Back in 1863, Japan was opening up to end decades of severely restricted exchange with foreign countries. Foreign travel was still illegal, but five young samurais smuggled themselves aboard an opium ship to travel to London and study at UCL. They were the Choshu Five, who believed that Japan needed urgent modernisation and that in London they could absorb new knowledge and ideas.
This city still holds that status for the Japanese. Though numbers are declining, many Japanese youth come to London every year to breathe new cultures, views and attitudes.
Alongside them are businesspeople and their families. Around 36,000 Japanese live in London today. They used to be concentrated in Finchley and Acton, but nowadays more brave Japanese – like the 18 members of my music group Frank Chickens – are settling in areas such as Hackney, Lewisham and Tottenham, where I’ve lived for 30 years. Kazuko Hohki
Did you know? After returning from their studies in London, the Choshu Five became influential statesmen in Japan. Among them was Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first prime minister.
Kazuko’s favourite Japanese places in London
The DonDonburi food stand in Hackney uses high-quality meat and dashi (stock) to make delicious gyu don (beef on rice) and vegetable don.
The Origami Wonderland workshop at The Snooty Fox pub in Canonbury is a brilliant display of skill, style and inventiveness. Origami becomes pop art!
The amazing Sushi Heads café in N15 provides Mayfair-quality sushi at Tottenham prices.
The Ura Matsuri festival celebrates hybrid culture made by Japanese immigrants in the UK. It’ll be back this autumn.
The Fountain pub, which houses Kata!, is a bit grim, but you can get takeaway and the food is great. Another Japanese discovery in Tottenham!