Bring travel home: Japan
Introducing Bring travel home
One of the things that makes travel special is the chance to switch off and explore new cultures. And with more time on our hands than usual, we have the opportunity to do just that. So for this series, we’ll be curating things to watch, read, listen and eat to explore different cultures from the comfort of your own home.
It's the third largest economy in the world, the home of loads of globally recognised brands and a leader in everything from art to architecture and food to technology. Yet, Japan remains something of a mystery. Tradition, craft and quality both juxtaposes and blends with the modernity, bright lights and disposable lifestyle of present-day Japan. That contrast makes Japan incredibly exciting and expresses itself throughout its art, film, literature and food.
On the surface, it's a simple story - two Japanese milk-truck drivers (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe) help a restaurant owner (Nobuko Miyamoto) learn how to cook great noodles. Simple it is not. What makes this film brilliant is it excels at getting side-tracked. Woven into the story is a Seven Samurai-style "get the gang together" plot, a slow-boiled romance, bar-brawling cowboys and etiquette-obsessed housewives. Surprisingly it works, just like the incredible opening scene.
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Exquisitely illustrated by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, Howl's Moving Castle is the kind of escapism that is much welcomed right now. The anime masterpiece has important themes throughout, most notably that of pacifism as Miyazaki's strong opposition of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 comes to light. The invasion angered him so much that the film was an attempt to make a movie that would be poorly received in the US. That didn't quite go to plan and it was nominated for an Oscar, but the message is clear enough.
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (2019)
The show focuses on a small 12 seat midnight diner and its chef, known only as "The Master". Each episode follows the drama of a customer with The Master offering help and advice as he cooks up the customer's favourite dish. It's a rare show that uses the simple pleasure of eating with strangers and the swapping of stories that ensues to create a magical setting.
Watch on Netflix.
Terrace House (2012-Present)
Yes, we've included a reality TV show. But don't worry, this isn't another Big-Brother-Love-Island sensationalist show. According to a Japanese friend, it perfectly captures dating in Japan and is very entertaining to watch. A particular highlight is the panel of commentators who provide international viewers with context on Japanese cultural nuances. See, we said it was more than a reality show.
Watch on Netflix.
Ivan Orkin | Chef's Table | Season 3, Episode 4 (2017)
Self-proclaimed ramen junkie, Ivan Orkin started his love affair with Japanese cuisine aged 15 whilst washing dishes at a sushi bar in New York state. A series of moves back and forth between Japan and the USA resulted in him opening his first restaurant, Ivan Ramen, in Tokyo in 2006. This move seemed destined for failure in a country where ramen enjoys a cult-like status. Incredibly, Ivan not only succeeded but his restaurant became one of the top ramen shops in Tokyo. An unheard of accomplishment for a foreigner. Fast forward to present day and he's doing what he does best - ramen - in his hometown of New York City.
Watch on Netflix.
Walking in Arashiyama, Kyoto by Rambalac
Why go to Japan when you can go on multiple walking tours with the king/queen of the steady cam - Rambalac. In their own words, their YouTube channel is "Not a vlog, no intrusive faces or talking, pure Japan only." We really enjoyed this video of a walk through the bamboo groves of the Arashiyama district in Kyoto. But, go ahead, pick your own path.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)
In this vivid, multi-generational saga, Min Jin Lee meticulously reconstructs the relatively overlooked history of the large Korean immigrant community in Japan. Following a single family, the story starts on the idyllic coastline of Korea shortly after its annexation by Japan in 1910 and moves with the family to the shabby Korean township of Ikaino in Osaka. We live with the family through a Second World War and all the way through to 1989. As a historical novel, these events form the background to what is an exploration of Japanese-Korean relations over a century.
Get the book or audiobook on Amazon.
Live Small/Live Modern: The Best of Beams at Home (2019)
Having gained a cult-like following in Japan, this indispensable guide is filled with ideas on how to spruce up your home using the Japanese art of styling small spaces. Beams, the author, is a lifestyle fashion brand known for its brand collaborations and is represented in the UK by the creative agency Beams & Co.
Get the book on Amazon.
Lost Japan by Alex Kerr (1993)
An enchanting and fascinating insight into Japanese landscape, culture, history and future from a foreigner who made Japan his home for 30 years. Originally written in Japanese, Alex Kerr brings to life the ritualised world of Kabuki, retraces his initiation into Tokyo's boardrooms during the heady Bubble Years, and tells the story of the hidden valley that became his home. Kerr is an American writer and Japanologist who was the first foreigner to be awarded the Shincho Gakugei Literature Prize for the best work of non-fiction published in Japan.
Get the book on Amazon.
Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren (1994)
In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. According to Koren, "It occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West." A useful introduction to a concept that has influenced techniques and tools we use every day, from the Agile methodology to Twitter.
Get the book on Amazon.
Shikoku Pilgrimage | Emergence Magazine
The Shikoku Pilgrimage is a route of eighty-eight Buddhist temples around the perimeter of the island of Shikoku in Japan. At 1,200km long, it normally takes anything from 30 to 60 days to complete on foot. Fortunately, Emergence has produced this interactive article that takes you to nine of the temples, which you can enjoy in less than an hour, and still get a sense of the history, legend and myth surrounding this ancient tradition.
