A healthy imagination
It’s been almost a full year to the day that the shutters come down on normality. Without dwelling on it all too much, we seem to be getting to a point where they might all just come up again at some point; with that, the mind begins to wander at what we might want to experience again once they do. (We’re probably asking for trouble in doing such.) However, after many of us spending a huge amount of time indoors, I feel its only natural to want to spend a moment thinking of what we want to do after.
So, at the risk of jinxing the entire country, I want to go through a series of Japanese places I’m looking forward to visiting most. I’ve tried to think of a variety of different sites, but rest assured there’s a lot more that could be here. Anyway, onwards!
Holland Park: Kyoto Garden
Within the heart of London resides a piece of Japanese tranquillity, the Kyoto Garden within Holland Park. Opening in 1991 as a gift from Kyoto following a long-standing friendship between the UK and Japan, it’s a green space that truly encapsulates the essence of a traditional Japanese stroll garden.
It was built by the Japanese garden designer Shoji Nakahara and incorporates essential components of rock formations; time-worn ornaments, and stone structures; with central water features. You can also expect to find some diverse wildlife such as Koi carp that are native to Japan and even a peacock or two. There are also a huge variety of trees, plants and shrubbery that only helps to give this garden more character; and so, when this is all enclosed within a comfortable space it allows the eyes to keep wandering and discovering new elements throughout the visit.
Most of you will have probably heard of sake, what might come as a surprise however is that it is also brewed here in the UK. Dojima brewery is just one of two breweries in the country (the other being Kanpai in London), where visitors can book and take a tour around a Japanese sake brewery.
The aim is to show the production process of producing sake — which is normally a bit different to other alcohol — as well as arguably the most important part, a tasting session. All of this whilst taking in the idyllic Cambridgeshire countryside.
This building built in 1830 is home to a blend of both Nordic and Japanese style dining experiences. The grade II listed façade hides six floors of restaurants, bars, and retail therapy that previously was just a warehouse space.
The idea behind this seeming juxtaposition is the fact that Nordic and Japanese culture have a lot in common; both have a focus on simple and often minimalist design, whilst also having an appreciation and connection with nature. Both elements are unmistakably present throughout the building.
On the Japanese side of things be sure to check out the café Kitsune, the Sakaya bar and a new addition this spring Sachi.. Café Kitsune is a subtle Japanese inspired coffee bar, while Sachi is a restaurant that will deliver iconic Japanese dishes. The menu has been put together by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a cookbook author and food journalist who produced ‘Japan: the cookbook’ — the recipes of which are to be used in the restaurant.
Japan House London
Classed as the cultural home of Japan, Japan house London is definitely a hub for Japanese enthusiasts. Located very conveniently in Kensington (extremely close to Holland park by the way), it offers up an ever-changing exhibition space, authentic Japanese dining at their Akira restaurant and a library full of Japanese literature, in both Japanese and English. That is what you can expect when visiting the premises in London, before I talk about the host of resources online as well.
Japan house is a unique establishment in the way it feels like a community space for Japanese devotees that will be hard to come across elsewhere. Its incredibly Japanese in its design and layout too as you might expect from such a place. All-in-all this site is worth a visit.
Have you ever walked into a marks and spencer’s food hall and thought ‘I wished this was more Japanese’? No? Me neither.
Yet that is exactly how I would describe Ichiba and its fantastic, in fact it is Europe’s largest Japanese food hall. It’s a place that you can shop for Japanese products (mostly food but other things aswell), but more commonly it is where you can get fresh Japanese cuisine made in front of you. There’s not much that isn’t covered here in terms of staple Japanese foods, even elusive Japanese street foods like Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. Located at Westfield shopping centre in London, if you have any desire to try — or are already a lover of Japanese food — this is a must go place.
The British Museum + The V&A Museum
Ok, so these aren’t really Japanese places per se; however, they are a great chance to look into Japanese history and design. To make up for it here’s two institutions with great collections, the British Museum focusing on the former and the V&A the latter.
Both of these house permanent collections to the country, which has a fascinating history and development over primarily the last 2000 years. The British museum has the most exhibits that go back the furthest with a lot focusing on Edo period pieces. The V&A on the other hand has exhibits that generally start later from near the 16th century with many from the 19th; however, it includes pieces all the way up to the modern day. These are two places to go where you can get closer to Japan and see first-hand each piece that has been preserved and displayed. There is no better experience than saying things with your own two eyes.
The Japanese Garden at Cowden
I wanted to put another Japanese garden on the list as Cowden is a bit different to Kyoto Garden. This Japanese garden is situated up in Scotland on the site of the old Cowden Castle and as such occupies a much larger portion of land.
The site was at one time in complete disrepair but thankfully has recently been restored by a team from Osaka. Now a spot of unrivalled beauty set amongst the picturesque landscape, the focal point is the lake in the centre which closely resembles that of a paradise garden. Yet surrounding the lake are innumerable little details those oozes character at every turn.
Be sure to check out my guide deciphering Japanese Gardens before going to make the most of the visit.
Last on my list is a much smaller, but a very much Japanese affair in the form of a matcha bar. Matcha is essentially ground down green tea leaves, despite the transformation however, it is still used to make tea — just with its powdered variety. It has become increasingly used as a flavouring for a variety of foods such as ice cream and Japanese confectionary.
This is where Tsujiri comes in.
Tsujiri, in its simplest form, is a Japanese coffee shop. With locations in both London and Manchester, it’s a spot where you can indulge in everything matcha. It’s infused into coffee’s, ice-cream, milkshakes, sweets, chocolate and cake and is another location that exudes Japanese design.
Creating this list is certainly enough to get the excitement going, at least for me. As previously mentioned, I wanted to share a cross-section of different experiences that I’m particularly looking forward to; within each of these there are going to be a handful of others just like them that are worth checking out. I hope your interest has been piqued by what is out there, once the country is given the green light.
Is there any Japanese places you are particularly looking forward to? let me know. (I honestly want to know if I’m missing out.)