Finding Japan in: Copenhagen
People are usually quite surprised to learn that, although I’ve been in love with Japan since I was twelve years old, I never had the opportunity to visit until I was thirty-three! On all my travels throughout my twenties, I would always seek out Japan-related shops, restaurants, and points of interest in new cities that would help satiate my hunger for the real thing. I know there are many of you reading, both young and old, in similar situations so I hope that this new series of blog articles will bring Japan a little closer to you, too. I’ll talk about the best hot spots around the world for travellers who also may not be able to visit Japan, or who simply want to feel nostalgic about a journey long ago.
This was my second trip to the beautiful city of Copenhagen, which has quickly become one of my favourite destinations. I’d even go as far as saying that Copenhagen just might be my favourite shopping city aside from Tokyo! Danish and Japanese fashion and aesthetics seem to go hand in hand, so really, there’s no surprise that you could call me a bit of a Scandiphile, too.
CPH Tokyo Vintage
The highlight of my trip was a visit to Cph-Tokyo Vintage, a relatively new boutique that opened in late 2016. I discovered it by chance when the owner, Michaela Arvesen, started following my Instagram account right before my trip—perfect timing as I made sure to pay her a special visit, and her shop definitely did not disappoint!
Cph-Tokyo Vintage is located in the heart of the city, just off Strøget, one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Europe. The shop stocks various imported Japanese wares, books, and even Danish-designed, made-in-Japan tenugui cloths, but the main focus is vintage kimono, haori, and sukajan clothing. Each unique, vintage piece is sourced in Japan by Michaela, who originally started the business as a web shop in May 2016.
She fell in love with Japan after visiting for a vacation and quickly booked a return ticket for a shopping trip and filled her suitcases with the most beautiful kimono and handmade items she could find. I spoke to Michaela about her love for Japanese handicraft and why she was compelled to open a shop. She explained, “I just love how everything looks simple on the outside, yet it is produced with such amazing skills and traditions. Everything is, in many ways, hyper modern and an "it" thing when it comes to design or whatever the latest crave is, but then the old traditions and values are still so much a part of life. I love the skills when it comes to craftsmanship and I just want everybody to see that, too.”
Just a few short months after starting online, she decided to make the jump and open a physical shop, which has already proved to be a success. On the day that I visited, three ladies from the Danish Kimono Society dropped in, dressed in full kimono. Their elegance transcended culture and was a beautiful thing to see in the middle of a city so far from Japan. When I asked Michaela about her customers, she said, “There are a lot of Japan lovers in Denmark. But usually my customers are people who like something special and authentic. They also like the idea of not meeting anybody else with that exact kimono design. It is very different how they use their kimonos. Some use them as a dress, as homewear, for parties, for everyday—I just love that people would rather buy a real handicraft than something from the flagship stores around the corner.”
Address: Badstuestræde 6, 1209 København K
Hours: Monday-Tuesday closed, Wednesday-Thursday 1pm-5:30pm, Friday 2pm-6pm, Saturday 12pm-4pm, Sunday closed
Ramen to Biiru by Mikkeller
Scandinavian cuisine is one of my favourites, but when given the chance to eat ramen that’s more authentic than a bowl of Wagamama, I simply can’t refuse. Ramen to Biiru was created as a joint venture between Bento Copenhagen and Denmark’s famous Mikkeller microbrewery and has two locations: the original in the district of Nørrebro, and a second location with no reserved seating in the trendy district of Vesterbro. Both locations serve various broths, including shio, shoyu, spicy miso, chicken and yuzu, as well as a monthly special.
We visited the Vesterbro location and were so excited to find a ticket vending machine, just like in Japan! Simon and I both ordered the shio ramen with pork chashu, as well as a side of gyoza. My favourite thing to eat with ramen and gyoza is melon soda, and fortunately for me they also served various flavours of ramune, including melon!
Although tonkotsu is by far my favourite ramen broth, this shio did not disappoint. The noodles had just enough bite (there’s nothing worse than a ramen with soggy noodles) and the broth was flavourful and not too salty. The pork was soft and tender and there really wasn’t anything to deduct points from—a respectable ramen, for sure. The gyoza were unlike what you’d usually find on the streets of Osaka, not pleated-dumpling style, but rather thin, flat crispy parcels with the same fillings inside. I think I prefer the traditional method of gyoza-making, but the shape didn’t detract from their flavour at all, and I’d definitely encourage you to give them a try.
The shop itself is decorated in tons of authentic Japanese toys, gadgets, an arcade machine, and a vending machine serving Mikkeller beer! I’m hoping to return next year to try the original location in Nørrebro, too.
Address: Enghavevej 58, 1674 København V
Hours: Monday-Thursday 12pm-10pm, Friday-Saturday 12pm-11pm, Sunday 12pm-9pm
Yayoi Kusama at the Louisiana
We visited Copenhagen for the first time last year but didn’t allow enough time for a visit to the stunning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Although it’s not exactly in Copenhagen, it’s worth the 40-minute journey not just for the stunning architecture and landscape, but because it’s one of the few museums in the world to have a permanent Yayoi Kusama “infinity room” installation.
For those who aren’t familiar with Kusama’s work, pop over to her Wikipedia page and have a read about her lengthy career. Although she works with various different mediums, she may be best known for her infinity rooms—small, dark, rooms with mirrors on all sides and water-covered floors that reflect thousands of hanging lights to envoke the feeling of standing in an infinite space. The rooms have become so popular in art galleries that a time limit has been enforced to move people along and discourage lengthy-selfie sessions. Fortunately for us, our late-evening visit to the Louisiana meant we could relax on the time limit—I went into the room three different times!
Best of all, I picked up a gorgeous souvenir at the Louisiana museum shop—a storybook of famous Danish author Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, in Japanese, and illustrated by Kusama in her signature obsessive, repetitive drawing style. Published by the Louisiana itself, the book is also available in Danish, English, and German.
Address: Gl. Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11am-10pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-6pm, Holidays 11am-6pm, Monday closed
Ticket price as of August 2017: Adult 18+ DKK 125
Japanese Street Food: Kuma
Finally, we finished up our Japan discoveries with an unexpected surprise of Japanese street food at the Haven music festival held at Refshalevej on the 11th and 12th of August. Not only did Ramen to Biiru have their own stand serving shio ramen from cute little cups, but we discovered a food truck serving okonomiyaki!
Needless to say, I had to try it, even if it did take nearly an hour to get through the queue. Fortunately, the food truck also has a permanent shop called Kuma located in Nørrebro. While it wasn’t my favourite okonomiyaki ever, it was made under the extreme pressure of huge queues of hungry festivalgoers, so I’d love to visit the shop next time and have a proper sit-in meal. It was still tasty, and let’s face it—when was the last time you saw okonomiyaki at a music festival? Can’t complain about that!
Address: Jagtvej 101, 2200 København
Hours: Monday-Thursday 12pm-9pm, Friday 12pm-10pm, Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 11am-8pm