First-time travellers to Japan usually choose Kamakura, the small version of Kyoto, just one hour away by train from Tokyo centre. Traditional century-aged Zen temples, the Great Buddha statue and Edo period small alleys every year attract thousands of tourists to the city. But those who search for the true roots of Zen in the former de facto capital find themselves in the West part of the town, Kita-Kamakura. Despite being a home to three of the five highest-ranking Zen temples, this part of the town dwells with tranquility without a trace of mass tourism.
While you would easily find the way to temples here without a map, Minka Cafe is hidden like a well-kept secret in Kamakura’s greenery. In Japanese, a word Minka describes the type of traditional Japanese house building style which could still be found in the countryside. Yet Kita-Kamakura’s Minka represents a literal meaning of the term – houses of the people – which kindly accommodates anyone who steps inside.
The place fills up with customers very quickly as soon as it opens. Usually locals or nearby-living moms with toddlers settle for a conversation and some slow coffee time. The cafe is full of books, both English and Japanese, plants and vintage items, yet the space feels empty and spacious because of its tall wooden structure.
Most likely the best seat in the cafe belongs to a single customer. Whereas most coffee shop’s seats are designed for sharing, one desk in the corner offers both, tranquility and a beautiful view of swinging trees in the breeze. Otherwise, the four-seat counter allows to observe the slow coffee preparation with nel drip (flannel filter) which has been used in Japan since early 1900s.
Coffee in Minka is light roasted with medium acidity but distinctive slightly burnt caramel notes and silky mouthfeel. Cafe owners have chosen Ooya Coffee Roasters [オオヤコーヒ] from a quiet rural mountain village in Kyoto. Surprisingly, this part of Kyoto is famous for its minka resembling houses with grass thatched roof. It might be a coincidence or a well thought decision for choosing a coffee roaster from this part of Japan.
On the menu, a choice of coffee drinks is kept very minimal. Minka’s guests entrust their host for coffee selection by choosing mysterious first option, おいしいコーヒー (delicious coffee). At the time of my arrival, customers’ cups were filled with rich Peruvian coffee from Ooya Coffee Roasters.
Minka Cafe dwells with nostalgia. If asked to define, Minka would be somewhere in between an old-style kissaten and a minimalistic coffee shop. Light dishes and lunch options makes Minka a great quick afternoon stop. Yet you would miss a lot. The tranquility and slow-paced time to appreciate nature and Japanese structure of the house are the things that are worth-travelling for all the way from Tokyo to the hidden corner of Kita-Kamakura.
*All photos are taken with a film camera for a Kissaten Project 2016