Kita-Kamakura is renown for its many Zen temples and gardens. The essence of both is to be simple and quiet. Many houses built in Japan’s early Showa Era (1926-1988) incorporated Zen taste to some extent. More than a few literary personalities, as well as experts in calligraphy, used to have cottages in Kamakura, and the building that this restaurant now occupies was one of them. It retains its refined appearance with a touch of Zen taste.
When you pass through Kyorai-an's small but quite beautiful wooden gate and noren curtain from the street, stone steps lead you up to a simple but elegant entrance. Well-trimmed hedges and colorful leaves will make you feel that you have been invited to the house of an old Japanese friend. The first door on the left is not for guests, although it used to be. The space is decorated with a wooden carved screen on a tatami mat behind a shoji (paper sliding) door. The figure is called “Hotei” which is one of seven deities of good fortune. Hotei was also often the subject of Zen paintings in the Kamakura era. He looks quite happy, doesn’t he? The second door is for restaurant guests. If the sliding door is closed, please open it and step inside. But before you do, I recommend one thing: Please give a glance at the garden. At first sight, it might look like just a natural garden. But it isn’t. The owner keeps it looking natural and rustic. These are consistent with Zen thought.
Inside the restaurant, there are two types of seating: There are a few tables with chairs near the window; And there are floor tables spread around a tatami mat room. The interior is not so special. But this fact also lends itself to the Zen concept.
Kyorai-an’s specialty is beef stew, which most customers seem to order. A lunch set includes a bowl of beef stew, rice or a slice of bread, a small salad, and coffee or tea for 2625 yen. Although most Zen practitioners do not (of course) eat meat, the stew here is, I feel, Zen-like because it is quite simple: Big chunks of meat and carrots in a lightly seasoned sauce. Some people might think it’s too simple. But many others will enjoy the simplicity.
If you are in the mood for something lighter, try their cheese cake, coffee or tea, or their local wine. Kyorai-an is open only from 11 AM to 3 PM. They are closed Fridays.
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Japan is a small island nation, but we have a huge number of surprising things to discover here. Many of these delights can be found when you step off the main street onto small side paths. I really enjoy studying about and researching various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, and then sharing this information with visitors to Japan. I hope you will enjoy it, too! ARTICLE INDEX & PHOTOS: An index of most of my Japan Travel articles can be found at the entry page of my blog, and my photos are shown here. 日本はとても小さな国ですが、大通りから一本小道に入ればたくさんの発見があります。日本人が積み重ねてきた歴史を学びながら、古い建物や庭を訪ね、物語の舞台となった景色を眺めて、皆様といっしょに日本文化の奥深さを探求していきたいと思います。