Arts and Culture
In 2018, ‘Japan House’, a new permanent cultural venue, opened to the public in London. Located in High Street Kensington, in close proximity to the Design Museum, Japan House comprises an exhibition gallery, workshop spaces, a Japanese restaurant and a retail ﬂoor showcasing “thoughtfully curated Japanese products”, complemented by event programme. Led by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the aim of the initiative is to present “the very best of Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, and technology… [to deepen] appreciation of all that Japan has to offer”.
Design, craft and architecture have been at the forefront of Japan House’s offerings, from its inaugural exhibition featuring an architect Sou Fujimoto's works, to showcases of Japanese craft tradition and heritage – including a new exhibition, curated by Kenya Hara, the Chief Creative Director of Japan House and art director of MUJI.
Focusing on the exhibitions and events of Japan House, this paper will explore how contemporary craft and design from Japan is presented to audiences in London. It will question how and why this new culture centre has come to be located in Kensington, while offering additional observations about other Japan House projects (Los Angeles, São Paulo). Discussions will be placed in dialogue with broader narratives around Japanese cultural exports and soft power, specifically the ‘Cool Japan’ strategy (devised in 2013 to promote Japanese culture, especially pop culture) and how the success of South Korea’s ‘Hallyu Wave’ has prompted ‘Cool Japan’ to shift its focus to craft and design.