Sayonara!

shoryu4Thanks for following me on this blog for the past couple of years.  I’ve decided to put my personal blog to bed now, and have started blogging over at Love Japan Magazine instead.  I hope you’ll continue to follow me – you can subscribe to updates here (follow the link, scroll to the bottom of the page and enter your email address) so each time I add a new post, you’ll get an email.

Here’s a little sneak peek of our first blog post… it involves cocktails.

Sayonara!

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Mogu Mogu! Japanese Sweets by Sound

Today I’m excited to bring you a guest post by food blogger Audrey Foo who writes the wonderful food blog ‘Bites of Oishii‘, where Audrey shares her culinary adventures on a regular basis.  Do go and follow her if you don’t already, especially if you’re a fan of Japanese food.  If you’re wondering what’Oishii’means, (or ‘おいしい’, prounounced ‘oyshee’) it’s the Japanese word for ‘tasty’, or ‘delicious’, which Japanese food most definitely is.

‘Mogu Mogu! Japanese Sweets by Sound’, is a melodic trip through must-try dessert history.  One lifetime is not enough to try the sweets in Japan from traditional wagashito pastries and chocolates from famed French confectioners to hybrid creations melding East and West.

Japanese language sparkles with onomatopoeia (words that sound like their meaning). Charin charin (the sound of a bicycle bell). Potsu potsu (light rain).Kuru kuru (sushi conveyor belts). Come along a sensory tour of Japan’s most delectable desserts!

Mogu mogu (to chew a lot) – Mochi

The first sweets were buns and dumplings from China in the 8th century. The Japanese started making rubbery mochi from steamed and pummelled rice.  Today it’s dipped in soy sauce or filled with beans, fruit, cream or ice cream.

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Children are shown a rabbit pounding mochi with a mallet on the moon.  Celebrities thwack it on TV. It’s thrown at neighbours when building a new house. Sadly, every New Year around ten elderly people die choking on the customary blobs.

Warabi mochi (from bracken root starch) are softer, jiggly cubes topped with kuromitsu brown sugar syrup and kinako roasted soybean powder.

Tsubu tsubu (chunky, small bits) – Matcha Parfait

From the 16th century, wagashi evolved with tea ceremony culture. They’re exquisite miniature artworks but Westerners might find them an acquired taste. Like yokan – brown seaweed jelly blocks with sweet potato, red bean or chestnut.  More modern matcha green tea treats draw crowds at cafes like Saryo Tsujiri, from Kyoto. The parfaits are subtly sweet, textural delights with mochi balls, berries and matcha ice cream, whipped cream and sponge.

Saryo Tsujiri matcha green tea parfait sundae kyoto copy

 

Japanese food is generally less sweet than in the West. Europeans imported sugar in the 16th century. It was an expensive rarity until the Japanese cultivated it in the 17th century and not widely used until after the mid-19thcentury.

Fuwa fuwa (soft, fluffy) – Western Style Cakes

Westerners introduced baking with flour, butter and sugar. The Portuguese brought kasutera castella in the 16th century via Nagasaki. Try this moist sponge at Bunmeido, a chain from Nagasaki.

japanese cake kasutera castella sponge cake from bunmeido copy

Japan has little domestic baking tradition. Many people don’t own ovens and go out for cake and pastries. Strawberry shortcake – sponge, cream, fresh strawberries – has become Christmas custom (shared after Kentucky Fried Chicken).

Zaku zaku (crunching) – Dove Sable Biscuit

Kamakura’s famous souvenir, the Hato Sabure, is also sold in nearby Tokyo and Yokohama. Created in 1912, each butter biscuit is handmade perfection.

Japanese biscuit and sweet hato subere dove sable butter biscuit from Kamakura copy

From 1853, America forced Japan out of around 200 years of near isolation and Western influences streamed in. Baked goods gained favour. Post World War II ravaged Japan, unable to grow enough rice, received bread and flour from the US. In 2011, spending on bread surpassed rice.

Sube sube (smooth, rounded) – Dairy Desserts

Dairy was another Western concept and initially deemed repulsive. Today, fans gush over pancakes toppling with cream. Queues swell for cheesecakes at Osaka brands Pablo (choose from rare and gooey or medium and firm) and Rikuro Ojisan.

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Toraya, founded in early 1500s Kyoto, provides sweets to the Imperial Palace.  Old-style wagashi sales have fallen. Toraya’s Omotesando Hills Tokyo café serves updated desserts like pudding with kuzu (root starch), caramel sauce and a citrus jam centre.

