A Bit of Britain in Nagoya.
Japan yet again spitting in the face of COVID-19, will not allow it to prevent them from holding their annual British exhibition at the Nagoya station Takashimaya. While I am myself conscious of the potential of contracting the virus, I take all recommended measures to prevent myself from getting it, and Japan in general is very well equipped to stave off the virus just by their general day-to-day practices. Quite the opposite it seems, to the little island on the other side of Eurasia.
But that is not the point of today’s post, so I’ll refrain from giving my opinions on my home country’s handling of the virus for now! No, today’s post is in fact a small celebration of British-ness in this year’s UK exhibition. A small taste of home in a country that although seems to have a fondness of the UK, shamefully does not stock HP sauce in its supermarkets.
I’m always slightly disappointed in the UK’s presence in Japan overall. While the Japanese have the utterly accurate impression that we are all rich, well-to-do ladies and gentlemen, its culinary prowess is, oddly enough, overlooked in a country with food such as sushi, karaage, okonomiyaki, yakiniku, sashimi, etc. It’s not exactly salt and vinegar crisps, is it?
When I do go over to an import shop in the hope of finding some simple pleasures, I have learnt to lower those expectations over the years and assume that they will have little more than some biscuits and shortbread with the occasional box of PG Tips, and fancy crisps, all at exorbitant prices. Going over to the alcohol selection you will find a nice collection of beers, the majority of which are from Belgium, Germany and the US (the US!) but hardly ever the UK.
I’ll admit that I may be overstating the level of quality and importance of British goods, but there is a lot of unknown delights in British cuisine that are just completely unheard of here. Even if you do go to a shop where there will be ‘British food’, it is so bastardised and far from the original thing it is nigh on unrecognisable. I remember once going to a ‘British pub’ in Nagoya and after ordering ‘fish and chips’, I was shocked to be served a plate of fish and crisps! I nearly threw up a little bit in my mouth from pure disgust.
Anyway, I’m diverting away again from the actual point of this blog a little bit. One can always do with a good rant, but again, this is supposed to be small celebration. At least that’s what I thought it was going to be.
Let’s move onto the exhibition itself. Want to find some good British beers to whet your whistle? Well, if you do, you have a choice of… five different beers. Three of which are Brew Dog (not inherently a bad thing, I’m just trying to highlight the lack of variety), London Pride and an Irish stout, O’Hara’s. Naturally I bought one of each. There are so many more options out there for British beers out there that could be showcased at an exhibition like this, and the limited options that they did have just seemed lazy. I wouldn’t expect to see Spitfire there, but some more homely ales would certainly not have gone amiss! Here’s a link to an article with but a small selection of some beers that could have been.
Of course it’s not all booze they sell (they did have a fairly good collection of over-priced Scotch whisky, though. I didn’t buy any), they also had a lot tea (a lot!) and all the necessary goods to boot. Do you want some fancy English china teapot? It’ll only set you back £150-200 or so. Alternatively you can get a cheaper English teapot, which was conveniently labelled with a note written in bright red ink 中国製 (made in China). They had a lovely selection of tea cosies, which in hindsight I wish I actually purchased. A little bit on the pricey side, but I think we’re starting to see a common theme here.
Onto the tea selection itself, there was a wide variety of tea brands there, many of which I had never heard of. I thought it was interesting how differently tea from the UK can be represented compared to back home, where one would usually find brands such as Tetley’s, PG Tips, Yorkshire Tea, and if you want to be really fancy, Twinings. None of which could be found here. Unfortunately I left this blog too long to remember any of them now, but anyway, these were not brands you’d find in a regular supermarket back home. Maybe I’ve been away for too long and perhaps things have changed. Oh, and they were a little expensive.
The food was lacklustre. There was a pie shop that disappointingly didn’t have pork or steak and kidney pies; that is not to say that the ones they did have were necessarily bad, I just didn’t think it really represented a proper British pie. It did make me want to try my hand at making some myself. If you can’t buy it, make it!
What I really did appreciate though was the antiques and memorabilia. While the selection was quite small, it reminded me of a British culture that I completely forgot existed and one that is not all too common nowadays for me in Japan. There were a few times where I was walking around and memories genuinely came flooding back. Noddy was the first one I saw that gave me a small punch to gut. I’m not too sure who they were trying to sell him to here, but maybe there are some Japanese Noddy fans out there!
Then there was Rupert, a character that I completely forgot about, but again, those memories came crashing through the door with a cup of tea in hand. On doing a little research into Rupert, I came across an article from 2005 with a ghastly updated image of Rupert that set my stomach off again which I dare not post here. I understand that things do need to change, but I don’t need to like them!
While I was surprised to see a little bit of childhood memories represented in various cartoon characters and really old Beatrix Potter books, this was one figure I most certainly would not have expected to see:
Who’d have thought a pasta sauce mascot could bring one so much joy and nostalgia? Now I just want a bloody pasta bake.
All-in-all the hour I spent there was enjoyable and I’m sure the local Japanese who visited it enjoyed it and spent lots of money on fancy English china there. For me, however, it wasn’t so much a taste of home, but the leftovers from a few nights before that you might want to peck on if you’re a bit hungover and hungry, which, as we all know, in the right circumstances can be highly delicious at times. However, it did remind me that there is a Britain out there still that I enjoy and miss or bring a little more of it to Japan myself.