The symmetrical beauty of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the meditative colossus of Kotokuin, and the Zen-inspired splendors of Kenchoji and Enkakuji may win Kamakura inscription on the World Heritage List. Comparatively unknown are its Western-style buildings constructed after Kamakura became accessible from Tokyo by rail in about an hour in 1889. Those meriting preservation receive the designation "Scenically Important Structures."

One so designated in 2004 is the New Kamakura Hotel, which opened as the Yamagata Hotel in 1924. The building features neat rows of wooden sash windows set in mustard-yellow hand-textured stucco walls. The roof is hipped, and battens parallel to its slope anchor the copper roofing. This boutique hotel is too charming — like the set for a cinematic romance — for its location at the rear of a car park.

While its design charms, its semiotics surprise. The parking valets work out of a shack topped by an outsize sign reading "Motor Pool." Billboards display drawings of the hotel over which are superimposed photos of writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa and poet Kanako Okamoto. The transom above the hotel entrance says "Vailkommen," a Swedish welcome in combination with tall palm trees transporting you to a polyglot port in South America, an illusion strengthened by a mixed Francophone couple coming out of the white swing doors.