Yokohama claims Japan’s first ice cream shop from 1865. Soft serve in Japan, called “soft cream”, comes in flavours wacky even to the Japanese. Squid, spinach, sea urchin, corn soup, wasabi, whitebait, seaweed… Don’t miss Cremia – crammed with Hokkaido whipped cream and milk fat.  Vanilla is the only choice but it’s sinfully lush.

Toro toro (melts in the mouth) – Chocolate

It’s believed Dutch sailors introduced chocolate hundreds of years ago but it really caught on after World War II during the US occupation. American soldiers tossed it to smitten children. High-end chocolate stores boomed from the early 2000s.

KitKats arrived in 1973 as a marketing dream, sounding like “Kitto katsuto” (“win for sure”). They became good luck charms, especially for pre-exam students. Hundreds of zany flavours have included pineapple, soy sauce, sake, sports drink, aloe yoghurt, ginger ale and apple vinegar.  KitKat Premium Chocolatories sell more expensive concoctions like Hokkaido butter or Uji matcha with sakura (cherry blossom).

KitKat Japan premium shops copy

Hokkaido cream is the star again in Royce nama fresh chocolate. The Calbee snack brand’s Royce-smothered potato chips are a sweet/salty mashup.  Older Japanese may feel nostalgic pangs for the roasted sweet potato vans that still ring with vendors’ cries, “Yaki-imo, yaki-imo!” but most sweet tooths today crave more than a cooked tuber.

Japan is a food obsessed nation. You’ll be in a constant state of doki doki (heart pounding) and waku waku (excited anticipation) discovering its endless treats. It really is the best place to gaba gaba (continually eat with gusto)!

 

By Audrey Foo, Bites of Oishii. Go to www.bitesofoishii.com for more Japanese travel, food and culture.

Sources: Richie, D., A Taste of Japan, Kodansha International Ltd, 1990

Sosnoski, D., An Introduction to Japanese Culture, Tuttle Publishing, 1996

Sakamoto, Y., Food, Sake, Tokyo, The Little Bookroom, 2010

Confectionary, Begin Japanology, (documentary), NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2012

Mochi Rice Cake, Begin Japanology, (documentary), NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2013

Wagashi, Japanology Plus, (documentary), NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), 2014

Blazing Guns and Noble Swords: The Spectacle of Samurai Masculinity.

There seems to be a lot of events going on in London at the moment with a Japanese element to them, which I’ll be sharing with you over the next couple of weeks.

First up is a lecture by Dr Doreen Mueller, a Senior Teaching Fellow at SAOS,  in association with the Bagri Foundation, a UK registered charity dedicated to the promotion of Asian arts and culture.  This particular event caught my interest, as I’ve fascinated by samurai, ever since visiting Iga Castle in Japan, where I was able to view their weapons and armour first hand.

The Spectacle of Samurai Masculinity - Flyer (1)

Blazing Guns and Noble Swords: The Spectacle of Samurai Masculinity will explore how swords and guns were envisioned in the popular imagination in early modern Japan.  This presentation will explore the rich popular visual culture that engendered the creative reimagining of swords and guns as tokens of samurai masculinity.  While swords had encapsulated the honour codes and practices of the samurai for centuries, guns were only introduced to Japan in the sixteenth century, and their role in the construction of samurai masculinity and authority was more problematic.

Thursday 21 April 2016, 6.308pm, Asia House, Library, 

63 New Cavendish Street, London, W1G 7LP

Admission: £8

For more information and to reserve your place visit: https://samuraimasculinity.eventbrite.co.uk

 

Winner of our Ichiryu Udon Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who entered our competition to win a meal for 2 at Ichiryu Udon House in London.  We chose a winner at random (Genkichan) from all our entries on Twitter, Facebook and our blog.

If you’d like to try some delicious Japanese food whilst you’re in London then be sure to check out Ichiryu for a quick lunch or a more leisurely dinner.  With a varied menu ranging from delicious green tea, hot and cold udon and tempura, to mochi ice cream, there’s something for everyone’s tastes.

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Keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways coming soon!

 

Ichiryu Hakata Udon Restaurant Review + Win a Meal for 2!

I was lucky enough to be invited for a blogger’s meal by the lovely people that run the Ichiryu Udon House in London, to sample the menu.  This was definitely an opportunity not to be missed, so I took my boyfriend who works close by, and is a fellow fan of Japanese food.

