‘When you compare the price of a hand painted, made to measure kimono to a Western designer dress it is quite reasonable’. I had to agree with Sonoe, £1000 for the stunning silk gowns did seem like a bargain. She adjusted the kimono jacket I tried on, showing how I could wear it in two different ways. It was from her vintage collection and had a lovely pink tweedy style pattern, circa late 1960’s to 1970’s. Luckily, it was a tenth of the price of the bespoke ones.
Sonoe began by trading antique jewellery, shopping in London and selling back in Japan. When she discovered her in-laws stash of kimonos dating back to the 1920’s she set up a stall in Spitalfields market called Furuki-Yo. The items on sale today are for men, women, and children and are simply stunning. The kimonos came in jazzy colours and in-your-face patterns, such a refreshing sight compared to the usual London grey attire. It was quite amazing to think that I could own one of these special pieces of history.
The longer kimono’s can be altered to your size, with the leftover material made into sashes and headbands. I loved hearing Sonoe’s story and admiring her wares, I was quite jealous of her colourful collection.
This ‘pop-up’ event was held at the Sway Gallery which regularly hosts Japanese themed events in their exhibition space. Recently these happenings have featured traditionally inspired ceramics, the history of Japanese prints, a sake festival, and green tea demonstrations. Along with these exciting and informative exhibitions, the gallery has a small shop selling fascinating Japanese concept pieces.
I’m particularly impressed with the kintsugi repair kits, where broken pottery is fixed with a seam of gold. This became a big fashion in Japan around the 15th Century and is very environmentally friendly. Such a nice concept to think that what may have been thrown away can be made beautiful again with a little Midas touch. I also loved the ingenuity of ‘Hibi’ – incense matchsticks, so you can light and fragrance on the go.
Whilst at Sway I got a little tip about a takoyaki (octopus balls) stall in Brick Lane’s market space. Ever since tasting the delicious Osaka street food phenomenon during my ’07 trip to Japan, it’s been a mission to find these guys outside of their natural habitat. Kind of like the Pokemon Go! of food. So imagine my delight when I get to the market and see this in front of my eyes:
Wowsers. First thought: gotta eat ‘em all.
I got my takoyaki fill and based on their yum factor could have happily devoured the whole stand.
Then I was told they also have a vegan stall. Crazeballs. A second tournament! I was off to see what they had on offer. The list, and queue, was impressive:
Such a great discovery, Brick Lane market was a foodie mecca. I could spend a week there eating a different cuisine morning noon and night but unfortunately only happens on weekends. You can follow Juzu to find out where their next Poke stop is as they ‘pop-up’ at different events during the week.
After the excitement of the street food game, I needed some quiet contemplation. Over in Holland Park, there is a Japanese garden, created by the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in 1991. It is a pretty spot with koi carp in the pond, a waterfall and peacocks rambling around. The vegetation is a lovely change of scenery from the usual English fare and evokes a natural calmness in the middle of the big city. I found it a very suitable hang out for meditation, just letting the mind relax and observe the swaying leaves, listen to the flowing waters and watch the peacocks prance.
I was able to practice the Japanese concept of ‘ikigai’, which is the study of one’s life purpose. A little bit like the Danish ‘hygge’ and Swedish ‘lagom’, in that it’s a way to appreciate life and pursue happiness. Ikigai has similar ethos’ to mindfulness, including finding the joy of little things, reawakening the childlike sense of curiosity and being in the here and now. It’s good to pause and think about all the wonderful reasons to be alive. Totally zen.
Having got cool, calm and collected I was ready for some serious shopping. Camden Market is one of those places that has a stall for everyone, and it is no surprise that it hosts a few Japanese themed shops. There is a place selling all the manga related products you can think of and also a sister shop called Japan Craft.
Inside Japan Craft there are lots of goodies to get your hands on, including teapots, lucky cats, Daruma ‘perseverance’ dolls and their most popular items, puzzle boxes. The boxes have a secret access system, which can vary in the number of steps needed to open them. It was lovely to learn about all the Japanese traditional items’ meaning and significance, as well as to stock up on items from the collection.
My final stop of the day was for an authentic taste of Nihon. Misato is a true misnomer if there ever was one, a place to grab some cheap, good, Japanese nosh right in the heart of tourist mecca Soho. It’s fast food, you queue up (always a good sign that it’s a decent place but it doesn’t take long to be seated) and they only take cash.
Once in its simple tables and lots of people enjoying rice bowls and bento boxes. I chose the chicken katsu curry with udon noodles because it was everything I wanted in a bowl. It did not disappoint. The chicken had a crispy coating, the broth was currytastic and the noodles were fat and filling. Delish!
The restaurant has been going in the same spot for over twenty five years with their winning formula of imported ingredients and quick turnaround canteen style dining. Misato has nailed quality Japanese fare whilst keeping prices low, omedeto!
Japan is due to host a feast of sporting events, including the Rugby World Cup, the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics in the next few years. If you can’t make it there then look out for Japanese themed places where you live. In this case, London has definitely shown it can offer a whole host of superb Nipponese experiences.
Did you like my post? Please comment below 🙂