‘Arigato in London’ is an event being held to show Japan’s gratitude to the global community after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami which devastated the coast of north-eastern Japan last year. I managed to catch up with Japanese football & fashion icon Hidetoshi Nakata to discuss Sake, Football and Fashion.
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I (like many Londoners) have been infected with the ‘Olympic Bug’ spending the last few weeks discovering the various events that have popped up around the City, one such event being ‘Arigato in London’. As a enthusiastic Otaku, I am
fascinated obsessed by all things Japanese and the 15 day event was heaven to my ears.
A mutual friend was able to arrange a interview with arguably the most prolific Asian footballer who also happened to be a executive committee member for ‘Arigato in London‘. The first question I had to ask myself is what does one wear to interview a fashion icon, upon my arrival to N Bar I soon realised it did not matter. In shades and a light leather jacket, Nakata made looking cool effortless. Over the course of 40 minutes, we talked about everything Japan-related, he humoured my novice Japanese whilst sampling his selection of 26 hand-picked Sake from 18 breweries from all over Japan. I can now tell my Junmai from my Shochu :]
My three favourites. (Isshou, Toyo Bijin & Jokigen)
Outside your role as executive committee member of ‘Arigato In London’, you have played a huge part in raising awareness and donations for the victims affected by the earthquake & tsunami. What was your motivation in creating the ‘N Bar’…?
“The selection available at ‘N Bar’ is specially handpicked and is probably the best selection available in London…perhaps even the entire UK. It is a way of expressing our thanks for all the support and at the same time sharing our culture. Japan has many things to share all over the world. For the last three years, I have been travelling Japan learning about its different aspects of culture, visiting craftsmen, farmers and sake brewers. Japanese sake is one of the many things we can share which is why I decided to open the N-bar”
Being a former Olympian, how are you enjoying the Olympics in London so far…?
“Well I have played in the Olympics twice, Atlanta and Sydney but playing and being able to enjoy the games are two completely different things. I think I can enjoy it more from outside…watching all the events, meeting new people. London is a great city and I’m enjoying everything so far”
How many medals do you think Japan will take home this year…?
“That’s a tough question…its hard to tell but I am not really concerned about how many medals they get but rather seeing good performances and hearing great stories. The Olympics (and sometimes sports itself) is about more than sports, its about seeing the efforts, determination and history of the people”
It is a great time to introduce what I consider one of Japan’s many great cultures to the various nations that will be calling London home during the Olympic period.
“There are still a lot of people who have never tasted sake before, now we are trying to expand and share our experiences. I have been able to enjoy wine from all over the world and I think there is also the same opportunity for Sake to be enjoyed all over the world. Sake has the ability to make people smile”
We pause to sample some Sake recommended by one of the brewers and I can assure you I am smiling. My well known appreciation for Sake which I picked up during my trip to Tokyo in January has been stunned by the lack of the Japanese rice wine in London…I ask Nakata about his hopes for Sake in the UK.
“I think there is a great future for Sake not just in the UK, but in the US and the rest of the world. Its all about educating and encouraging people to try which is the reason we have set up N Bar. It’s a journey and I think we have a great opportunity to raise awareness being here during the greatest sporting event in the world”
In novice Japanese, I ask Nakata what would be the ideal choice for a Sake Virgin. He chuckled and pointed to one of the Sake experts for a recommendation. (Luckily for me…his english was better than my Japanese)
I would recommend Jumai Sake (Junmai Gingo, Junmai Daiginjo etc). Junmai is usually full body but it can also be medium body. It can be enjoyed chilled or warm (Never warm premium Sake…it affects the quality)
To get your hands on good Sake, visit Japan Centre in Picadilly Circus, it has many kinds and brands available. Mr Torisawa is very knowledgeable about Sake…he is a great advisor.
In between sipping Sake, we discussed Japan’s influence on art and fashion. I commented on the fact that even before his early retirement from professional football he was a rising icon in the world of Fashion.
“I tried” he jokes “Fashion is not influenced by one country…it’s global. Like all countries, the Japanese have an influence but are also influenced by other countries, each country has a different taste. Being in London I’ve had the opportunity to study the kind of style people have and I just enjoy learning about fashion”
Continuing my barrage of fashion related questions, I wondered if Nakata would ever consider designing a collection in collaboration with one of the brands he endorses (Calvin Klein & Dior Homme to name a few)..?
“I could never design a collection because every season my style changes. I prefer to be outside of the fashion world, being a big fan rather than working in the industry. Its a completely different story”
As a magazine junkie, I was intrigued about Nakata’s involvement with Monocle.
He points to a dapper looking character sampling sake at the corner of the bar and says “That’s the editor-in-chief and a good friend of mine, he appreciates Japanese culture. I travel a lot so it was a chance for me to write and share my experiences”
You decided to retire at an age many would consider too early.
“I started playing football when I was 8 years old and I have played football everyday since then. Me and football grew up together..kinda like a brother. I decided to stop playing and concentrate of other things before I stopped enjoying the sport and lost the passion”
I told Nakata about my dreams of taking his place on the Japan squad. Nakata has been busy supporting charitable causes and despite his retirement from the sport he has organised various charity football matches.
“Football is massive, its beyond countries…beyond languages. Playing football allows people connect more and help each other. I used football as a tool to connect people”
Despite the shades, Nakata seems to be instantly recognisable. He steps from behind the bar to take a picture with some young fans and talk to them about his mission. Passion.
‘N Bar’ opens daily between 11am to 7pm until Saturday 11th August @ London County Hall.