Japanese Culture: Japan In London
Japan in London Diary: Serendipitous meetings and musings
Joanne G. Yoshida
You don't have to look far.
Two tea drinking island nations are bound to have some crossings. On my recent travels, I was on the lookout for Japan in London. I packed a small plastic bottle of soy sauce in my suitcase, as Japanese travelers do, changed some yen for pounds, admired the beauty of both currencies and was on my way. The following are some diaristic findings from my travels in the week just before Christmas. For a more practical listing, please see Japan in London Resources for Travelers.
Soon after I arrived in London, I took a walk in the sleety drizzling night, hoping to experience a real winter. In the south of Japan, winters are chuta-hanpa - not here nor there.
Nearing the corner of Gloucester Road and Kensington, in an area dotted with classic English pubs, I peered into the windows of an elegantly illuminated sushi and teppan-yaki restaurant. The Christmas tree out front transported me to a vision of my Christmases past, present, and future - as I followed the road along the park to a full block long Whole Foods supermarket.
I entered from the cold and was greeted by two women offering samples of sushi. The slice of brown rice maki was delicious, and tasted like New York, Japan and London rolled into one.
The women smiled and giggled when I said "Oishii", and exchanged words in Japanese to each other. I had a dream-like feeling, arriving in London where the first taste and words I encountered were Japanese!
Outside I remained in my reverie as London's signature double-decker buses glided past left and right in front of a UNI-QLO (ユニクロ).
When I lived in NY I used to visit my favorite artist, Paul Klee, on December 18th at the Modern or the Met, as we share the same birthday. Finally I could find him again, this time at the Tate Modern.
While looking for Klee in the galleries, I was sidetracked by a kimono displayed full view in front of large red splashed calligraphy panels. The artist, Joan Jonas, combined fairy tales and Japanese theatrical traditions in this installation called The Juniper Tree, originally a 1976 performance performed at the Whitechapel Gallery in the UK.
In the few minutes I was there, tourists from around the world, including Japan, passed through the mixed media installation.
Counting Wagamamas and MacDonalds
As my senses were so clearly set on finding Japan, I was indeed finding it wherever I went. This visit to London was winding up a tie - Japan and London in equal measure.
Even the neon signs in Piccadilly Circus played with me, in a game of Rock, Paper Scissors - a game I know from Japan, as Jan-ken-pon!
Another visual in the landscape that showed up on almost every street corner was Wagamama - a popular brand of dining-out-pan-Asian-style in England and other parts of the globe, specializing in fast service, noodles, and positive culinary values. There was even a Wagamama on the brick alleys leading to Borough Market, a scene which otherwise could have come out of a Dickens novel. So close to London Bridge, was this a message? I couldn't help but sense a metaphor that east and west were comfortably residing close together in London town.
Walking back on Piccadilly
towards Hyde Park---
Japan flag fluttering in the frosty night.
As if to re-enforce my mission, a poster outside the Japan Embassy advertised an Exhibition entitled "100 Years On: Japan-British Exhibition of 1910".
I walked in a few minutes before closing time through high security to find a room full of photographs, posters and text commemorating the centennial of the 1910 exhibit which was held at the White City exhibition grounds in Shepherd's Bush.
One poster showed British ladies in ruffled skirts and gentlemen in suits entering through Japanese-style pavilions with kanji written on welcoming flags in front of orange-painted shrine-like structures. The visually intriguing graphics of the period brought to life the coming together of cultures at that point in history.
How happy I was to see Mt. Fuji! The snow-capped mountain appeared in another stunning poster, which depicts the peaceful and ephemeral qualities of a romantic Japanese scene, by John Henry Lloyd.
You can visit several Japanese gardens in London today, including the garden in Hammersmith Park which was originally constructed for the 1910 exhibition, and has been referred to as one of the best-kept secrets in London.*
When the closing of the galleries was announced, I picked up a few brochures for Japan-related events such as a piano concert by Kotaro Fukuma, and a pamphlet for the Japan Foundation on Russell Square, exited through the high security partitions and walked back into the night.
A winter wonderland was set up in Hyde Park for Christmas. The giant Ferris wheel and neon reminded me of Japan; and of how travel gives us a chance to connect to ourselves in a different orientation on the globe. I sat down to listen to an outdoor musician singing "The Games People Play", as I savored the smell of hot chocolate from a nearby stall.
The Full Moon
Looking out from a low table at Sushi54 at a sign that read "The Half Moon" on a full moon night, I reflected that Japan and the moon go together.
One place I wanted to visit on this trip but didn't get to was the Fan Museum in Greenwich. If you are a fan of either Britain or Japan please check it out and let me know if you get any insights about Japan, London and their parallels or contrasts through the fans on display. Meanwhile, I leave off my diary on the theme of Japan in London with a photo not taken:
A fashionable young Japanese woman in fur-topped boots and a knit mini skirt, holding a MU-JI shopping bag on the Putney Bridge. She looks out over the Thames at real winter snow.
Now back in Japan, almost the New Year.
I open my door and see a Japan flag waving in the distance.
I wave back - This must be London!
*note: MUJI is a popular brand from Japan, which translates as "no brand" or a "brand less brand"
Image Credit & Links
Image Credit: John Henry Lloyd Poster
fL from the London Transport Museum collection
London Transport Museum, Poster Collection
Joan Jonas The Juniper Tree at the Tate Modern
Japan-British Exhibition at the Japan Embassy through Feb.11, 2011
Book Hotel Accommodation in London UK