IMG_0134Set just a short walk from Tottenham Court Road tube, Ichiryu is a perfect stop-off if you’re out shopping.  You can eat in, or buy food to take away, so it’s also the great place to go if you work in the area and want a lunchtime snack.  The design of the interior is very attractive, with lots of wood and soft lighting.  Definitely the sort of place that is great to eat in on a rainy winter’s day, with uplifting music, lighting and ambience, and a hearty menu full of filling noodles.  I can imagine that during summer, the space is a lovely cool retreat, with high ceilings giving a sense of space, and light food options to tuck into.

IMG_0136It’s always interesting to me to find out the concept behind a restaurant, and I was pleased to find that Ichiryu has an authenticity and passion behind it, which I personally think is really important, as this filters through to all aspects of the restaurant.  “Ichiryu is the newest venture of entrepreneur Tak Tokumine, who founded Japan Centre in 1976. Tak, who has a passion for the food of his hometown, Hakata; one of the birthplaces of udon in Japan. The history of udon is said to have started in 1241 when Enni, a Rinzai monk, introduced flour milling technology to Japan, from this flour and recipes, Hakata locals went on to develop the udon noodle.”

IMG_0137The menu is full of fresh, wholesome Japanese food, including udon (thick noodles often served in a soup base with a selection of toppings) and tempura (lightly battered meat or vegetables.)  You can have your udon hot or cold, and there’s also the option to have a bigger portion for £1.50, if you’re feeling especially hungry!  Price wise, everything is very affordable, with bowls of noodles starting at just £6.50, which is really reasonable for London, and means that you can add on some tasty sides as well without breaking the bank.  Sides include hakata buns with pork, cod or chicken, as well as a selection of salads (tofu, potato and green salad).  There’s also a range of tempura, including vegetarian aubergine, courgette, goboten (burdock root) and kakiage (mixed vegetable nest) as well as meat options.

I’m also a big fan of green tea, so was delighted to be able to sample some here.  This was served in a beautiful tea pot, and Ross’s matcha (powdered green tea mixed with hot water) was served in a bowl, which was a lovely touch, and an authentic nod to Japanese tradition.  If you fancy a spot of sake, then there’s a nice range to choose from, as well as beers, soft drinks etc.

So what did we have to eat?  Well, I love edamame beans (beans that you eat hot or cold straight from the pod), so that was a definite, and Ross likes his onigiri (rice balls) so we had those to start, and then tucked into our delicious main meals.  We opted for hot udon as it was a particularly cold and miserable day outside.

I chose the ‘Kakiage’, which was vegetable tempura, spring onion, ginger and tsuyu bonito sauce.  Ross went for the ‘Hataka Maruten’ which was fishcake, also with spring onion and tsuyu bonito sauce.  The food was all freshly prepared, and beautifully presented, and the udon were al dente, and perfectly cooked.  If you’ve ever eaten udon you know that they are sometimes a little messy to eat as they’re quite slippery, so it was nice to have a small amount of ‘bite’ to them to keep them under control!  It’s customary to slurp your noodles in Japan by the way.  The toppings were crisp and fresh, as was our aubergine tempura, which was also served with a tasty vinegary sauce.

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I was keen to try the mochi ice cream, which we shared between us.  I’m not a big fan of mochi usually (sticky confectionary made from rice) as it’s always a bit too squishy for my liking, but having it filled with ice cream made it the perfect texture, and the combination of mochi and cold ice-cream was so good that we polished off our dessert in a few minutes flat.  The flavours were delicious; green tea, black sesame, and yuzu, which is a citrus found in Japan and tastes to me like a mixture between an orange and a lemon.

IMG_0133All in all a delicious meal, and I shall definitely be back again!

* To celebrate it’s opening, I’m also happy to be able to give away a meal for two at Ichiryu.  All you have to do to enter is share this post on social media and leave a comment below, about a dish you might want to try, from their menu.  One lucky winner will be chosen at random in 2 weeks time.  Entries are open to all, but remember, you have to be able to get to London where the restaurant is based.  Good luck! *

Butikku – Japanese Fashion in London

IMG_5996A lot of the Japanese fashion I photograph is ‘kawaii’ and heavily influenced by pop culture, so I’m really excited to be able to share a completely different side to the Japanese fashion industry with you today.  I was lucky enough to be able to interview Kevin House, owner of Butikku, a pop-up store which has made it’s home in various London locations.  so without further ado, let’s find out more!

Can you tell us a little overview of Butikku; it’s ethos and history?

Butikku is Europe’s only specialist Japanese boutique. I sell a hand-picked selection of high-quality, exclusive women’s clothing and accessories, chosen from the collections of dozens of top Japanese designers. Each style is limited to typically just two or three in quantity, and since Butikku is the sole retailer in Europe, they are very exclusive – you really won’t see them anywhere else, or worn by anyone else.

