In August 2018, a cultural outpost opened its doors in one of the most unlikely of places in Los Angeles — the giant, crawling-with-tourists mall at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. Boasting an art gallery, a restaurant, a library, a screening room, an event space, and a retail space, Japan House Los Angeles has made its mark immersing Angelenos (and the city’s visitors) in the eclectic best that Japanese culture has to offer.
Gallery exhibitions have spanned the gamut from a manga artist retrospective to a showcase of the innovation made possible with Japanese industrial design prototyping techniques, while the event space has held flower arranging workshops and live dance performances. Inn Ann, the on-site restaurant, is open for regular service, but is also used to host tastings and hands-on culinary classes on subjects like sushi prep and noodle-making.
Japan House L.A. has made a point of integrating the whole body and all the senses into every experience. The art exhibits obviously stimulates the eyes, but many of them incorporate sound, touch and even smell. Special events tend to complement the current exhibitions in the gallery — like the comic character design workshop in conjunction with This is MANGA; The Art of NAOKI URASAWA, and a Piperoid paper building workshop to complement the Prototyping in Tokyo exhibition. The hit Movie & Bites series exposes attendees to the sights and sounds of Japanese cinema, and then the culinary team from Japan House will come out and recreate some of the dishes just seen on screen.
“The concept of Japan House is that it’s not just an art gallery or museum,” Yuko Kaifu, president of Japan House L.A., tells L.A. Weekly. “What is unique about what we’re doing here is that you can experience Japan with all five senses.”
A project by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the L.A. location is actually one of three Japan Houses in the world, the other two being in London and Sao Paulo. But right off the bat, Japan House L.A. stood apart from its peers, reaching the kind of diverse audience that can only be found in our particular neck of Southern California.
“Where we’re located in Hollywood, people don’t really expect to see anything about Japan,” says Kaifu. “People walk by all the time, and we see them almost lured inside wondering what this space even is. Many of them are tourists who have come to see Hollywood entertainment. But once they are in our facilities, they are fascinated.”
With the exception of (perhaps) the Hollywood Bowl, most Angelenos with any fine art and cultural inclinations tend to steer clear of the Hollywood and Highland intersection, but over the past year, that’s started to change. “In London and Sao Paulo, Japan Houses are located where people love art and culture,” Kaifu explains. “There are people who never come to Hollywood, but now because of our program they are starting to come back.”
With so much focus on exhibitions that engage the five senses over the past year, BAKERU may be engaging a sixth sense — the spirit — by inviting attendees to participate directly in Japanese folk traditions. The exhibit will be on view until October 20.
Japan House Los Angeles, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; japanhouse.jp/losangeles.
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