Japan House London celebrates the Asian nation’s cultural offerings
In Bernard George’s Grade II listed, Art Deco building on Kensington High Street, a new £15m cultural and retail centre trumpets Japan’s ability to craft both function and beauty. Japan House London follows outposts in Los Angeles and São Paulo, each designed under the guidance of chief creative director Kenya Hara (of Muji fame). Set up by the Government of Japan, they represent soft diplomacy at its most aspirational.
Japan House stocks items that Londoners would be hard pushed to find elsewhere. Goodies include bent cedar bento boxes, aesthetically pleasing picnic-ware made from sugar cane fibre, antique lacquered trays, and stylish nail-clippers. The plan is to have personalised narratives written up about each product, says director Michael Houlihan, director general of JHL. ‘We are as much telling stories as we are selling products.’
On the 800 sq m ground floor there is also a teaser of the exhibition below, ‘Sou Fujimoto: Futures of the Future’. The architect, who designed the 2013 Serpentine Pavilion, displays delicate models of his work on slim plinths, alongside blown-up photos and images on the walls.
Connecting the floors is a new spiral staircase – made in Japan and brought over in pieces – and a spherical glass lift. The basement is home to a library and event space. Like the ground floor these are both exercises in a quiet aesthetic created by Japanese firm Wonderwall, designers of Uniqlo’s London flagship. While these two floors feature white walls and glazing, Wonderwall’s design for the first-floor restaurant, Akira, is warmer, with a black slatted ceiling, a black patterned screen and wooden chairs and tables from Japan.