For years, traditional Japanese food such as Sushi has been a darling among food connoisseurs. But nowadays, home-cooked style Japanese food has been whetting appetites of Londoners.
In fact the number of Japanese restaurants around the world has been rapidly increasing. According to a recent study by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, there are 1.6 times more Japanese restaurants this year from a year ago. Europe has also seen a rush of Japanese restaurants, whose number increased by almost two-fold.
London is one of the cities that are welcoming Japanese restaurants that offer more than sushi or Japanese haute cuisine. Londoners are enjoying numerous ramen shops that have been popping up in the streets of London. Customers say that the Japanese noodle soup is healthy.
"It's quite healthy, quite good in winter," said Sophie McManus.
Some Londoners said that the dish also matches with their busy life style.
"Certainly in London, everyone is in a great big hurry, and it's very quick and easy to eat. You have everything in a bowl-vegetables, fish or meat, soup. It fills you up and it's comforting, and we like it in this country very much," said Simon Barnes.
Londoners also welcomed Yoobi, the city's first temakeria or hand wrapped sushi restaurant in 2012. Just like taqueria, customers can pick ingredients such as salmon, cucumber, and avocado to create their original temaki sushi. Customers enjoy temaki, wrapped in a crisp nori or dried seaweed cone, as an easy finger food option. Yoobi is scheduled to open a second eatery as the business is booming.
"Food's great, affordable, yeah, very tasty. Very good," said David Caine who comes to Yoobi once a week.
This Izakaya or Japanese tapas restaurant is changing the way British people eat. At Kirazu dishes are served in a small plate in a tapas style. Customers said they were embracing the Japanese way of sharing lots of dishes with friends and family.
"It's more social. If you just sort of have your own dish, a big one, you're just eating it yourself. It's not really as social. I think that's also why it's becoming more and more popular," said Malik Ahmed.
Meanwhile, matcha (powdered green tea) is a new culinary addition in the capital of this tea drinking nation. Tombo is London's first authentic Japanese café and matcha bar, which opened five years ago. At Tombo the traditional afternoon tea is served with savory sushi and matcha desserts.
"As a superfood, it contains catechin and theanine. Matcha, especially, contains large amounts of them. People consume matcha as a superfood," said Manami Endo Sloley, the owner of Tombo.
Matcha used to take a back seat as it was too bitter for some but its popularity has risen as matcha is now seen as a super food. In fact, Sloley said more than 4,000 matcha items such as matcha latte and matcha sundae sell at her café in one month. And the sales increased by 230 percent since last year when she renovated the café with more Japanese atmosphere.
Ella Dobson, a customer at Tombo, said that the diversity of Japanese food made available in London has changed the perception of the Japanese food.
"I think people before used to be a bit scared by the fact that it was raw fish, and that's all that everyone thought what Japanese food was. But I think people have advertised it in a way that it's way more accessible to other people, and there's noodle, there's rice, and there's cooked fish, and all different types of food. And also it tastes amazing, and so I think that's why people are starting to like it more," said Dobson.
While Londoners have been exposed to a variety of Japanese food, some have become so obsessed with the food that they even take classes to master the art of Japanese cooking.
"Honestly, everyone would want to cook Japanese food after they eat it at the restaurant," Takeru Kurihara, the director at Sozai cooking school.
At this dinner party sushi class, students learn everything from how to rinse sushi rice to how to make artistic sushi roll called Shikai Maki. The class took place in a zen-like atmosphere where students hardly spoke as the art of making sushi requires careful attention to the details.
"I've eaten sushi for a number of years in restaurants, and I've always enjoyed it. I've always been interested in the precision that goes into making it, and thought there's no better time to try it myself," Garreth Edmundson.
Instructor Akemi Yokoyama said the class is more than a place to learn cooking.
"We have seen a popularity and demands on increase over the last couple of years. I suppose the reason is that there's so many sushi that you can buy, but they're not really sort of, you know, right. And people want to get them right," said Yokoyama.
Kurihara said that the art of Japanese cooking is a way to learn the Japanese culture.
"I want Londoners to know about Japan more deeply through Japanese food," said Kurihara.
Japanese food is not the only aspect of the Japanese culture that fascinates Londoners. Japanese pop idol Kyary Pamu Pamu is enthralling British teenagers with her kawaii (cute) music and fashion. To her fans Kyary Pamu Pamu is a symbol of Japan's kawaii culture.
"I don't know. She does crazy but in such a cute way. You don't get a lot of cute artists. You see them try to be sexy all the time, but she's so cute, and just perfect basically," Claire Francis, a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu fan.
"She doesn't really care that she's a bit weird compared to Western standards, and we like that," said Caitlin Smith.
Another fan Alex Davies agreed.
"She so diverse. And her fashion, I love her fashion mostly. She's just so dramatic and cute at the same time," Davies said.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu's fan become exposed to the Japanese culture through their icon who is connecting Japan's traditional and modern cultures by singing about them on her kawaii melody and lyrics.
"Actually, some of my songs like 'Ninjari Banban' and 'Furisodation' infuse Japanese culture and tradition. So through my music, I want Londoners to know more about Japanese tradition," said Kyari Pamyu Pamyu.
Her fans said they love Kyary Pamyu Pamyu for not being afraid of being different from others, which is something of an anomaly in Japan where uniformity and conformity are more appreciated.
"I'm sorry, I'm shaking. It was so good. She was so cute and really nice. I'm so happy. [Can I see the picture?] Yeah," Kelsey Ellison said.
Another fan Abi Pop agreed.
"She's different. Her fashion and her way of style and makeup is just different, and it's really nice. It's refreshing, so I think that's why. But she's really cute," Abi Pop said.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu said that she is proud to see that Japanese restaurants are tickling Londoner's pallet.
"I saw many ramen shops and other Japanese restaurants in London. Japanese food is so delicious. I am very happy that Londoners are very interested in Japanese food," said Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
While Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was surprised how Japanese food become embraced by Londoners, Musubizm, another Japanese idol group that aims to connect (musubu) Japanese kawaii and the world, was giving Omusubi or Japanese rice ball to the participants of the live.
"It's a great way to meet fans. It's not just promoting the band, but it's also promoting the food. Because I'm studying music and stuff in college, so it's just like, promoting is a big deal. And promoting your brand and promoting a band, and putting the two together is really clever and creative, and more brands should do it," Erin Hall, a J-Pop fan.
Satoru Kawahara, an omusubi master from Hokkaido, Japan, said that he was glad to see many non-Japanese people came to appreciate the simple yet traditional taste of Japanese rice.
"Originally, omusubi were made by mothers. To see this traditional Japanese food, such as simple shio musubi (salted rice ball) and the taste of rice appreciated by younger generations, especially by foreign people, gave me confidence," said Kawahara.
Japanese food is no longer an exotic option for Londoners. But the broader culinary options available in London are giving the glimpse of the modern Japanese culture that is often mixed with kawaii (cute) concept.