Is Edinburgh embracing Japanese culture?

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“sashimi” by Yuya Tamai (CC BY 2.0)

Sometimes, something, someone, or somewhere seems to have that undefinable aura of cool that is hard to pin down and explain.

Chuck Norris seemed to all of a sudden become cool during the internet era, Lady Gaga seems cool due to her famous quirks and outspoken nature on current topics, and, when it comes to location, location, location, there is something about Japan that oozes appeal in the ‘cool ranks’.

It might be down to the fact that we’ve developed a taste for sushi and ramen in recent years in the western world, it might be down to the work of authors like Haruki Murakami and Kazuo Ishiguro, it might even be down to the fact that manga intrigues even the uninitiated. Whatever it is, it’s something special.  

Japanese culture appears to be becoming more and more influential in the UK, and Edinburgh has been very much at the forefront of attempts to work Japanese influence into everyday city life. Japanese music was even recently played at the Edinburgh Festival.  

The idea, not the reality

One of the most interesting aspects of Japanese culture is the clash between the reality of it and the western assumptions of it. Take Bitcoin as an example. The world’s first cryptocurrency, which is now legal tender in Japan but can be used around the world for things like booking travel (perhaps to Japan!), as well as playing online casino games on sites like Vegas Casino, is often assumed to have stemmed from Japan.

While the credited inventor of Bitcoin might well be called Satoshi Nakamoto, a very Japanese-sounding name, nobody knows his true identity for sure. It might be that we subconsciously link Japan and Bitcoin due to the cutting edge status possessed by both the country and the cryptocurrency.


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“Bitcoin” by Zach Copley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s not just cryptocurrency where this trend is evident. We can see it in restaurants like the Edinburgh chain of Wagamama, a brand that brought westernised Japanese food to the UK. The fact that Edinburgh now boasts three branches of the chain determined to stay ahead of the curve and portrayed as cool proves that Japan is very much still trendy.

Not just raw fish

This initial westernised Japanese notion has also found popularity in Edinburgh in the form of the new craze of sushi eating. While avocado maki may be the hot ticket for a quick lunch, with Soul Sushi, Yo! Sushi and White Sushi all offering this or other versions of it in Edinburgh, the UK hasn’t really met the real taste of actual sushi just yet – at least according to top Japanese sushi chefs!

This reinforces the idea that we love the idea of Japan, but not always the reality of it. With sushi, this can mean we shy away from eating seafood like eel, squid, or scallop.

For those in Scotland though, one thing must be remembered. While haggis might not have spread around the world, even the cool Japanese have been enthused and inspired by Scottish whisky. While Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland may be turning Japanese, the world of whisky keeps the Scots cool in Japan, where they have tried to emulate the famous drink. 

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