Things to do: Japanese Culture in London

By Nisa Yang – Features Editor

From the fantastical world of anime; the vast range of prolific beauty and skincare; to the once flourishing technology industry that blessed us with game consoles and some of the first portable music players, many of us are no strangers towards Japanese culture. Whilst each of those areas may only appeal to a certain demographic respectively, there is one particular common ground that has attracted an immense fan base – food.

The Japanese have always been known for their exquisite way of living, showing immense attention to detail to their everyday lifestyle whilst retaining a Zen-inspired simplicity. As many who have previously travelled to Japan may have noticed, even the smallest of things are beautifully designed and packaged, usually conforming to a functional yet minimalist aesthetic. The Japanese take immense pride in their presentation and thus, food is no exception.

Over the years, it is evident that a strong Japanese base has gradually been built across London with the rise in popularity of Japanese culture and food. Large-scale, international events such as the London Anime Con and Hyper Japan have both attracted a highly sizeable following, which in turn has boosted the interest and numbers of Japanese eateries and even supermarkets dedicated to the oriental nation, like the Japan Centre situated in Piccadilly Circus, appearing around the British capital. Though this has also led to an increasing number of westernised chain stores popping up and operating under a fast-food model, many restaurants still remain authentic and continue to be run by native Japanese people themselves, ensuring their food is of finest quality. 

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When it comes to Japanese food, many automatically associate it with sushi, making it almost synonymous to an extent. Sushi has been a common favourite amongst many around the world due to its large selection of flavours, its convenience, and the fact that it is seen as one of the more healthier options on the market. Sushi has become such a trend that the majority of chain supermarkets even have them readily available throughout the day, generally serving as an alternative to the usual lunch sandwiches. However, it is worth mentioning that authentic sushi requires extensive training and skill to perfect as the creation of sushi is often regarded as an art form, thus is best experienced at a reputable eatery for optimal experience. The same goes for another staple Japanese dish – ramen – a noodle dish that is generally served in a rich, comforting broth with a variety of toppings and garnishes. These signature dishes have been long-time go-to choices for the majority of us, and whilst they remain an iconic symbol, there is so much more to Japanese food that is just waiting to be discovered.

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One particular treasure in Japanese culture is tea. It is one of the most consumed beverages in Japan and its lengthy history can be dated back to the 9th century. Traditional tea ceremonies – the performance of preparation and presentation of tea – is still frequently practiced today around Japan using matcha, most notably at gatherings. The powdered green tea is extremely popular around the Asia region for its unique but refreshing taste and many have since incorporated matcha in a vast variety of foods. However, more so, it is also known to encompass many health benefits upon consumption due to its abnormally high quantities of antioxidants especially when brewed – thus making it no surprise why Japan has been continuously listed as the country with the highest life expectancy rate in the world. With the rising number of people becoming more health-conscious in the west today, matcha has since made its way here as many eateries and coffee shops around London have began to introduce matcha into their menus – most commonly starting off with matcha lattes and matcha-flavoured desserts. 

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Desserts and confectionery also play a significant part in Japanese food and culture though it seems to be often overlooked in the western market. From the more common desserts such as matcha ice cream and crepes, to mochi ice cream and traditional Japanese confections like wagashi, these Japanese treats are far from sickly sweet but rather give a mellower and lasting taste as they tend to be made using healthier ingredients such as fresh fruits, azuki beans and mochigome rice. Traditional Japanese confections also make great gifts, as found in one central London store on Piccadilly. Not only is each one piece created with great care, patience, and effort, but presentation and packaging is also designed with beautiful and timeless aesthetics. 

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In contrast to the busy and stressful lifestyle Londoners are faced with everyday, the Japanese lead a slightly more Zen, and relaxed way of living, as constantly shown via the effort they put into their food and overall artistic designs in general. As such calm and minimalist aesthetic is continuously being sought after in London, it seems that London will be an exciting place to be for all Japanese food and culture lovers as it proves there is a potential market to grow even further. With London being the multi-cultural city it is, it means that we are privileged to only have to step outside in order to readily explore, scour and sample out the most authentic and one-of-a-kind eateries around – or simply visit your local Japanese supermarket for ingredients to make your own. 

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