Read the article in Emergence Magazine.
Ridgeline Newsletter | Craig Mod
Mod is committed to walking, which he uses to explore his love for literature, Japan and photography. This weekly newsletter is an entertaining, whacky and sometimes hysterical read that might make us look at our daily outing in a different way.
Shintaro Sakamoto is a Japanese music composer, producer, writer and singer based in Tokyo. Formerly a member of the psychedelic rock band, Yura Yura Teikoku, he began his solo career in 2011 with an ambient disco and airy jazz style that will nurture your soul. Our favourite song, まともがわからない, is a must-listen.
Listen on Spotify.
DJ, producer, rapper Yakenohara has been playing the festival and underground scene for over a decade in Japan. Relatively unknown beyond his own country, we love, as Jack Hardwicke of Métron Records put it, his "...distinct and effective formula, matching clean, looping melodies with drifting, celestial ambient tones, that cut straight to the pleasure centres of your brain."
Listen on Spotify.
This 3-part show covers 30 years of Studio Ghibli soundtracks, mixed and arranged by Sega Bodega. The studio is best known for its animated feature films, including Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Listen on NTS.
The finest London selection of Japanese grooves, from the 1930's to 80's. They play anything from folk, jazz, psychedelia, new wave, soul, disco and electronic, but it's all made in Japan.
Listen on NTS.
Eat and drink
Juicy on the inside, crispy and golden brown on the outside, these Japanese pan-fried dumplings, Gyoza, are a popular weeknight meal or appetiser. A close relation of the Chinese Jiaozi, their distinction lies in the lightness of the pastry which gives an extra crunch when fried.
Check out this recipe from Namiko Hirasawa Chen.
Asparagus and Ikura
With asparagus season approaching (St George's Day on 23rd April marks the start, apparently) we wanted to share a distinctly different way of enjoying one of England's finest vegetables. This recipe combines the asparagus with salmon roe, soy sauce and bonito flakes to create a buttery, smoky sensation that contrasts with the crunchiness of the greens.
Check out the recipe from Sofia Hellsten.
Sake is best fresh, so the closer you drink it to where it's made, the better. With this in mind, founders Lucy and Tom went about making sake in London and launched this microbrewery in Peckham. The good news is, there are a range stockists that will deliver across the UK.
Japan Centre Food Hall
Established in 1976, the Japan Centre Food Hall is a well-loved institution situated in Central London with an outpost in Westfield Stratford City. Featuring a supermarket, bookstore, deli, bakery, butcher, fishmonger and homewares, this is the place to get anything Japanese. Helpfully, they deliver too.
Visit Japan Centre.
If you don't fancy rustling up the food yourself, why not order in? Here are some recommendations of great restaurants and eateries from our home, London, that are still delivering:
A contemporary Japanese diner, based on Katsu houses seen throughout Japan. They serve unfussy and well-priced katsu, teriyaki and sushi using their own family recipes.
Order from Tanakatsu on Deliveroo.
Expanding out of Brixton market, Okan now has 3 locations from Southbank to Coldharbour Lane. Order from Tanakatsu on Deliveroo. This Osaka-style Japanese spot does a generous pork belly okonomiyaki, thick yaki udon, and excellent signature king prawn and squid yaki soba.
Order from Okan on Deliveroo.
Okko, London Fields
Okko is like family. It’s your friendly and chilled izakaya on Broadway Market. They serve Pacific Japanese plates from Hokkaido to Hawaii, showcasing both the precision of classic Japanese cuisine and the easy flow Nikkei fusion cooking, Their menu straddles healthy vegan and more indulgent plates, with staples like sushi rolls, poke, fish tacos, gyoza, ramen and katsu.
Order from Okko.
Anata no Uchi, Hackney
"Japanese food, delivered to the homes of Hackney". Like their own words, the menu is simple and short, which is reassuring when it comes to any restaurant. Good quality sushi, yakitori, karaage, and tempura are all on offer at reasonable prices.
Order from Anata no Uchi on Deliveroo.
Yashin Sushi, Holland Park
Located on a side street off High Street Ken, Yashin is an excellent, creative, and modern sushi restaurant with an ever-changing list of unusual and seasonal ingredients.
Order from Yashin Sushi on Deliveroo.
Other nice things
Nomikomu is an online arts platform introducing original projects, imaginative people and cultural goings-on in the UK and Japan. Having lived in both Japan and the UK, creators and sisters Kerensa and Xenobe Purvis were keen to establish a dialogue between the two countries. Nomikomu was the result: a place dedicated to exploring the cultural differences and affinities between these island nations. Their features offer a fresh and focused slant on Anglo-Japanese art and design, while their carefully curated shop brings some of their favourite pieces to the attention of a wider audience.
Check out Nomikomu.
A scroll-hole-worthy Instagram account of bustling urban photography from Tokyo.
Check out Instagram.
A special thanks to Kerensa Purvis and Oliver Murphy for all their help and guidance on this article. We hope you enjoyed being temporarily transported to Japan. Next up, we’re taking you to India. Send Ben an email along with your suggestions and we’ll give you a £10 Amazon voucher if it makes the cut.
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