London’s eternity: In books, buildings and bespoke shoes

London is an eternal city, it is full of historical significance and amidst change and movement, there are places of complete standstill, older than any of the passers-by.

© The Print Collector—Heritage-Images/Imagestate

The Old Curiosity Shop, 13-14 Portsmouth Street WC2A

In Holborn, near the wonderful London School of Economics, not far from King’s College and the Thames river, is a very old and historical part of town where presently, there is a lot of construction going on.

Image source here.

But amidst all the updates, refurbishments and additions to Central London, there are historical sights which have not changed for centuries.

You might think that I am speaking of great and famous buildings which there are plenty here in London, but I am referring to the tiniest and most humble structures with arguably some of the greatest significance in terms of history and continuity of this beautiful city.

 

The Old Curiosity Shop as it stands in November 2017 – it’s 5th Century here. How many people has it seen walk past on this very corner?

The place I have photographed here is no other then THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP made immortal by Charles Dickens’ novel. I love the backdrop of intense construction and the 16th Century shop in  a bubble of eternal tranquility. Whereas in other cities of the world the memories of the past would have had to crumble under the pressure of the heavy wallets of property investors, London preserves and protects many heritage sites. Thank goodness.

Of course, it is not where Nell Trent and her grandfather actually lived, for this was fiction, nor was it called “The Old Curiosity Shop” when the novel was published in the mid-19th Century, but received its name later – probably due to the immense popularity of the book.

But the present day resident is still a remarkable protagonist, if you like. The Japanese designer shoemaker Kimura Daita-san has set up an atelier where he makes incredible bespoke shoes, a rather English tradition you could argue.

 

I quote Chrissy Grübel from her fantastic post

“Kimura has been in residence since 1992, crafting truly unique designs for both men and women. What will you find? Shiny leather oxfords, cool “hog-toed” boots, colorful unisex sneakers—classic shapes with modern details that can live in anyone’s wardrobe. I am personally begging for the Eley Kishimoto laceups: “Please, sir. I want some more.” Yes, I know this quote is from a different Dickens novel, but I’m a blogger not a scholar.

The shop may only exist in a magical lil’ nook of what I think is the most magical city on earth, but luckily for those who don’t share my urban obsession, you can shop online! There is justice in the world!”

You can see the full collection of shoes here and below is a movie made by Kimura-san:

 

 

Alpha Books, 1 Portsmouth St, London WC2A 2ES (corner of Sheffield St.)

And then, opposite The Curiosity Shop is another gem: Alpha Books. This shop provides the university students, lecturers (like me) and bibliophiles with rare, used, out-of print or specialty books at very decent prices. It is, not to say the least, quite a “Dickensian” sort of place. When I went in, an grumpy man hidden behind a partition and half-way into an antique stairway leading to the basement. I could not see the man at first, but only hear him grumbling and ranting.

I asked: “Exuse me?”

He shouted: “Yes, excuse me! We are busy, you have to wait!”

And when he had carried a box out to the door I asked: “Yesterday, you had a book on structuralism outside…”

“Yes! By Piaget,” he finished my sentence and then went on to fetch it out the many random piles of books on the floor.

Incredible, I thought, because not only did he know exactly which book it was, he also found it within the seeming chaos in a split second! And it is an out-of-print 1971 edition! Of an author who only certain people even have heard of!

If I was filming a scene of a movie, this would be it. Only at that point, I was in the movie. A shop devoid of any signs of modernity, inside or out. It could have been the 1980s, the 1950s, or earlier.

Alpha books and its owner are a cultural heritage of London.

 

A view from inside the bookshop, looking at one of the London School of Economics’ buildings.

Whilst in the shop, and scanning it’s book tables just outside I fell in love with at least 5 more and will be stopping there again. Alpha books is a rarity for connoisseurs, of knowledge, history and authenticity, when bookstores are disappearing and gentrification is making little old curiosity shops extinct. The owner can be grumpy if he likes, I don’t mind – this place is not to be missed.

With love from London,

Olga

xx

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London’s Tokimeite & Tombo Café x Hello Kitty

Konnichiwa my dear readers, and my apologies for being silent for so long. London life has been keeping me rather busy so it is only today that I found time to post.

I have had a very Japanese weekend indeed, and I want to tell you about two lovely restaurants that I visited.

