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Japanese London

Closed to the world for two centuries, Japan unleashed its stylistic influence on British design during the 1870s.

A small but vibrant Japanese community took root in London in the interwar period, but was broken up by the advent of World War II.

In the 1980s, a decade of Japanese economic prosperity, Japanese people once more returned to London to live and trade. Most Japanese people now living in London are here temporarily and reside in Barnet and Ealing.

It seems golf courses are to the Japanese abroad what churches and restaurants are to everyone else.

Leo Benedictus 'The Guardian' January 2005

Japanese culture has long influenced British art and design. From the mid 19th century, British furniture and textile design was inspired by Japanese styles.

Small numbers of Japanese people travelled to Britain from the mid 19th century. Most were government officials or students.

The Japan Society, founded in 1891, encouraged friendship between British and Japanese people and reflected the popularity of Japanese culture in Britain.

From World War I, Japanese migration to Britain increased, as Japan’s economy expanded rapidly. Large Japanese trading firms and banks exported men from elite backgrounds to run branches of their companies in London.

However, the largest numbers of Japanese in Britain were seamen. A proportion of these Japanese men, both elite and working class, married British women.

Smaller Japanese businesses provided goods and services to the flourishing community. Denmark Street near Covent Garden was a hub for these enterprises.

Between 1915 and 1938 the community had its own Japanese language newspaper, the ‘Nichiei Shinshi’.

Important events for Japanese Londoners included watching the tennis player Shimizu Zenzo participate in the Wimbledon men’s final in 1920 and the visit of Crown Prince Hirohito to Britain the following year.

By the time World War II broke out, most Japanese had returned to their country of origin. Those who remained were interned as enemy aliens, or forcibly repatriated. The small British Japanese community, which never exceeded 1800 in number, ceased to exist.

It was not until the 1980s that the booming Japanese economy once again brought branches of Japanese firms to London. Japanese cars and electrical goods like the Sony walkman filled the shops.

Over 19,000 Japanese people now live in Greater London. Most of them are not permanent residents. Japan is an affluent nation and its citizens come to London to work for Japanese companies or as students. Others are journalists and government workers.

The Japanese community is most in evidence in Barnet and Ealing, where there are Japanese kindergartens, schools and shops. Golf is a very popular sport in Japan and golf courses are sited in both these areas.

Piccadilly Circus is home to a number of Japanese businesses clustered in and around the Japan Centre. The Japanese-owned high street shops Muji and Uniqlo sell clothing and household goods of a distinctly minimalist design.

Manga cartoons and animé films are the most recent Japanese cultural contribution embraced by the West.  These are stocked in mainstream comic and video shops and shown in cinemas all over the capital.

Karaoke, singing along to an instrumental version of a pop song, is now a familiar form of entertainment offered in numerous pubs and bars.

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