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London shows an appetite for Japan

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As it celebrated its 10th major show, Hyper Japan last weekend welcomed record numbers of visitors to London’s Olympia exhibition centre

The massive turnout for the three-day festival, celebrating the culture and cuisine of Japan, is testament to the increasing enthusiasm for the country in the western world. The British capital has seen rapid growth in Japanese restaurants, offering diners an ever-growing selection of authentic food, from accessible ramen and sushi joints to high-end restaurants, attracting a curious crowd of diners.

Food the main event

Cuisine took centre stage – the Eat-Japan Live zone was bigger than ever, the area dedicated to food serving as a destination in itself alongside the general Hyper Japan space in the main hall dedicated to travel and culture.

Visitors in the food zone enjoyed well-known Japanese delights, including takoyaki octopus balls; gyoza dumplings; wagyu beef and okonomiyaki pancakes. Those with a sweet tooth made a beeline for the booth dispensing so-called bubble waffles, a super indulgent take on Belgian waffles filled with ice cream and a variety of toppings.

With a packed programme, the food demo stages at the Hyper Kitchen featured a huge variety of events to educate and entertain. Western chain Yo! Sushi gave a presentation of its most popular dishes, sake seminars educated those new to the Japanese tipple while others attended to learn in the miso master class and a session on the traditional Japanese sweet wagashi.

Tradition and innovation

The show was also an opportunity to sample a wide array of sake – Yuzu Sake from the Tosa Brewing Company took the prize for people’s favourite sake – and Japanese craft beers. The bar served up the popular Japanese highball, a classic drink mixing whisky and soda water.

Hyper Japan may be famous for showcasing innovation but tradition is never far away. The Asakusa culture zone offered an opportunity to explore everything from traditional Japanese gardens of bonsai trees to craft workshops of Kokeshi doll paintings and origami.

Japan is, of course, also known as one of the leaders in game developments and this year, the Hyper Japan gaming-zone featured near permanent queues as enthusiasts lined up to discover new games – Nintendo brought its recently released Super Mario Maker 2 and the Hado tournament saw teams competing in the augmented reality game.

Hyper Japan returns to London with its Christmas market, 29 November-1 December.

Tina Nielsen