 

  1. Tokimeite

A beautiful and refined Japanese restaurant in Central London, near New Bond Street. This gem serves Kyoto-style cuisine, prepared by a star chef. I tasted the Bento lunch set which was delightful!

While enjoying a look at the wonderful interior, I started wondering about the design of the lamps. Do they look like temple lanterns to you?

Tokimeite London with star chef Murata Yoshihiro

 

2. Tombo Café

Tombo Café is my go-to for a large Matcha Latte and a home-style Chicken Katsu Curry. But today, I bumped into Tombo’s Hello Kitty promotion! Yes, yes, Hello Kitty, you read it correctly! This is  enough to get me excited in a girly, squeaky kind of way.

Check out all the amazing things they are offering:

 

 

 

My Matcha Latte!

 

Still have to try this delicious assortment of cakes….

 

Of course, all these delicious treats are still a far cry from what you can get in Japan, but this is very close and – very yummie! The reason is mostly because it is difficult to obtain or even ship the special and very fresh ingredients over here. I recently bumped into a stranded container from Mitsui Shipping Company and wondered how food is shipped from Japan to London, but that’s for another story.

Mitsui in North Acton. This must be the only existing shot where a crocodile, a magpie and a seagull all peacefully pose in one single shot.

Anyways, should you be in London, please do try out these tasty treats!
Mata ne!

 

Kansai Yamamoto thrifty Tribute

Ladies and gents, boys and girls,

Have you ever heard of the Japanese Designer Kansai Yamamoto? Yes, no or maybe? Just to give you a little hint (or reminder for those who know him), he is one of the most colourful, experimental and legendary designers who clothed David Bowie for his Ziggy Stardust Tour. 山本 寛斎 is just fabulous!
david-bowie-and-kansai-yamamoto-in-japan-1973

Image above: Kansai Yamamoto and David Bowie trying on one of Yamamoto’s creations. Sourced here.

It was just my luck, that strolling through London, as one does, I should veer off the road into a thrift store and discover…drum rolls please…a Kansai Yamamoto sweater from the 80s!With a beautiful appliqué dragon and “Kansai Yamamoto” appliqué signature below it.

Kansai Sweater 2

 

The thrift store ladies gave it away almost for free, asking with much concern on their faces: “Are you going to wear it out or just at home?” Yes, of course, OF COURSE I am going to wear it out! I don’t care if I look like I just arrived fresh from the 80s in a time machine, this is a Yamamoto original and my tribute to his great talent.

Check it out:

The discovery of this vintage piece is coincidentally perfectly timed with the Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection Show in Kyoto, Japan – held on May 14, 2017! Nicholas Ghesquière made a vivid tribute to Yamamoto and it turns out he is a fan of his just like moi.

 

 

Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection – Image source here.

Louis Vuitton 2018 Cruise Collection seen here.

If you are as inspired as I am, you might like to check out Pinterest with lots of fantastic images of his creations: https://uk.pinterest.com/beaconscloset/kansai-yamamoto/?lp=true

And if you feel like you must have a retro piece, too, there are a few sites which offer Kansai Yamamoto vintage pieces: https://www.1stdibs.com/creators/kansai-yamamoto/fashion/

Have you got a cool vintage story to tell? I would love to hear from you!

Olga xx

The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Dear readers,

In March I gave two mini-lectures to the Business School students at the London College of Fashion on the subject of international branding and talked about brand names inside and outside of Japan. Here is part of the lecture which I hope you will enjoy!

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The Pretenders: A look at pseudo-international brand names

Superdry is a fashion brand with a logo that features Roman letters and the Japanese Kana und Kanji alphabets – they are two of the three alphabets commonly used in the Japanese language. If you wanted to use the logo to figure out where the brand is from, you would be faced with quite a challenge, similar to finding out whether the American Hamburger really originated in Hamburg….

But let me explain!

 

Bild 1: Superdry Logo. Quelle: http://www.realclothesforsale.com/

Image 1: Superdry Logo.

Yes, the 3 Superdry founders really have been to Japan (so this part is true) at some point in the past, but they never lived there, they are not from Japan, they do not even speak “Nihongo” (Japanese language in, erm, Japanese) let alone know how to write it. They did, however, fall in love with things like the Asahi Super Dry beer and many other products which claim to be “super”-something. This led the founders to start a fashion label based in the small British town of Cheltenham which is not very exotic I would say.