I started Butikku with my girlfriend in 2013, when we realized that there was a wealth of amazing design happening in Japan, but that virtually nothing was available in the UK or Europe. So we went to Tokyo to see for ourselves; we scoured the high-end department stores and nicest boutiques, and found a host of designers that we really admired. We squeezed about 15 impromptu meetings into that first trip, and came back with a clear commitment to creating a Japanese fashion business in London.

We launched online (originally called Collectionaires) and ran our first popup shop in St Katharine Docks, besides Tower Bridge. The shop was very nice, but commercially disastrous – we didn’t know they were about to close the public footpaths through the dock, making us all but invisible except to a handful of (very enthusiastic) local residents. So we packed up and moved to a 10-day popup on Piccadilly, as part of the ‘Popup Britain’ promotion. The response there was so positive that we knew we were onto something.

Since then, my girlfriend has moved on and I’ve taken the business forward myself, having now run about 16 popups to date, in locations all over London from Islington to Wimbledon, Chelsea to Clerkenwell.

What sort of fashion can people expect to see in your pop-up shops?

I focus on what I feel is the most interesting area for Japanese design today – it’s ‘high-end’ but not outrageously expensive, and it’s distinctive but still very wearable. Mostly it’s smart or smart-casual clothing – the kind of clothes you can wear for work and then carry through into the evening in a bar or restaurant. And we have some beautiful knitwear as well, in fact it’s one of the most popular ranges.

I carry about 20 brands at present, so there’s a reasonable variation of styles reflecting the particular specialties of each designer. Japanese designers tend not to follow the global trends, so what I have is in their own style, not just a copy of what everybody else is doing. Though I often see key ideas from our designers being reflected in Western designs a year or two later.

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Of course with almost everything being made in Japan too, the quality of fabrics and construction, and attention to detail is beyond question.

This year I also aim to increase the range of accessories, in particular more jewellery designers and also a really cool range of ‘origami’ handbags that I discovered on my last visit to Tokyo. I’ll probably also bring in socks and more ‘gift items’ to help customers who are looking for something unusual for somebody else.

What influences your decision making when choosing stock?  

The first criterion for any item is that I have to really like it myself. I think it’s essential when curating a collection that you have your own taste as a starting point – you can’t be all things to all people and the best way to ensure a consistency and value is to trust yourself. That way the collection has integrity. And as I’ve said, there is a general style that I aim to offer, and I work around that as a core – deviating a little when I find something I particularly like, but not so far that it doesn’t feel cohesive, or worse-still not wearable in real life.

The second is that it must be ‘different’. I’m not interested in selling just another version of what all the high street brands are doing. Fortunately, with Japanese designers having such a different approach to westerners, that requirement is generally pretty easy to meet.

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Of course I also have to think about what my customers have liked (or not) before, what will suit them, and what will fit too. I’ve recently been working with a brilliant British designer who also works as a sizing (fitting) consultant, and bringing her expertise into the selection process has been wonderful both for bringing another perspective on the styles but as importantly for ensuring that we don’t buy things that everybody loves but almost nobody can actually fit into (as happened once or twice in our early days). We’re even starting to advise some of the designers on how to develop styles that will be more suitable for our customers, and getting some pieces made exclusively for us.

What are the latest trends in Japanese designer fashion?

I find it hard to see strong ‘trends’ in Japan in the way that we see them so clearly in Western fashion. There are a few designers who are perhaps a little more influenced by Western trends than others, so you sometimes see a season’s key colours coming through for example, but generally each designer seems to pretty much do their own thing.

I feel the commonality is more about elements which can appear on a long-term basis rather than short-term or seasonal trends. So for example we can see a hint of lines from traditional Japanese garments, such as kimonos or yukatas, a lot of asymmetry and a lot of drapery too, often combined. And of course we see a lot of monochrome, weather that be block colours or prints, but there is also a lot more colour than perhaps most European’s would expect. I think maybe the most interesting element is a very frequent use of cutting-edge fabrics or production techniques to create new shapes and effects. With Japan having arguably the most advanced textile industry in the world, Japanese designers are very early adopters of new fabrics and techniques and so can create very unusual garments from this. For example most of our knitwear is ‘seamless’, being made from a single thread, using CAD techniques to design them and many of our other designers tend towards very modern yarns such as tencel or ramie.

Where is your latest pop-up shop located?

My current popup shop is in a very convenient location at 39 Connaught St, London W2 2AZ. Less than 10 minutes from Selfridges on foot, it’s also around 5 minutes from each of Marble Arch, Paddington, Edgware Road and Lancaster Gate tube stations. There’s even plenty of parking right outside the door and it’s outside the congestion zone so no nasty fees for that either.

