Japonisme is one of those books which is actually a piece of art, thanks to the love and attention that’s been put into it. Erin Niimi Longhurst’s debut is a wonderful collection of insights and how you can incorporate the best of Japanese culture into your life. But more than this, Japonisme is full of beautiful illustrations by Ryo Takemasa and stunning photographs taken by Erin herself.
I have been so lucky to have two weeks’ of Japonisme in my life – from the launch of the book, to reading it, to a Supper Club hosted by Erin and Toral Shah from The Urban Kitchen celebrating the best in Japanese flavours and their culture. So this post is going to cover all of that and include a competition at the end on how you can win a signed copy of Japonisme!
During the heat wave in London, the publishing house Harper Collins launched Japonisme in Katsute 100, a tea room in Angel. I can’t believe I have never been to this gem before; apart from a tea room it’s also a boutique stocking some of the most stunning Japanese crockery and also more types of tea than I have seen outside Japan.
I along with 6 other bloggers and instagrammers were treated to an afternoon of tea, cake, and a talk from Erin talking about her book. However what that sentence doesn’t tell you is just how epic it all was because this wasn’t a normal afternoon tea. Oh no – it all started with a sencha tea and matcha cake and just took off from there. Sencha is one of the most popular teas in Japan. Erin described that as normal tea, the same way we would refer to builder’s tea. It’s a light tea and very easy to drink.
After that we were served my favourite tea – hojicha. Here the tea is roasted giving the beverage a toasty, caramel-like flavour which I fell in love with. I remember my sister having hojicha in Japan when we were there and having it again after so long just brought back all these wonderful memories.
The third tea was one I had never heard of or tried before: genmaicha or popcorn tea. Here green tea is combined with roasted rice to give the tea a popcorn like flavour. Erin spoke about this tea as being perfect before bed and I could understand why; it calmed me. Along with the tea there was cake (of course), a delicious matcha cake and a hojicha cake. I may have had two slices of each because there were just so, so bloody good.
While we ate and drank Erin spoke about Japonisme explaining why it’s split into sections and how personal the book is to her (more on all of this in the next section where I talk about the book). Eventually the conversation turned to faux pas and here are some of the food related things you shouldn’t do when eating Japanese food (though the rules have become slightly more relaxed especially here):
- Never share food chopstick to chopstick. Always put it on a plate so the other person can then take it
- Do not leave chopsticks sticking up in food
Did you know either of these things? I definitely didn’t! I also got to practice my very (very) rudimentary Japanese with one of the staff in Katsute 100, telling her how delicious the cakes had been. She understood what I said which made my day.
As a foodie herself, Erin knows the best restaurants to try Japanese food and her top tip for sushi in London is Atari-Ya. I wonder if they also serve vegetarian sushi? Regardless I plan on going there very, very soon.
Japonisme is split into three sections: Kokoro, Karada, and Shukanka.
Kokoro can be roughly translated as the ‘heart of a feeling’. This section was all about accepting the person you are – accepting your ‘flaws’ – and finding contentment. The desire to be ‘perfect’ rules a lot of our lives and in this section Erin talks about how this shouldn’t be our number one goal. Commercialism and materialism play such a huge part in this – you don’t need to buy something else in order to feel happy or fulfilled. The practice of Kintsugi is such a perfect example of this. Broken pottery is repaired with golden lacquer rather than thrown away. In turn these flaws make the piece even more beautiful and desirable.
Has there ever been a more beautiful metaphor for life?
Karada roughly translates to ‘the body’ and is a more practical section on what you can physically do to improve your life. What really struck me was Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. When I was reading this section and listening to Erin explain the concept I initially thought I was already a master of this (me, big headed? Never!). I live by a lovely wood. I walk in it all the time, I run in it all the time, therefore I must forest bathe all the time. Wrong. Shinrin-yoku is about enjoying the moment without thinking of anything else. No phones, no step counters, no planned routes. Just be in the moment and walk. I have never done this.
In this section Japonisme also covered Ikebana (flower arranging which I am so lucky because I had the chance to do this a long time ago in my local library), Ocha (tea), Tabemono (food), and Calligraphy. With my culture and with Japanese culture there is a lot of etiquette surrounding food and I found that section very interesting.
The third section Shukanka, brought it all together – how can you practice Japonisme in your life? What can you do to achieve some of that contentment? This is probably the section I will refer to the most in years to come. As with forest bathing, I know nothing but really, really want to learn.
The Supper Club
Japan falls into a Blue Zone; an area of longevity. Scientists and researchers (Poulain et al, Dan Buettner, and the National Geographic) have tried to hypothesise why this is the case. They have written a list of 9 common attributes people in all Blue Zone areas:
And this was what the Japonisme Supper Club centred around. Toral, the founder and genius behind The Urban Kitchen teamed up with Erin to create an evening of purpose, plant based food, alcohol, and creating a tribe. The took over the bottom floor of Benk + Bo, a wonderful space in East London.
Both Toral and Erin spoke about their love of Japanese food and culture, how important it is to have a plant based diet and how much we can learn from people living in these blue zones. We then heard from Minaxi Shah, and ikebana practitioner (and Toral’s mum) who is a true expert, and Cooper Sensai who talked about the founding principles of Aikido.
My sister was the member of my tribe who I took with me but by the time we left, our tribe had become so much bigger. Talking with complete strangers can be so rewarding when you only have one thing in common; in our case it was this supper club. We all quickly had a lot more in common when the food started being served.
For starters there was miso soup with tofu and wake seaweed, chicken or tofu teriyaki, and a cucumber salad with wasabi dressing.
For the main course there was miso-marinated Atlantic cod, stir-fried yakisoba noodles, watercress, pumpkin and yuzu salad with Tamara pumpkin seeds, and miso aubergine salad.
For dessert there was a yuzu yoghurt panacotta made using Dorset Dairy yoghurt.
It was a feast for my senses. Even though I have an intolerance to aubergines, the miso aubergine salad was my favourite (I think – my favourite dish changes quite regularly since they were all so good!). I only had a little bit and suffered no problems thankfully. My sister absolutely loved it. It went down very easily with the Gozenshu 9 ‘Rocky Mountain’ Junmai Bodaimoto Sake we had with the meal.
It was a perfect evening full of perfect people and the most perfect food. I can’t wait to see (and eat) what Toral hosts next. Just have a look at some of the pictures from the evening – Toral kindly let me use them and just looking at them makes my stomach rumble!
And here is how you can win your own copy of Japonisme, signed by Erin herself! All you need to do is head to my instagram page, like my post on Japonisme, and then comment at the bottom. That’s it – I don’t need you to follow me, though it’s lovely if you want to, and I don’t need you to tag anyone else.
Good luck! The winner is going to be announced on my instagram in a weeks’ time (on Monday the 21st of May).