We visit the recently launched Japan House London to find out more about this unique space, and to speak to its interior designer, Katayama Masamichi.
Launched at the end of June 2018, Japan House has found a new home in the heart of Kensington High Street, London. Joining Los Angeles and Sao Paulo as the only current locations where Japan House has put down roots, the new House in London aims to “nurture a deeper understanding and appreciation of Japan in the international community”. DesignCurial visited this new hub to find out more about Japan House, and spoke to Japan House London’s interior designer, Katayama Masamichi, to find out more about the space.
Stepping inside the large, elegant Art Deco building that Japan House London now calls home, guests are greeted by The Stand – a quirky coffee bar for to-go drinks, and a range of authentic Japanese products on display. These products sit at different heights on podiums throughout the ground floor, immersing visitors in the House’s shop. Pieces comes with information on the artist or designer who made it place, and have been placed next to display areas of flower arrangements and a bonsai tree; the showcase is subtle, blurring the lines between what is shop and what is gallery.
© Lee Mawdsley
In fact, on one side of the room, a gallery space does seem to have taken up residence. It tantalises guests with small objects on plinths, which make up Sou Fujimoto’s mini-exhibition Architecture is Everywhere. It is a taster of what is to come – the rest of Fujimoto’s expansive exhibition is downstairs in Japan House London’s dedicated gallery space.
Following on from Architecture is Everywhere upstairs, Futures of the Future is Sou Fujimoto’s first solo exhibition in the UK. It opens the exhibition season at Japan House London, christening the House’s lower ground floor gallery space with a unique look into Fujimoto’s creative process. Also on the lower ground floor are a compact library, and a hall for talks, performances, workshops and other events. Completely white on the inside, the hall is reminiscent of a blank canvas; when we visit, a series of interviews are playing, projected onto one wall.
© Lee Mawdsley
A magnificent spiral staircase – which was built in Japan, shipped to London and assembled piece by piece – spans the three floors of Japan House London, leading to the restaurant AKIRA on the first floor. Opposite the restaurant, a bar nestles against one wall; a windowless tatami room is hidden to one side of it, offering traditional, Japanese style private dining.
Handcrafted wooden furniture adorns the restaurant itself, which is sectioned from the bar by a black, metal lattice screen. It is here that we sit down with Katayama Masamichi, Japan House London’s interior designer, amongst the bustle of chefs prepping in the open kitchen for their first dinner service. It’s not the first time Katayama has designed an interior in London; the principal of Wonderwall and prominent Japanese interior designer previously designed Uniqlo’s flagship store in Oxford Street.
Only Sao Paulo and Los Angeles host the other Japan Houses; it begs the question why London was chosen as the location for the third. With a shrug, Katayama says this was a decision made before he was brought on board with the project. But, he says, “We have a history. There is a relationship between Japan and the UK; we have a very strong connection, and I think that must have been one of the reasons.”
Katayama has meticulously designed every aspect of Japan House London to accommodate the various activities that will take place within the House – but with so many different parts of the project, how did he manage to form one cohesive design? He says there has always been a “very solid idea [for] Japan House, not only for London but for Sao Paulo and LA.” The idea is for all of the Japan Houses is to try and introduce the “beauty of Japanese culture in an authentic way.” Specifically for his design in London, Katayama says, “when I heard the idea, I thought that - rather than bringing superficial detail and materials - I wanted to build up something more conceptual.”
© Lee Mawdsley
“I wanted to show that we have something original and authentic which has developed throughout the history of Japan,” continues Katayama. “In order to build up my concept, I paid attention to two contexts from the history of Japan… [the first] is the very original, specific Japanese aesthetic of perceiving empty space or voids as objects of appreciation. [The second] is the idea of how [relationships] are important in the creation of space – the relationship between people and things; the objects and the place.”
“The interrelations between these factors [create] the space itself and that’s what’s what is most important. Referring to these two ideas, I conceived Japan House London as something that can create this totality of space – which incorporates the visitors, the events and the food, the retails – all these factors strive for totality.”
© Lee Mawdsley
Although the overall design of Japan House London can be seen as minimal, Katayama says that he didn’t want to do something “too obvious and clear. The idea was to create a balance between simplicity, and showing different aspects of Japanese culture without too much consistency. [One of the] challenges was to create a balance between global perspectives, international perspectives, and to keep Japanese perspectives [within the space] as well.”
Interestingly, Katayama mentions that the building he was working within did not pose too many issues for his designs. Previously a Derry and Toms building, the listed Art Deco hub was designed by Barkers architect, Bernard George, in 1920. “The space itself was very simple and it wasn’t that complicated,” says Katayama. “It didn’t have to be completely rearranged. Although this line of movement was changed, it was relatively easy to reuse the space.”
© Lee Mawdsley
As we finish up our conversation, the noise levels in the AKIRA restaurant seem to increase – bar staff are now also preparing for the evening’s events. However, there is one last question to as Katayama before we head back down the spiral staircase. Does he have a favourite part of Japan House London? Katayama smiles. “I would say I like the entire space; the design of [each] space itself is not important - what is more important is the news and events coming out of the entire space. [It is best] to see Japan House London as a whole, rather than parts.”
From food to Japanese craftsmanship, an expansive book collection to a range of events and talks, Japan House London has found a way to cater for all kinds of visitors to their new space. What’s more, with such a strong emphasis placed on Japanese design and the country’s authentic culture, this House is sure to educate and enlighten guests from across the globe.