Malaysia has had a long history of close cultural ties with Japan, not least through the “Look East Policy” of the 1980s and the rise of “Cool Japan” in the 1990s when Japanese popular culture began to take the world by storm.
Lovers of all things Japanese will feel at home in Kuala Lumpur as the city showcases a dizzying array of choices to experience the varieties of Japanese heritage from high end gastronomy to whimsical anime-influenced fashion styles.
If you can only go to one place to get a taste of Japan, Lot 10’s Isetan The Japan Store is unbeatable. The first of its kind, the concept store is spread over six exquisitely designed floors with over 200 Japan-exclusive brands - from electronics to furniture to stationery - making its way overseas for the first time.
“They literally bring Japan to you for the most unbelievable Japanese experience ever,” posted Wilson Ng on the Places and Food blog.
The fashion offerings are high end and luxurious but offer a variety from streetwear to black tie formal. Authentic and beautiful Japanese homeware will have you reaching for your wallet, though the RM530 broom might be a little too much!
There is also an outstanding choice of delectable food, whether at the supermarket and food court on the ground floor where you can choose your wagyu steak and have it cooked to perfection on site, the bento café with its carefully curated tea noodles or the higher end restaurants on the 4th floor offering everything from sushi to yakiniku.
World-Class Japanese Cuisine
However, devotes of Japanese food may want to head straight to the world-renowned Nobu restaurant, which opened a branch in KL in 2014. Foodies can sample the acclaimed signature dishes - a unique fusion of classical Japanese with Peruvian ingredients - created by celebrity chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa.
Located on the 56th floor of Tower Three of the Petronas Towers, diners can enjoy fantastic city centre views while relaxing in the elegantly outfitted setting.
Another top-notch food option is Hanare Japanese Restaurant on the ground floor of the Intermark mall. Their ingredients are flown all the way from Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market. Simply leave your culinary fate to the chef, known as an omakase, or chef’s choice, menu, and you won’t be disappointed!
The Kuroshio Market section in Greenhouse by Muir on Jalan Nipah is another treasure waiting to be discovered. The atmosphere of a Japanese market is reproduced with fresh seafood on display, allowing patrons to choose from salmon, amberjack, oysters, crabs and clams, all cooked to order either sashimi style or grilled on the spot.
A delicious bonus comes in the form of Evendough Cafe, a small bakery at the back of the building, stocked with savoury Japanese breads and scrumptious pastries.
Japanese pop culture abounds
For those interested in manga, anime and its associated over-the-top fashion, known as cosplay, several events are held in and about Kuala Lumpur throughout the year, such as the Cosplay Fair, Game & Anime Expo and the Japan Otaku Matsuri.
Most Malaysians today have grown up watching Japanese anime whether it is Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, Doraemon or the worldwide phenomenon that is Pokémon. School kids can sing along to the theme songs, and they read manga comics, available from local book stores or even convenience stores.
Fans collect and trade comics, action figures, toys and other merchandise, whether bought online or increasingly available in stores at major shopping malls like XLShop in MidValley Megamall and ToyWiz in Pavilion Shopping Complex.
The manga and anime-inspired cosplay scene has also garnered quite a following over the years, and creative costumes mimicking popular characters make the rounds on social media, even among those with little to no interest in the Japanese cartoon world.
Local cosplayers have adapted to local needs in imaginative ways. For instance, Muslim anime fans have incorporated their hijab into their costumes, showing off their ingenuity at fan conventions.
"Some people are sometimes surprised when they see my hijab... but it doesn't bother me. My friends and my family support me and I also get invited to birthday parties to attend with my costume," Nur Azlina told the Star.
"I love cosplay and I get to make new friends here and also in the international cosplay community."
Brightly coloured hijabs are twisted into plaits, converted into masked capes or embellished with rabbit ears as cosplayers transform themselves into their chosen characters while observing their religious beliefs.
"It's very performative. At the same time, it's a religious choice. The cosplayers are challenging stereotypes but they're also reiterating ideas of religious norms and modesty," says Juli Gittinger, a religious studies lecturer at Georgia College in the United States, who is currently researching hijab cosplay.
The biggest Japanese cultural event held annually in Malaysia is the Japan Expo. Hosting numerous Japanese cultural activities and promoting Japanese products including food, fashion accessories, designer goods, cosmetics, and even halal products for Muslims, all coming from Japan.
40,000 visitors went to the Expo last year when Daimaou Kosaka performed his infamous Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen song, and organisers are expecting an even bigger crowd at the next expo to be held in July at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur.
Japanese culture lovers in Malaysia can also get the opportunity to don their yukata (a casual summer kimono) and celebrate the Bon Odori festival also held annually, this time at the stadium in Shah Alam, a mere half an hour away from Kuala Lumpur city centre.
Organised by The Japan Club of Kuala Lumpur, guests can experience how the festival is celebrated in Japan – complete with dance performances, wadaiko drum shows, fireworks displays and much more.
Photo Credit : hotel-di.com