Japan House London and the art of Japanese minimalism
12 November 2018
From snail slime face masks and placenta serum (which are perfect potions for anti-ageing, supposedly), to neon-lit arrays of Love Hotels and Cat Cafés, to ‘gaccha gaccha' machines, where one can exchange ¥100 for a colourful mystery-filled plastic egg, and of course, the universal life-changing appeal of a hi-tech Japanese loo. Is it a wonder that Westerners are drawn to the land of the rising sun?
Japan is a country whose technological advancement is completely undeniable — something clearly depicted in the products and instruments available on the market. But to what extent are Japanese aesthetics influencing London’s own tastes? With the fast-approaching Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and Marie Kondo’s viral life-changing de-cluttering videos (each one amassing almost 5 million views), it appears that all eyes are firmly fixed on Japan. Which makes sense — considering Japan House London has just opened its doors on Kensington High Street. Inviting Londoners to explore the breathtaking allure of Japanese culture and minimalism.
When walking into a handsome Art Deco building on Kensington High Street, one soon discovers London’s best kept secret, and Japan’s biggest new export. While it is home to a three-tiered temple of culture, 101-111 Kensington High Street hasn’t always had a penchant for the Far East. In the 1930s, it initially functioned as Derry & Tom’s – the Bernard George designed department store. However, the space soon became home to the sequins and infamous brown pinstripe dresses of Biba in 1971. As an onlooker, you’d be pardoned for believing that life inside this space is as rose-tinted as a steadily streaming highly filtered influencer filled—Insta-feed; but, it’s far removed from that. Since Biba closed up shop in 1975, the building has been in a constant state of flux and crisis; seeing a myriad of tenants come and go. But don’t get your Kawaii contact lenses in a twist. Today, Kensington’s new kid on the block is already adored by its rich in real life and online fandom. And, its USP is what’s causing it to crash through London’s hard ground and bloom into something with truly beautiful potential.
Japan House is a testament to the cultural exchange between Japan and London; and aspires to unite the East and west under one roof. Although this is Europe’s first, London’s Japan House is the little sister to its other outposts in Brazil and LA. Here, the design is clean, tasteful, minimalistic, intricate and white-washed. Design elements you might envisage from Japanese-born designer Masamichi Katayama, and design director Kenya Hara. “White exists on the periphery of life,” Hara opines. “Bleached bones connect us to death, but the white of milk and eggs, for example, speaks to us of life,” he explains. Perhaps Japan House’s design elements have a deeper meaning? They might just help you discover your own ikigai or reason for being, for example. Its revamped floors are separated into a shop on ground floor, a delectable restaurant on the first floor, and an exhibition area downstairs — which is just about to showcase imagery of metal craftsmanship in Tsubame-Sanjo.
The Serpentine Pavilion by Sou Fujimoto, Photo by Iwan Baan
Outside of Japan House’s stark white walls, Japan is also influencing London in many other ways. In East London, you sometimes wonder if the streets of Shoreditch are growing into the capital’s very own Little Tokyo? This time last year, Nobu built their first European hotel (plus restaurant) in the borough of Tower Hamlets. The Japan Centre recently launched its flagship store on Panton Street, which is modelled on traditional elements of depachika (that’s basement food hall, for all you amateurs). While Soho’s first Tsujiri teahouse is beckoning us to get spirited away to a kingdom of forest nymphs and Totoro, by sipping on its Studio Ghibli themed Matcha lattes. So if you are looking to explore the many rituals of the land of the rising sun — our advice? Remember to check your shoes at the door, and slip into a cosy pair of house shoes, before entering the minimalist wonder of Japan House.
Words by Adam Fletcher
Loved Japan House? Why not also explore London's minimalist tea houses