Come for the art, stay for the coffee.
Japan’s numerous museums offer a little bit of everything. Whether it’s cutting edge, contemporary art in Tokyo or a tiny museum in the countryside dedicated to a single sculptor, seeking them out is always rewarding. What’s also rewarding is the calm break at the museum cafe. Although unlike regular cafes, there’s usually the museum cover charge required to access it. But the space offers an opportunity to reflect on everything seen at the museum. The menu too is often thoughtful and inspired by the art or architectural aspects of the museum. We present to you, a few of our favorite museum cafes. And whether they’re in Tokyo or beyond, each is definitely worth the visit.
Salon de The Rond (The National Art Center Tokyo)
We’ll begin with a classic and what is arguably one of Japan’s most-famous museum cafes. Featured in anime and television for its unique form, Salon de The Rond sits high atop a gigantic inverted cone and takes its name from its location in this round space. Operated by the Hiramatsu Restaurants group, the Salon offers an assortment of delicious treats, including sandwiches and a variety of cakes, as well as tea, coffee, and a selection of wines.
Nezu Cafe (Nezu Museum, Tokyo)
The Nezu Museum itself is a hidden gem in Tokyo’s Nezu neighborhood, redesigned in 2010 by Kengo Kuma. And the Nezu Cafe is equally a treat with its spectacular views of the garden, which is beautiful any time of year. Time moves a bit slower at this cafe, where light filters through the translucent roof, a stark contrast to the dark galleries that protect the artwork from the sun.
Café 1894 (Mitsubishi Ichigokan Art Museum, Tokyo)
The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum’s Café 1894 is located in the hall originally occupied by the banking department. The structure itself was built soon after Japan ended its isolationist policy and was the first building constructed in western-style architecture. The area was recreated in 2010 as faithfully as possible with the aid of photographs believed to date from the building’s completion in 1894, as well as blueprints and drawings. And don’t be fooled by the word “cafe” is they offer an extensive menu of sandwiches and desserts that expands even further in the evening.
Temporarily closed from Spring 2023 – Autumn 2024
Enfuse (Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art)
The Enfuse cafe is located inside the the Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art, which was recently renovated by Tezzo Nishizawa Architects and Jun Aoki & Associates. The museum itself opened 90 years ago and the cafe aligns itself with this heritage by serving Kyoto delicacies with an emphasis on local ingredients. They even offer to-go picnic sets to be eaten at nearby Okazaki Park or Lake Biwa Canal.
Simose Art Garden Villa, Hiroshima
The Simose Art Garden Villa is a new destination designed by architect Shigeru Ban. It’s equal parts museum, hotel and foodie paradise. Guests have free access to all the beverages inside the stunning cafe, which doubles as a lounge area, and offers views of the Seto Inland Sea.
Teshima Museum Cafe, Teshima Island (Kagawa)
Probably our most difficult-to-access pick, but so worth the travel, is the Teshima Museum Cafe. Part of the Setouchi art islands, Teshima is one of the smaller islands accessible only by ferry. The cafe is adjacent to one of our favorite museums in Japan and replicates the form of the Nishizawa Ryue-designed Teshima Museum. The menu is simple but offers refreshments made from local ingredients like strawberry soda and lemon cake, both made from fruits grown on the island.
Caffè Arte (Arte Piazza Bibai, Hokkaido)
Located to the east of Sapporo is the town of Bibai, the home of prolific sculptor Kan Yasuda and an open-air museum dedicated to his works. We use the term “open” in the broadest sense possible as this museum has no gates; no entrance fee. Go as you please but do stop by the Caffe Arte for homemade cake and freshly brewed coffee. High vaulted ceilings and large windows offer meditative views of the hills dotted with sculptures. In the winter, a wood-burning stove heats the intimate space.