawabata. To rediscover and cultivate Kamakura’s charming blend of history and culture, where opposite values (such as old and new, nature and sophistication) happily co-exist, Root Culture considers what can be done, and acts on it. Using old temples as the venue for art and music festivals, staging performances, and publishing a free arts magazine - by spreading their roots deep and wide through all these activities, Root Culture aims to breathe new life into Kamakura’s traditional culture and architecture. Hence the name.  

Café Rencon fits this idea perfectly, since the space is ideal for meeting and hanging out, but was under-utilized when only accessible with a museum entrance ticket. Now Root Culture hopes to work with the museum to use the space more actively. As yet, opening times are tied to the museum closing time, due to security concerns (11:00am to 5:00pm, every day except Monday, unless it’s a public holiday, when the museum is open). However, during these times, the café serves good coffee, with a selection of homemade cakes and quiches, and provides an excellent place to chill out, relax, meet friends, read, or plan the next few sights to visit, while the balcony offers a terrific view over the lotus pond. The name ‘rencon’ is intended to suggest the combined concepts of the lotus pond and Root Culture, since in Japanese it means ‘lotus root’ and in French, the word ‘rencontre’ means ‘meeting’ or ‘encounter’.

Since Kamakura’s sights are rather spread out, the central location of Café Rencon makes it an ideal place for sightseers to stop midway for a rest and regroup. So if you’re looking for that ideal place to hang out— central, cool decor, great views and good coffee - and, at the same time, you’d like to support a volunteer group who are revitalizing our community (or even see some modern art)—look no further. You know where to go!

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Heera Melrose-Woodman

Heera Melrose-Woodman @heera.melrose.woodman

I come from the English Lake District and have lived in Japan since 1986. I spent my first year in Tokyo, then six years in Kansai, where I was Features Editor for Kansai Time Out. For the last 19 years I’ve been living in Kamakura.Moving from a career in business management and interior design in London, I was initially involved in language and business training in Japan, but soon returned to writing and editing as well. Since coming back to the Tokyo area, I’ve also incorporated some voice acting into my schedule, and give talks on topics such as the ‘English Tea Ceremony’ - yes, there kind of is one!I’ve travelled extensively all over Japan, the Far East and other parts of the world (about 60 to 70 countries in all), but still find Kamakura a pretty unbeatable place to live - 10 minutes to the woods, 15 minutes to the sea, and Tokyo (offering all the benefits of one of the world’s great capital cities) in under an hour!

Join the discussion

Wouter Thielen 8 years ago
When I went to Kamakura with my mother, we were actually looking for a cafe, and it was hard to find, with so many soba restaurants and other shops along the main street. But we found one, hidden behind a building, on the west side of the road. I don't remember the name, but it has a very nice interior, with lots of old things nicely arranged, like a little museum. There is also a small terrace in the back, where you can pick up some fresh air and sunlight if it is too dark inside. If anyone knows of this little cafe, please let me know the name.