This is the second article in the series Five Things To See In London If You Are A Book Worm, this time about Japan House.
I will start by telling you some basic stuff about it with the information I have found on their website and with what I have actually found there. It is located on London’s Kensington High Street, and offers an authentic encounter with Japan, engaging and surprising even the most knowledgeable guests.
The varied offer includes an exhibition gallery, events space, a Japanese restaurant and a retail ﬂoor of thoughtfully curated Japanese products. This is complemented by a diverse line-up of exhibitions, events, workshops, and seminars.
With a wide-ranging programme, Japan House celebrates Japan’s innovative, creative and technological merits, while shining a spotlight on the artisans, craftsmen, designers, performers, musicians and other professionals who are making waves both in Japan and around the world – from internationally renowned individuals, to emerging artists who are excelling in their field.
I visited the Japan House on the 20th of July, during a manga exhibition by Japanese artist, Urasawa Naoki, who is considered the modern master of manga, combining dynamic storytelling and artistic skill in his development of sophisticated characters.
The exhibition was open between 5th of June and 28th of July, offering a wide range of manga drawings, bringing us closer to the Japanese culture.
I don’t know if there are people who don’t know what a manga is, but for the record, it is the Japanese word for ‘comics’. It is the largest comic culture in the world in terms of production volume and international success with far-reaching cultural influences.
Beside the exhibitioned mentioned above, situated at the lower ground floor, there was the ground floor where I could find various Japanese products. Some of them were some Japanese makeup brushes (I am a woman, I couldn’t help but notice them) branded as Shaquda. Shaquda provides one of the highest quality cosmetic brushes from the town of Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture.
Kumano is known for quality brush manufacturing and produces about 80% of the brushes made in Japan. Kumano historically did not have the industry or material for brushes but over time was able to build up its brushes manufacturing industry into what it is today.
Shaquda keeps age-old methods and skills of brush making alive today. Techniques originally derived from making ancient calligraphy brushes have been reinvented by Shaquda for making modern cosmetic brushes with sophisticated designs.
Another thing that caught my attention is called Kumade, literally translated as bear’s paw. Kumade are decorated bamboo rakes displayed to protect the family and encourage the ‘raking in’ of success and happiness for the comming year. They are loaded with symbols of good luck and prosperity including the Seven Lucky Gods (Shichi Fukujin), cranes and turtles for longevity, bails of rice, gold coins, Kyōgen theater mask of the joyful Otafuky, the auspicious combination of pine, bamboo and plum blossoms and a Daruma doll.
Kumade ar sold all over Japan at festivals called Tori-no-Ichi at the end of the year.
I liked very much also the personnel from the Japan House. They were all so warm and welcoming, and they were all smiling to me, thing that I appreciated very much.
Next, I would like to give you some insights from the Japan House, given to me by Francesca Gallio, one of the Japan House employees, to whom I want to thank for accepting to talk to me and share with us her experience, so here it goes:
– Thank you for accepting to talk to me about this amazing place. Tell me more about the Japan House, how did it started?
– Japan House is an initiative that started by the Japanese Ministry of foreign affairs. We are the third Japan House in the world. We have one in Los Angeles, one in Sao Paolo and this one in the UK, we are the newest once that stared a year ago. We are kind of what you can call a cultural centre or the new centre of Japanese art, crafts, academia. All of our exhibitions are free and a lot of our talks are free as well so it is quite a nice space.
– Yeah it looks amazing. You have a lot of books around here. Is there only Japanese literature?
– It is not only Japanese literature but literature that is related to Japan in general, the graphic art, the history, travelling there.
– Do you have any idea how many books you have here?
– No, the books exhibited in this room aren’t all the books we have cause we have a book curator, Haba Yoshitaka, a really cool guy, who runs basically the library and the books, and sometimes the books display upstairs as well. He changes our permanent collection every couple of months or so, so we do have a lot of books in storage, he might decide to put them back again one day.
– So people come here when they are in the mood for reading a manga or a book. Do you have places for children?
– We have a children section here where they are welcome to hang around. On the side of the wall we have an installation that is related to the exhibition.
– I can see that you have also an LGBT section.
– Yes this is our LGBT manga section, which is quite nice as it was the pride parade recently.
– Are you here since the beginning, since one year ago?
– Oh no, I’ve only been here since January.
– Oh cool. And what’s your experience here, how do you find it?
– Well it is amazing, I think people find it quite a calming place to be, I find it quite a calming place to be. They are very happy for us to talk to them, visitors.
– Are there more Japanese visitors or other nations are comming more often? I mean I expect Japanese people would be more likely to come here to remember their homes, but at the same time maybe they think that they already know everything about Japan and don’t need to visit a Japanese place.
– I think Japanese people who are living in London are coming here to be reminded of the atmosphere of Japan, but I think most of the people who come here are not Japanese. Our purpose is to try and promote Japan to people who might know about it.
– What’s your way of promotion, of letting others know about you?
– Well we have Instagram, and we try to start collaborating with other institutions in the UK. We’ve had collaboration with the British Museum on some events this summer, and then perhaps the next exhibition will be in collaboration with the Museum of Childhood cause it is about children illustrating stuff.
– What’s the coolest event you have participated here?
– Well I think it was when Urasawa Naoki came for a week, which is the guy to be doing the exhibition works, he is a manga artist. He did a live drawing and live performance for us in his last days here, so half of it was like a rock&roll gig and half of it was him just doing sketches. He was playing blues tracks and was really passionate about it, and I was just like in tears, I loved it.
Well this was the things I wanted to share with you about Japan House. I will leave the rest for you to discover. You can follow the directions via Google Maps if you want to take a look, or simply use the Journey Planner for London (address is 101-111 Kensington High Street, London W8 5SA).
Regarding the transportation, you can use Underground, by taking District or Circle lines to High Street Kensington station (1 minute walk), Circle, District or Piccadilly lines to Gloucester Road station (18 minute walk), and Central, Circle or District lines to Notting Hill Gate station (13 minute walk). There is also the option to take the overground network to Kensington Olympia (24 minute walk).
If you opt for the bus, you can use the following routes: C1, 9, N9, 10, 27, 28, N28, N31, 49, 52, 70, 74, N74, 94, N97, 148, N207, 328, 452.
Also, Japan House has cycle parking racks available in the borough, but there are also many Santander bike-docking stations close by.
If you get there by car you should know that Japan House does not have a car parking, so please take into account this aspect.
For details about the opening hours, please visit the official page of the location, as they vary depending on the ongoing events.
If you ever have the oportunity to get there, or you have already visit it, please feel free to share your experience with me in the comments section below. I would love to hear some other views on this.
© picnicontheshelf, August 16, 2019