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What are your plans for the coming year?

I’ve spent a couple of years getting established, developing the relationships with designers in Tokyo and building up a good customer following in London via popups. Now I think it’s time to move forward into a more permanent location and to scale things up a little so that I can offer even more styles to more customers.

So the first part of this year will be focused on raising investment to fund the creation of that permanent store, hopefully during the summer. I’d like to try crowdfunding it as I have so many customers who love what I’m able to offer and I’d very much like to offer them the chance to get more involved, both in supporting the growth of the business and even in helping to guide what brands and items I offer.

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I’m also in discussions with several significant parties about the possibility of creating other outlets and events for Japanese fashion in the UK. It’s too early to say much about what we’re exploring, but with the enthusiasm and encouragement that I’ve received from so many of my customers, I’m confident there will be a good outcome.

www.butikku.com

 

CutesyKink Stationery Giveaway!

I have an exciting giveaway for you today!  I’ve teamed up with CutesyKink to give you the chance to win this amazing haul of kawaii goodies!  CutesyKink is a wonderful store selling cute and colourful Japanese clothing, accessories, jewellery, toys and stationery.  As well as an online store they also have a store in Portchester, UK so drop in if you’re in the area!


So how can you enter?

– Entry is open to everyone within the UK and all you have to do is connect with us on one (or all!) of our social media platforms (Facebook / Instagram / Twitter) where we’ve shared the giveaway:
– Like and share and comment on our Facebook post
– Retweet our pinned tweet
– Regram our Instagram post tagging both @lovejapanmag and @cutesykink .
– For more chances to win you can do all three, as we’ll put every entry into a hat and pick one name. The competition ends on Sunday 24th January, so you have a week to enter.

Good luck!

Ramen Poster Showcases 42 Types of Ramen!

Today I thought I would share something a little different with you.  You may have seen me post about this on social media last week.  Well I thought it deserved a blog post as well!  I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, as there’s a whole load of awesome projects on there, that simply wouldn’t get off the ground if it wasn’t for the public helping to fund them!  This brilliant ramen poster, by ramen super-fan Fanny Chu features 42 different types of Japanese of this supreme Japanese noodle snack.  Yeh, I’m shocked too, I had no idea there were so many different types!

The Ramen Poster 2.0

I love this poster so much, from the cute illustrations, to the way that each ramen bowl has the English and Japanese spellings and ingredients lists.

So what was the inspiration behind the poster?  Fanny says:

“I used to eat so much instant ramen when I was little, and I tried my first bowl of ramen noodle at a restaurant called Ajisen Ramen. It was great, but I wanted to explore more types of ramen.

I personally think ramen has unlimited potentiality, I’ve heard there’s even pineapple ramen too. However, there is an authenticity in ramen type. For example, no one would say ramen from Northern Japan will have similar taste compare to Southern Japan. The resources and histories are different, which created their own ramen culture.”

If you’d like to back the project and get your hands on a ramen poster, head over to Kickstarter here before 2nd March.

The Art of Ikebana

I was recently contacted by the wonderful FTD Fresh, a contemporary lifestyle blog which focuses on design and creativity, who shared a beautiful blog post with me, about the art of ikebana (the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging.)  As with a lot of crafts in Japan, ikebana is steeped in tradition and I found it fascinating to read more about the various elements that go into making the perfect arrangement.

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Ikebana originated in the seventh century when Buddhism was first introduced to Japan from China and Korea, but a formalized version of ikebana didn’t begin until the Muromachi period around the 15th or 16th century. Since, it has developed into many schools with different rules.

Ikebana isn’t only about creating a floral arrangement, it’s about the process. Creating an arrangement is supposed to be a meditative project that helps the designer think about the beauty of nature and find ways not just to fill space, but to create and preserve it through the arrangement of flowers.

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In the nineteenth century when Western culture was introduced to Japan, some flower masters began incorporating them into their arrangements. The most notable was Unshin Ohara who started the Ohara school and created the moribana style, which means ‘piling up of flowers.’ This style was much freer than previous styles, and is great to start out with if you are just beginning the practice.

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If you’re interested in creating an upright moribana arrangement for yourself, FTD wrote an in-depth ikebana guide which explains what types of flowers and materials you should use, how long they should be, and what angles they should be placed at.

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With this oddly spring like weather we are having this winter, I’m already thinking about the flowers beginning to bloom.  Ikebana would make a fantastic and therapeutic pastime for anyone interested in Japanese arts and crafts and flower arrangement.Good luck, and happy arranging!