Saturday, 23 July 2011

Hyper Japan

Today there was some snnshine (gasp) so we cycled across London, to visit the "Hyper Japan" exhibition of contemporary Japanese culture at the Olympia event hall.     

I love looking at traditional Japanese buildings and gardens, such as this beautiful temple, photographed in late February this year, below.  (thanks to Frank Hanna)

But today's cultural scene,  based largely on city life, is also interesting, and I've been looking for a show about contemporary Japanese culture since I went to a mind blowing exhibition of new Japanese fashion at FIT in New York last year. This came as near as I've ever seen to fashion from another planet. 

So I arrived at Olympia 2 exhibition hall, grabbed some octopus balls for breakfast .... (hm, was that really a good idea?) 

.... and then I looked around.

Japanese pop culture is still unfamiliar to most Brits, including me.  But there are a few Londoners who are  into cosplay and  Lolita fashion, so they turned up in full attire.  

A lot of the stalls were selling soft toys and toy-like ornaments and decorations.  I believe that in the past, when Japan was a closed society,  Western visitors were intrigued by the Japanese love of toys, and perhaps this is still a characteristic? Although we all like toys now. 

 I was seriously tempted by the largest cat bus shown in the picture here. The cat bus is my favourite character from "Totoro"  and I do dream of having my own cat bus (a real one).  I'd have used this one as a cushion.  But the stall holder didn't take credit cards so my resolve to de-clutter is still intact, because I didn't buy.

Many of the stalls sold food or ingredients.   Of course there was sushi, and there were sushi making classes, but my eye wasn't delighted by most of the food..  The exception was this tray of wonderful macaroons in fascinating flavours and colours, elegantly decorated.

Animation, anime, manga and video games took up most of the space. 

Here's the Yugioh trading card stall.  

Some of the players were even  more amazing than the games.

I always like to learn something new, and so for me one of the highlights of the show was a talk by Helen McCarthy about the dazzlinglyy talented Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astroboy.  His sense of graphic design was so remarkable that I wish he'd designed fabrics and wallpapers  - not necessarily with anime characters but just because he could put shapes together so perfectly and beautifully.

 I've just been to "Watch Me Move," the (highly recommended) Barbican animation show and seen Astro Boy and other Japanese movies so this feels like fate nudging me into finding out more about Tezuka.  I'm starting by purchasing Helen's book.

 Wandering round the stalls and trying out some of the workshops (calligraphy, manga drawing, etc) took a couple of hours, but the live talks and demonstrations brought the exhibition to life.  Two cheerful guys demonstrated a robot hand operated by a special glove and won the audience over even though they didn't speak much English. 

 Kanon Wakeshima, cellist and artist talked about her work, and commented on videos of her songs, including this delightful steampunk animation

It's a show of contemporary Japanese culture, so there was almost nothing about traditional Japan, although I spotted some little girls participating in a photo shoot

 Ten percent of the show's ticket price, together with profits from certain stalls, went towards the Aid for Japan charity.   The most memorable part of the exhibition for me was a display of words and photos about the continuing plight of those most affected by the terrible events of last March.  The organisers want to gather at least 1,000 messages of support from the show's visitors to send to the victims.  Here are a few.  I was glad to add my own message. 

I'll be looking out for an exhibition of traditional Japanese art, design and culture.   I'd like to figure out in my own mind the ways in which contemporary Japanese culture has evolved from the ideas of the past.


  1. Hello Jenny:
    This is all absolutely fascinating. An out of body and mind experience for us in looking at these images!

    Although we have never been to Japan and doubt that we ever shall, a friend returned from a recent visit with the most beautifully presented tiny cake confections in a marvellous black lacquer box. It would appear that the Japanese are greatly taken with 'English afternoon tea' as a concept and go to great lengths to create and eat the most amazing sugary confections. The macaroons you show reminded us of this.

    Yes, your idea of a book showing the development of the Japanese culture from its traditional roots to the modern day would be most intriguing.

  2. Looks like it is worth the visit

  3. What a amazing culture...! :D Thank you for your introducing Japanese culture.
    Your report is so wonderful and easy to understand.

    I like octopus ball, however what is the white sauce on them? Is it sweet?
    Osamu Tezuka is one of my favorite creator.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It must have been so great to be there in person!

  5. You are seriously distracting me from my tidying! This is all so interesting. I have a gothic Lolita doll by a doll artist called Beth Robinson, and finally I now know what it is all about. I always assumed, as it says on the website that it was related to Nabokov's novel so am pleasantly surprised to find it is something totally unrelated. I am going to come back later to properly appreciate and follow all your other links. See you then!

  6. Cool event! :)

    But the octopus ball - it doesn't look all that appetising to me. Was it good?

    Lolitas abound. I wonder whether they came dressed like that using the subway? ^^

  7. @yas and @lina, regarding the octopus balls. I think the white stuff is mayonnaise. And, I suspect these weren't the best octopus balls mainly because there wasn't much octopus in them, it was more like some fluffy stuff that didn't have much taste, and a few tiny rubbery bits of octopus. OK if you eat them when they are very hot. Maybe I'll try them again, but some other cafe.

  8. Wow, so many aspects of Japanese culture, traditional and contemporary ones. Even Japanese
    are embarassingly observing the outrageous new ones like cosplay, though the games and animes are quite popular. A former mayor of Osaka, who was used to be a comedian, named "samurai ball" to octopus balls.

  9. The three Lolita style women remind me of Grayson Perry. That's very much his style of dressing - the exaggerated little-girl femininity.

