London, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo. There is little at first sight that seems to unite these three cities, which are diverse in geography and climate as well as architecture, cuisine and atmosphere.
Yet these metropolitan hubs will soon be connected by one unexpectedly common thread — the launch of an ambitious new global project that celebrates all things Japanese.
Japan House — an initiative developed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and creatively directed by Muji art director Kenya Hara — involves the opening of buildings in each of these three cities celebrating the best of Japanese culture, from architecture and design to food and fashion.
The properties may look completely different physically — thanks to the involvement of an eclectic array of Japanese architects and designers — but all include a gallery space, a top-quality Japanese restaurant, a boutique selling Japanese products and an ever-changing schedule of cultural events, seminars and workshops.
The first will open its doors to the public in Sao Paulo on May 6. An eye-catching four-story space designed by Kengo Kuma, it features the architect’s signature style in its abstract contemporary facade of multi-layered hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood slats, alongside modernist Brazilian cobogo hollow brickwork.
Next up is London, due to open late 2017 in a space created by Masamichi Katayama of Wonderwall, another renowned Japanese designer famed for fusing craftsmanship with a sleek contemporary aesthetic, as reflected in projects ranging from global Uniqlo stores to Lexus’ Intersect spaces.
The trio will be completed with the opening of the final Japan House in Los Angeles, also expected by the end of the year, with a creative team including the spatial designer Junji Tanigawa, Kyoto-based artist Kohei Nawa and interior designer Ryu Kosaka.
Key to the Japan House concept is not only the physical display of architecture, design, artisan products, food and technology, but also the idea of connecting people through Japan-related events and experiences.
Testament to this is a colorful calendar of events taking place in Sao Paulo in the run-up to the Japan House official opening — one of which involved 30 cyclists delivering avant-garde floral creations by cult contemporary florist Makoto Azuma across the city.
Meanwhile, Japan House London may not yet be completed but it is already pioneering pop-up events across the city — among them, the opening of a sake bar in the Great Court of the British Museum on July 14, hosted by expert sommelier Natsuki Kikuya, to coincide with the museum’s major Katsushika Hokusai exhibition.
Describing how these global hubs aim to become an international gateway to the cultural world of Japan, Michael Houlihan, director general of Japan House London, explains: “Certainly, Japan House will provide insights into the values that underpin Japan’s culture and power its focus on the future. More daringly, it will challenge our view of how we define culture by showing the pleasure and enrichment to be taken from the everyday — be it the joy of simply holding and using a beautifully crafted utensil or the social moments and stories that abound from a shopping trip.”