Top tips from luxury car brand, Lexus
The recent rugby world cup provided many visiting fans with a memorable experience of Japan’s culture and hospitality, but you don’t have to travel nearly 6,000 miles to sample this, as London has many Japanese-inspired places to visit. Here are some suggestions on authentic Japanese experiences over a weekend in London, from Lexus, the luxury car brand which has Japanese culture, design and traditions at its heart.
Japan House, Kensington: a Tokyo treasure trove
An homage to all-things Japanese, Japan House, is a cultural hub created in June 2018 by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to showcase the vibrancy and variety of its native crafts.
At its centre, an emporium sells everything from tsuru bishio (gourmet soy sauce) and fine matcha green tea, to origami-inspired gold jewellery and lucent chiyogami (silk screen) paper. Each product is accompanied by an introduction to its takumi and the area where it is from.
A spiral staircase leads down to a free exhibition space and library, where guests can pore over Japanese art, films and books. The shows change every few months, each one examining a new cultural element.
“For our Japanese visitors, Japan House feels just like home,” explained PR manager Hollie Mantle, “There’s nowhere else quite like it in London. We have a librarian who’s based in Tokyo and every couple of months he brings a whole new selection of books, covering everything from traditional calligraphy to Hello Kitty.”
Akira is a great lunch spot. It is rich in the artistry and warmth of Japan: every diner is greeted with a cheer of “Irrashaimase!” (“Welcome!”) from the chefs, whose open kitchen is a delight. It’s possible to watch as a sous chef deftly fillets an octopus, or flame-grills succulent lamb cutlets, or yuzu-infused chicken teppanyaki. It’s this theatre that attracts everyone from homesick Japanese expatriates to A-list actors (Charlize Theron and Eddie Redmayne have been spotted here).
V&A Museum, Kensington
The V&A Museum, has a permanent (and free) Japanese collection which delves into Japan’s artistry, featuring lavish gold-sewn kimonos dating back to the 1800s, samurai swords wielded by 14th-century warriors and intricate enamel-encrusted furniture.
But not all of the V&A’s treasures are ancient: beside one 150-year-old urn from Yokohama there is a modern copy adorned with a rainbow of pixels and beyond that, a cabinet showing the evolution of Japanese-made mobile phones. A sleek snake-shaped vase by artist Masumoto Keiko was made using the same hand-crafted clay modelling techniques as Lexus’s takumi masters use in designing cars – the perfect symbiosis of tradition and technology.
Prince Akatoki hotel, Marble Arch
A short drive away, near Marble Arch, another modern marvel awaits: the Prince Akatoki Hotel. Inspired by a traditional ryokan (inn) – albeit with kingsize beds, marble bathrooms and sumptuous suites – it feels like a luxurious Tokyo hotel, each room offering everything from bamboo-handled dobin teapots to yukata bathrobes. TOKii, its fine-dining restaurant, serves kaiseki-style small plates, in the style of Japan’s haute cuisine eateries.
Kyoto Garden: Holland Park
Renowned for their symbolism and tranquility, Japanese gardens are havens for meditation and reflection. Kyoto Garden was designed by Japanese master-gardener Shoji Nakahara, and opened in 1991 by His Imperial Highness The Crown Prince of Japan. At its heart lies a small lake, surrounded by maples and cherry trees: in autumn, the treetops blaze with crimson and ochre, while in spring, they’re festooned with fragrant pink blossoms.
A Japanese garden is designed to be savoured slowly and groundsman: Marc Sinclair, who has tended this garden for almost a decade, says: “It’s a true labour of love. Each plant has its own temperament and significance, and every season they reveal a new side.”
Katsute 100, Angel Islington: afternoon tea with a Japanese twist
Katsute 100 is a Japanese café in north London, where time-honoured tea ceremonies meet a truly British institution – cake.
Decorated with suiboku-ga paintings and antique furniture from Japan, Katsute 100 feels like a cosy living room; the kind of place you can spend an entire afternoon in, reading books and lingering over green-tea lattes. From its hand-crafted hohin (‘treasure jar’) teapots to dainty bento boxes filled with delicate nibbles, Katsute echoes the takumi traditions.
“The Japanese and British temperaments and traditions complement each other perfectly,” explains owner Joe Mossman, “so what better way to honour that, than by giving afternoon tea a Japanese twist?”
Other ways to experience Japanese culture in London
The Japanese Embassy provides details of Japanese events happening throughout the UK on its excellent listings website – including theatre, live music, film and dance performances. For 2020, highlights include the V&A’s ‘Kimono to Catwalk’ exhibition (29 Feb-21 June) and a workshop in Japanese Woodblock Printmaking at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts (29 Jan-18 Mar).
London’s restaurant scene offers everything from authentic Japanese cuisine to adventurous east-west fusion. For the former, look to Engawa in Soho, which specialises in kobe beef – the ‘caviar of meat’. Engawa’s executive head chef is Shimizu Akira, who also heads up Akira at Japan House. Meanwhile, Sticks’n’Sushi in Covent Garden serves light bites and sake cocktails – and Sushi Samba (on the 38th floor of London Heron Tower) gives Japanese favourites a feisty South American twist.
The Lexus UX: the perfect urban explorer
The Lexus UX compact SUV is ideal for driving around London. It is equipped with the fourth generation Lexus self-charging hybrid powertrain, combining high fuel efficiency with a smooth, natural and responsive driving experience and is available with either front-wheel drive or electric all-wheel drive. In real world city driving it can use electric power for a significant proportion of every journey – up to 55 per cent, depending on the driving conditions.
The UX gained the highest ratings for pedestrian and cyclist protection of any car yet tested under Euro NCAP’s tougher 2019 criteria. New and improved active safety features include a Pre-Collision System that can detect pedestrians in the vehicle’s path during both day and night-time driving, and cyclists during daylight.