  10. You have to dare to get dressed this way!
    Japanese amaze me as they seem to be coming from a virtual cartoon , everything seems to entirely reproduced (not always very tastefully but never mind!)...but this gives a fantastic topic for a post!

  11. What an amazing experience! I used to travel frequently as a kid. As an adult, I kind of miss it. Wish I could afford to do some more.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. Very interesting.

  13. Wow, and wow! You must have put almost everything of this exhibition, which looks fun and interesting. Takoyaki, one of Japanese fast foods, look a little different without sea weed powder popular to Japanese on a lovely white plastic tray. I am also fan of Neko (cat) Bus with his charming grinning face. Japanese sub-culture has been popular in Asia and I’m glad to know its gaining more popularity in Britain. I really appreciate the kind hearts of your country to aid for Japan. Thank you for this post, Jenny. Wish you more sunny days.


  14. I hope you got dressed up in your cosplay gear for the event!

  15. Japanese culture fascinates me. For me, they are highly creative. Innovation and artistry come to my mind everytime I read and see something about Japan.

    The last part of your story is heartfelt. Let's all continue to pray for Japan.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this story. I enjoyed it very much. :)

  16. That sounds intriguing - and surprisingly alien, for the most part. I hope to get to Japan one day, have you ever been?

    Oh, and I so want to learn to make macarons. The decorations on those ones are adorable!

  17. Hi Jenny, great pictures and delicious macaroons,hope they tasted as they looked....

  18. That looks so cool and I sooo wanted to go. In fact, I probably walked past you (if you were in that looong queue) since we took Dylan to the Dr Who Experience yesterday (he's a huge fan) and walked past all those fabulously dressed up people. Great to see somebody made it... ;-) xo

  19. Jenny, Thanks for coming by my blog. Your post is most interesting and you took some great photos. I LOVE your header shot too--awesome pic. Have a great week. Mickie :)

  20. Great blog. I have some photos I took in Seville last year of a group of Japanese women dressed in Flamenco dresses.

  21. A fascinating post with excellent photos. I would enjoy such an event, partly because I know almost nothing about contemporary Japanese culture.

    Also, it appears you have rather strange people in London as we do here!

  22. Thanks for the photo's and the images of the exhibit. I'm only vaguely aware of this aspect of Japanese culture. I am fond of many things from their more traditional culture tho.


  23. What fun!

    Even Totoro was there-

    Sure hope you are able to join my blog, as you are always most welcome there! You can add my http to your blogs you are following in your dashboard if my 'followers/friends' don;t reappear soon.

    Aloha from Waikiki;

    Comfort Spiral


    > < } } ( ° >

    < ° ) } } > <

  24. Hello Jenny, I have several Blog friends from Japan but really know nothing about the pop culture of the young. I do very much enjoy the traditional Japanese esthetic (perhaps because I'm older?). Those Macaroons were the only thing i could really identify! An interesting post - I've learned something.

  25. Thank you for this post featuring Japanese exhibition of its current subculture.
    I myself (Japanese) is behind the times without teenage or young children, slow in catching up "hyper Japan", funny but it's interesting to know what's happening here.
    Your follow-up links are also helpful.
    I'm glad to know the plight of affected people here is still in your minds.
    Thank you, Jenny, for introducing the exhibition.

  26. Hi, Jenny, I'm here again. There’s one thing I feel strange in your photo. As many people would think, the “kimono” are too long for the ladies to walk. The length must be adjusted to their ankles by tucking in the extra length at the sash. Probably the time for dressing them was saved just for pictures. Have happy days ahead.

  27. I really enjoyed your blog. I love Takoyaki, but I don't know about Takoyaki for breakfast. Love the image of the temple with the snow falling :)

    Japan Australia

  28. is just so unknown to me. their culture. thanks for this post (-and for your kind words in my blog lately : )

  29. Another magnificent post. Every facet of it fascinating. Grateful thanks.

  30. Thanks for all the comments, and so many interesting points raised. @stardust, thank you for pointing out the length of the kimono is wrong. I knew something looked not quite right but I couldn't work out what it was. Now it's clear! @Small Fabric of my life, I would love to see your photo. @Mlle Poirot, I will be going to Dr. Who on Wednesday!! Not my choice, but I promised Arthur (6) a day out and from all accounts it's pretty good. @AB. Since I have written a book on Lewis Carroll I guess I should have come as Alice in Wonderland but I'm convinced those outfits are for under-20s who are very slim, they look a little strange on some Westerners. Although, @Nick, you are dead right about Grayson Perry, I wonder if that's where he got the idea. @Sarah, the gothic lolita doll must be interesting, are you going to post a picture?

  31. very interesting post and shots.

  32. Wonderful shots, thanks, Jenny. I would like to come and see the exhibition but I am too far from London to come just for that. I love Japan and the Japanese culture. I have even tried to learn the language, but after many efforts I have almost given up! Thanks for your tip about blogger. It has worked for me too. Ciao. A.x

  33. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is an interesting event you have been. Specialy the fashion, I read about it but it is weird to see.

  34. Such a detailed post, beautifully illustrated.
    Your most telling phrase though is 'the continuing plight of those most affected by the terrible events of last March'. Barely four months ago.
    I can't help feeling that all this jolliness is a little out of step. I wonder how those still in agony and daily discomfort feel about that ten percent .
    And how much they appreciate the likes of the filmstar Judy Dench receiving something like 200.000 dollars/pounds or whatever from their country, at a time like this.
    I suppose most nations' bookkeeping is beyond my ken.

  35. What an interesting visit. Not sure about your breakfast though! I wish I lived close enough to visit.


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