(http://www.superdry.com/about-us)

Bild 2: Asahi Super Dry Bier. Quelle: http://www.e-aidem.com/aps/02_A50827134687_detail.htmImage 2: Asahi Super Dry Beer.

Now the famous Superdry logo is based on graphics also inspired by Japan and it is very popular in many countries around the world. It is also an important USP (unique selling proposition) for a fashion brand. But what exactly does this Japanese combination of letters mean? When you read Superdry’s famous graphics 極度乾燥(しなさい) you hear “Kyokudo Kanso (shinasai)” which can be translated to something like “Extremely dry (do it now)” – and it is not a polite request at all but rather an order which parents might give to children. In 2011, the Superdry founders admitted that this is pure gibberish which they like to print on their merchandise, but that did not deter the fans.

They are pretenders!

Bild 3: Superdry Werbung. Quelle: http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/08/17/superdry-appoints-icrossing-search-accountsImage 3: Superdry advertisement.

Ok, so the founders are pretending that their brand is from Japan. Fair enough. But why are people ready to wear gibberish on their clothes, so much so that Superdry, which was founded in 1985, was able to offer an IPO about 6 years ago? For those who might not be familiar with the financial market, an IPO is an Initial Public Offering on the stock exchange and means that a company or brand is thriving and can promise investors further growth in the future.

Did the founders think that everything that looks Japanese is so cool that it will always sell? And do Japanese think the same way? Interestingly, or perhaps logically, there is not one Superdry store in Japan.
This is however, a strategic step by the brand, as Japanese people would not know what on earth they are supposed to think of the phrase of “Jinglish” – a mix of Japanese and Englisch. In fact, in Japan the popular items are T-Shirts with English or French Prints and fashion brands which sound Western – the exact opposite of Superdry’s appeal in the West.

Bild 4: Shibuya 109, Tokyo. Quelle: http://jpninfo.com/4979Image 4: Department store Shibuya 109, Tokyo.

They sound almost authentic, these Western brands which are called Dainy by JURIANOJURRIE or YUMMY MART by PEACH JOHN, Delyle NOIR as well as Ober Tashe. These are just some of the labels which are on offer in one of the most famous department stores in Tokyo, the Shibuya 109 – or “Ichi-Maru-Kyu” as the locals call it by spelling out the number. This is a fashion mecca for lovers of J-Fashion where young and fashion-conscious people flock to in the search for fashion styles like „Kawaii“ (= super cute), „Gyaru“ (super girly) or „oshare“ (highly fashionable).

 

Bild 5: Liz Lisa. Quelle: http://universal-doll.com/2014/06/shop-staff-68-liz-lisa-machida-109-yokohama/Image 5: Liz Lisa.

And just like the exotic names of the aforementioned fashion brands, customers also love T-Shirt with prints in „Jinglish”: „World Difference Execute“ or „Trusting To Luck. Everything is in your hand“ or „Much Like Hold“ they read. (More trends of Japanese T-Shirts are here: http://mrstsk.tumblr.com/post/80665324669)

Bild 6: T-Shirt mit „Jinglish“ Print. Quelle: http://www.liberalamerica.org/2014/12/01/in-japan-t-shirts-with-reallyyyy-random-english-words-are-a-thing/Image  6: T-Shirt with „Jinglish“ print.

In Japan, the English-inspired prints are not limited to shirts nor to Tokyo, but you can find thm on all sorts of products (chocolate, cosmetics, bath essences etc.) and all over the country.

 

Bild 7: Fancl Japan

Image 7: Fancl Japan

 

One wonders why Japanese people might find foreign language gibberish so cool and one speculates what a customer values in such a product which is pretending to be foreign.

Afterall, Peach John or Fancl are also pretenders as they are local Japanese brands!

In the case of Superdry it is probably the attraction of a foreign alphabet which is impossible to decipher, and costs around €100 if printed on to an “extremely dry” sweatshirt which paradoxically does not absorb moisture nor shield you from the rain. The printed letters convey the poular image of Japanese products being high-tech and superior in quality. The customer transfers these characteristics onto the brand – irrespectable of its true qualities.

