Japan House London: a taste of Japan in the heart of Kensington

by Great British Chefs 11 August 2021

Providing people in the UK with the chance to immerse themselves in Japanese culture, Japan House London is a space that showcases the best of the country. We take a closer look at what Japan House offers (both physically and virtually), before honing in on the incredible Japanese tableware and kitchenware it offers.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

Known for its exquisite level of refinement, meticulous attention to detail and obsession with aesthetics, Japanese design extends beyond that of many other cultures. Everything from a beautiful sushi roll to a hand-forged Japanese knife is not just made, but crafted – usually with such care and skill that it simply can’t be improved upon. This level of artisanal craftsmanship throughout Japanese culture is unique to the country, but still somewhat under-appreciated in the UK. Kensington’s Japan House London aims to change that. Showcasing all elements of authentic Japanese culture, from its cuisine to its art and everything else in between, the space encompasses the idea of omotenashi – true Japanese hospitality – at its finest and brings an unrivalled slice of Japan to London, providing people with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the fascinating country.

Japan House London itself takes up an entire building on Kensington High Street, made up of an exhibition gallery, events space, restaurant, café stand and shop, all dedicated to spreading awareness and appreciation of all things Japanese. The line-up of events is constantly changing, offering visitors a chance to meet, talk about and get involved with the elements of Japanese culture they admire the most.

Japan House London online

Of course, not everyone can make the trip to visit Japan House London in person – but its website is home to a vast collection of stories, articles and information on every aspect of Japanese culture. Learn about everything from Japanese dog breeds and robotics to the country’s vineyards and traditional sewing techniques. There are also virtual exhibitions, interactive online events and worksheets to download.

Japan’s food is not only a central part of its culture but something which has influenced countless other cuisines across the world. That’s why Japanese food and the culture around it has formed a large part of Japan House London’s offering ever since it opened in 2018, with two different options for food and drink within the building. The Stand, found on the Ground Floor, serves everything from a variety of Japanese teas to Japanese-style sweets to complement them. Every detail, from the equipment used to brew the coffee to the ingredients used to make the sweets, reflects the experience you would have in a Japanese café.

Meanwhile traditional Japanese food, also known as washoku, is served in Japan House London’s more formal Michelin-listed AKIRA restaurant. Named after executive chef Shimizu Akira, it offers a diverse menu of Japanese dishes, ranging from seasonal ingredients cooked on the robata grill to creative sushi rolls. AKIRA restaurant’s sake-led drinks menu is also not to be missed, as it includes a huge variety of different bottles of the Japanese rice wine as well as inventive cocktails. You can also find a range of sake, shochu and Japanese whiskeys stocked downstairs in The Shop.

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When serving food as focused on presentation as that of Japan, the tools and tableware of the cuisine are almost as important as the food itself. Japan House London sources everything it sells from artisan producers based in Japan which showcase the work of skilled craftspeople, bringing true Japanese authenticity into the home. Every sub-category of Japanese tableware and kitchenware has a rich history, story and its own very specific uses, but below we have focused in on five types in particular, all of which are sold by Japan House London, both in-store and online. Discover the stories behind these fascinating products in more detail on Japan House London's website and bring a little taste of authentic Japanese dining into your own home.

Lacquerware

A form of craft which has been perfected over millennia, the term lacquerware refers to both functional and ornamental objects, usually made from wood, which have been decoratively covered with lacquer. Japanese lacquerware dates back as far as 9,000 years ago and involves the use of the sap of a lacquer tree, known as urushi, which is poisonous to the touch until it dries, to coat the object. This means that only the most skilful of craftspeople in Japan attempt lacquering, but those who do often produce stunning results. Some even dust gold and silver onto the lacquer for further decoration – a technique known as maki-e. In Japanese cuisine, lacquerware is often used for presenting a set meal called teishoku, which aims to offer a balanced meal by serving a main dish accompanied by miso soup and a variety of side dishes.

This black lacquerware bowl from Mokushikko Tokeshi, a team of two based in northern Okinawa, is made using traditional urushi methods, mixing the lacquer with sand, which have been passed down over generations.

Learn more about Japanese lacquerware here.

Kintsugi

The art of repairing broken ceramics using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, kintsugi is founded on the idea of embracing imperfection; breakages ought to tell us about the story of an object rather than being something which needs to be disguised or discarded. Believed to have originated around the late fifteenth century, it’s said that when kintsugi first became popular, some collectors even smashed their pottery deliberately to have it repaired using the method. To this day, ceramics and porcelain objects repaired using kintsugi in many cases are more valuable than they were beforehand because of the skill required to employ the technique.

This range of works, repaired using the kintsugi method by artisan brand ZEN in Iwate prefecture, use broken ceramics sourced from local potters.

Learn more about the art of kintsugi here.

Bento

Japan’s answer to the lunchbox, bento boxes originated as a way of taking a pre-prepared, multi-element meal out of the house to eat elsewhere. Filled with everything from rice and vegetables to grilled meat and fish, there are no real rules as to what can be put in a bento box and they are predominantly regarded in Japan as a practicality. However, whilst simple plastic bento boxes are common, as with most iconic Japanese objects far more refined versions also exist, made from everything from precious metals to lacquerware. In fact, over the years bento box-making has become somewhat of a craft in itself.

Father-son craftsmen company Shibata Yoshinobu Shoten make bento boxes, amongst other objects, from 200-year-old cedar wood from Akita Prefecture, which they craft by hand and bend using a wood-bending technique known as magewappa.

Learn more about this very special company and magewappa here.

Nambu Tekki

While cast-iron teapots and kettles aren’t specific to Japan, few are as highly regarded as the ironware kettles made in the Japanese prefecture of Iwate, known as Nambu Tekki. First crafted over 300 years ago, these kettles were such a luxurious speciality of the area that they were only owned by the richest members of society. Today, Nambu Tekki products are far more common in Japan and commonly found in tea shops. One of the reasons that Nambu Tekki kettles are so popular is down to the iron they’re made from; any minerals in the water cling to the side when boiled, resulting in incredibly soft water.

Traditional Nambu Tekki kettles were rather cumbersome until 1852, when a company called OIGEN started making its own, more portable kettles, which are still made today.

Learn more about OIGEN and Nambu Tekki here.

Donabe

Japan wouldn’t be where it is today without rice. Not only does it sit at the heart of many of the nation’s most famous dishes, it has also provided millions with a livelihood over the past three millennia. Given its importance within Japanese culture, it’s no surprise that numerous pieces of equipment and tableware have been specifically crafted with rice in mind, and one of those is the donabe. One of the oldest cooking pots in Japan, the donabe is a ceramic vessel which allows you to cook rice over a very high heat. It may have been invented a long time before the rice cooker, but you’ll find that many traditional Japanese kitchens still use a donabe instead of more modern alternatives.

Azmaya is a collective of different artisans and designers who create contemporary products using age-old traditions. One such product is this elegant handmade donabe.

Learn more about the importance of rice in Japan here.