From fake food to furry friends, you might be surprised at what the Japanese get up to in their spare time. Read on for inventive and innovative ways to have fun, Tokyo style.
Shrouded in mystery, yet eminently accessible, Japan is full of intrigue and cultural wealth. Ancient customs co-exist happily with the modern technology that has facilitated the nation’s growth into an economic and commercial superpower. A rich and varied pop culture has evolved from the country’s futuristic and traditional diversity, with young professionals spending weekends at cat cafés or local karaoke parties. Free time is a limited commodity in Japan and the locals have become experts at spotting new trends. Get ahead of the rest with Schön!’s guide to popular Japanese pastimes.
In Japan cats are treated like royalty. The highly valued domestic pets are ingrained within Japanese popular culture, influencing everything from fashion to video games. This fascination with felines led to the launch of Japan’s first cat café in 2004 to cater for cat lovers who couldn’t keep pets of their own, as most Japanese landlords prohibit four-legged companions. Norimasa Hanada opened Tokyo’s first cat café to allow city-dwellers to meet and care for homeless cats. Hanada’s Neko No Mise (Shop of Cats) was an immediate hit with young women and 40 more cat cafés have since opened across Tokyo, where customers flock to enjoy a cup of tea and the company of cats in comfortable surroundings. Like most Japanese crazes, cat cafés have made their way to the UK, so it won’t be long before we’re all relaxing in the company of a feline friend.
Karaoke (meaning ‘empty orchestra’) is one of our favourite imports from the Land of the Rising Sun, and synonymous with Japanese pop culture. We all enjoy a good weekend sing-along, but for Japanese businessmen this is a serious and competitive sport. The prospect of embarrasment fuels hours of practice, often with a professional voice coach who provides instruction on tone, pitch and performance. Karaoke clubs are a popular after-hours hangout where the machines are much more advanced than those in Europe. Singers are given points and scores based on the strength of their performance and even told how many calories they’ve burned. Interactive karaoke rooms allow groups of friends to sing together and even rate each other’s skills. This is competitive singing at its best.
Gaming is big business in Japan, with software giants like Nintendo and Sony using their influence to bankroll multiple storey gaming centres across the country. Each floor is dedicated to a specific game genre, from fighting games to musical games. It’s not uncommon for business men to visit arcades on their lunch break or indulge in an hour of gaming in between meetings. Since it’s illegal to gamble for money in Japan, arcades often set up machines where vouchers and prizes can be won. A version of pinball gambling called Pachinko is so popular that many arcades across Tokyo are known as Pachinko Parlours.
A disciplined art form that reflects Japanese attention to minimalism and construction, Ikebana is so much more than simple flower arranging. With a focus on stems and leaves, it looks at the whole construction of a flower, focusing on line and shape to create a harmonious arrangement. Practitioners follow certain standards and guidelines within each project, building around a triangle shape which is believed to represent heaven, earth and man and, in other arrangements, sun, moon, and earth. Even the container itself is important, with artists creating their own vases from clay or wood. The Japanese celebrate their love for perfectly formed plant life on midori no hi (Greenery Day) on 4th May every year.
Fake Food Crafting
Fashioning fake food sounds less than appetising, but this unusual craze is a popular pastime in Japan. Most Japanese restaurants display fake food in their shop windows to mimic specialties within that establishment. Everything from udon noodles to fruit and ice cream can be faked and the craft itself has gained a significant following. Across Tokyo, ‘faux food’ classes are oversubscribed as attendees find new and creative ways to play with foodstuffs. One company, Fake Food Hatanaka, has even turned fake food into jewellery, from bacon rasher headbands to chip earrings and pizza necklaces. We’re off to fashion a banana bracelet.