The Branding Journal reasons: “Research has shown that European consumers aspire and exhibit inclination towards Japanese brands and this is reflected in their purchase decisions. Moreover, packaging/products scripted in Japanese tend to exude a certain degree of quality and “wow” factor in the customer’s perception.” (http://www.thebrandingjournal.com/2016/03/the-superdry-appeal/)

Superdry has thus managed to turn this perception into a print and logo and then into its brand value. This same psychological mechanism can probably be applied to the Western brand names in Japan. Pretending to be a foreign brand seems to pay off quite well!

And how did Superdry admit its brand origin? Watch this video and see if you can spot the “truth”!

 

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The creator of Totoro is not done yet!

What happy news for a Japanophile and Ghibli-lover like me: There are rumours that Hayao Miyazaki, genious and Sensei of all things “kawaii” and anime will be coming out of retirement to produce another full-length film!

I have just read about the happy news on Oyster Mag and am re-posting their article below. Enjoy!

 

image: http://www.oystermag.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/article-image-650×580/images/ghibli-site_0.jpg

Studio Ghibli co-founder and legendary animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is planning to return to the movie biz after a three-year hiatus. Turns out you just can’t keep a good man/certified genius down. During a recent NHK television special titled Owaranai Hito Miyazaki Hayao (The Man Who Is Not Done), Hayao announced that he’s planning to come out of retirement to make a new feature film.

The movie is based on a story he’s been working on for 20 years called Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar) which he’s currently developing into a 12-minute short for the Ghibli Museum. According to Hayao, the story follows “a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers.” Cuteness factor is already so high. Unhappy with what he’s been able to accomplish in just 12 minutes, Hayao is planning to extend the story into a full-length film. Legend!

The project hasn’t been given the green light yet, but with Hayao’s track record — Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away, etc., etc. — there’s no way this isn’t happening.

Welcome back, Hayao!

Read more at http://www.oystermag.com/hayao-miyazaki-is-coming-out-of-retirement-for-new-movie#SEbDXm4GUfwtt86D.99

Hoshinoya Hotel Tokyo – a brand new old-style Ryokan

The Hoshinoya opened in 2016

Today’s post is once again influenced by my love for Japan, Tokyo and the amazing buildings that you can find there.

Riddle me this: You do construction work in a multi-million people city and find a natural hot spring. What do you do with it?

Answer: You do some more construction work and put a multi-million-yen building on top of it, call it a traditional-yet-modern Japanese Inn and connect the hot-spring up to the 17th floor.

This is very close to what really happened in downtown Tokyo very recently. The result is the magnificent Hoshinoya Hotel right smack in the middle of Tokyo’s business district Otemachi – a 5-star treat with a real Japanese flair.

The Telegraph describes the interiors:

“A clever addition to Tokyo’s hotel scene, the city’s first luxury ryokan fuses contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship with high-tech touches. The tower is encased in a black metal grid repeating a traditional Japanese kimono motif.

Inside, there is a dramatic double-height genkan entrance with a seasonal flower display, indigo walls, sliding paper screens, expanses of aromatic Japanese wood and modern-style cotton jersey kimono outfits for guests.

The 84 guestrooms are split into groups of six on 14 floors – with each floor resembling a self-contained ryokan inn, with its own Ochanoma lounge. Here, at a communal wooden table or on low sofas, staff serve o nigiri rice balls, coffee, tea or seasonal sakes.”

Omotenashi

Omotenashi

Hoshinoya is good at hospitality and excellent service, because that is what Japan is good at. In the style of a tradition al Ryokan (Guesthouse or Inn) the staff takes care of the guest and makes sure that he or she longs for nothing. This concept is known as “omotenashi” in Japanese and it is truly lived to its fullest potential.

Omotenashi - long-for-nothing at the Hoshinoya.

Omotenashi – long-for-nothing at the Hoshinoya.

 

What does it cost to whatch your dreams on a fluffy futon, after soaking in the Onsen, enjoying a dinner delight of the most delicious traditional Japanese cuisine and staff bringing you tea and slippers before bed time? It will be in the region of $590 to $1000, depending on season and room options. But remember: When you are there, you must take off your shoes at the entrance and show your best manners.

Sliding washi screens and tatami mats with soft futon beds make up the standard room at the Hoshinoya Hotel.

Sliding washi screens and tatami mats with soft futon beds make up the standard room at the Hoshinoya Hotel.