by Stephen Andrews
If you’ve recently come to Britain from Japan to live, work or study, you may be surprised by the many familiar Japanese things that you see here. But there have been close ties between the two countries for ages and Japanese people have been coming here for longer than you might think.
Let’s take a quick look at how Japanese culture has influenced life in Britain today.
Coming to Britain
Japanese professionals and students first began coming to Britain in the late 19th century. In 1884, 264 citizens of Japan lived in Britain and, by 1910, over 500 people were living here.
But, since then, the Japanese population has grown substantially.
According to a survey in 2011, 35,043 Japanese-born people were living in England and Wales, with 1,245 in Scotland and 90 in Northern Ireland. By 2015, 43,000 people born in Japan were resident in Britain.
Popular places to live
Parts of the United Kingdom, particularly London, have big Japanese populations, in areas such as Golders Green, Ealing and Finchley. Derbyshire has a significant Japanese population due to its Toyota plant. Many also live in Telford in Shropshire, home to numerous Japanese companies such as Kiyokuni, Hoshizaki and Denso.
Famous Japanese brands
From electronics to cars, Japanese companies have brought revolutionary products to Britain that transformed our everyday lives. For instance, the Sony Walkman, the first mini, portable music listening device was a must-have in the 80s and paved the way for the way we now take listening to music on the move for granted. Cars made by Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsibushi are favourites for the British motorist. And, if you’re going somewhere by train, it may well have been built by Hitachi. The trains they make run on several main lines across Britain, including King’s Cross to Leeds and King’s Cross to Edinburgh.
Japanese cuisine has become so popular in the UK that, now, most supermarkets sell sushi in their snack and takeaway sections. In fact, sushi has almost overtaken the traditional sandwich as the lunch of choice for many British people. The other most popular dish is probably noodles, in restaurants and as instant noodles in takeaway pots. One of the reasons Japanese food is so popular, apart from the delicious flavours, is the fact that it’s so healthy, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. Japanese restaurants used to be a rarity in Britain, but now you’ll find them in most cities and towns. ‘YO! Sushi’ is everywhere these days! My most favourite Japanese dish? Well, you can’t beat a good chicken teriyaki!
Japanese martial arts are some of the most popular sports in Britain, practised at both amateur and professional level. Top of the list are Judo, Aikido, Jujutsu and Karate and you’ll find clubs throughout the country. Many British men and women have gone on to achieve the highest levels in the sports, competing with Japanese masters. One of the few that hasn’t yet taken off is Sumo. You have to be quite large for that! Shigeri and I actually used to take Aikido lessons, but we gave up because we didn’t like the bruises!
Manga has become very popular in countries all around the world, not least in Britain. One of the influences of Manga style here has been in fashion, especially for teenage girls, who dye their hair bright colours and twin dresses or flouncy skirts with Doc Marten boots. There are two great shops for buying Manga in Britain, ‘Forbidden Planet’ and ‘Travelling Man’.
Hello Kitty with her cute looks and huge range of clothing, toys, accessories, games and books is also immensely popular here. And she has a direct British connection. Did you know that, according to her back-story, she is a perpetual third-grade student who lives outside of London?
Japan revolutionised gaming in Britain. Sony’s Playstation is the best-selling home console, with games like ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto’. Nintendo is also a top favourite, with their most popular games featuring famous Japanese characters like ‘Super Mario’, ‘Pokémon’ and ‘Donkey Kong’.
Japanese designers have a reputation for being on the cutting edge. They have been shaping the fashion industry in Britain and across the world for decades now. Issey Miyake is famed for his futuristic, technology-inspired designs. Kansai Yamamoto was well known for designing amazing costumes for British rock-star, David Bowie. The unique designs of Kenzo Takada and Hanae Mori have also brought surprise and delight to British catwalks.
Such a big part of life in Britain that I’m sure some people think we invented it! Go to any wedding, work-party, birthday, stag-night or hen-night and the chances are you’ll see a bunch of drunken Brits staggering around, slurring the words and singing out-of-tune to the latest hits on the karaoke machine. Popular karaoke tunes in Britain are ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba, ‘I’ll Make Love to You’ by Boyz II Men, ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson, ‘Bad Guy’ by Billie Eilish, ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond, ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis, ‘Give Me Love’ by Ed Sheeran, and ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus.
Quite a few Japanese TV shows have been shown in Britain. One of my favourite programmes as a child was ‘Monkey’ (Saiyūki). I loved the Monkey character and the adventures he got up to with his friends. You can still watch it on the Britbox Amazon Channel. ‘Takeshi’s Castle’ was so popular that a British version was made and shown on the Comedy Central channel until 2019. One of the most successful British TV programmes is ‘Dragon’s Den’ in which a series of entrepreneurs pitch their business idea to a panel of investors. If it reminds you of something you’ve seen in Japan, that’s because the format was based on the original Japanese programme.
A Home from Home
So, you see, Japan and Britain are surprisingly close in all sorts of great ways. Which means that, no matter why you’ve come here, you should feel right at home!