Occasionally the Mitsukoshi Department store in Hiroshima organises a regional food and goods fair based on a specific area of Japan or from around the world. During this past week, there’s been a British Fair offering “real” Britishness in the form of various stalls and temporary cafes. I tend to avoid these foreign attempts at British culture. Usually my critical and cynical side takes over and it typically ends up being a disappointment. Toad in the Hole without gravy, scones the size of pennies, and serving milk tea with syrup are a few examples I’ve unfortunately experienced. But with my girlfriend intrigued by British Culture and especially baking, I found myself being dragged along.
Here in Japan, the common images of Britain are of the Royal Family, afternoon tea, the Union Jack, pies, tweed and scones. All were on offer at the fair, complete with advent calendars comprised of teabags, elaborate tea pots shaped as pianos and four-storey houses, stuffed toys of Peter Rabbit, and vintage “vintageness” of vintage. There was the usual tat; pictures of Will and Kate, cheap toy London Buses and even a bronze statue of David Beckham (priced at reasonable £900). Scotland was represented by shortbread, tartan scarves, whiskey and golfing memorabilia. No haggis unfortunately, but there was some very expensive smoked salmon. Wales and Northern Ireland on the other hand, were absent unless you count the abundance of sheep-related crap. Christmas Puddings and Mince Pies were being sold, the latter of which tasted pretty miserable compared to our version. Jerry’s Pies, shame on you! . Anyway, my girlfriend wanted to try a slice of “authentic” Victoria Sandwich Cake, a British baking classic. We bought one, it tasted pretty good and was fairly priced.
I find that it’s always interesting to see how foreign people react to a foreign culture, my girlfriend in particular. She quickly commented that the British jewellery on offer “looked pretty crappy”. I laughed, slightly relieved that I wouldn’t need to purchase any. There was a mannequin dressed in tweed with its trousers tucked into its long socks, and wearing the iconic deerstalker hat (Sherlock Holmes). I chuckled at how ridiculous it looked, to which my girlfriend asked if normal people walk around my hometown in this getup. I replied that they’d probably get shot if they did.
It was around dinner time and we decided to have Fish and Chips, even though it was “Ramen Wednesday” ( originally “Ramen Monday” back when I lived in Miyoshi). With a temporary counter and decor like a British Chippy, complete with condiments and malt vinegar, we sat down and ordered. The fish was frozen, it was actually being thawed right in front of our eyes. But the batter and chips were quite good. Accompaniments of mushy peas, gravy and curry sauce were also available. All in all it cost the equivalent of £10, which was a bit on the steep side but we weren’t complaining.
To be honest, the British Fair was what I had expected it to be. I could have criticised each small detail, but I was slightly bemused by the whole thing. You could even say that I sort of enjoyed it’s cliche and novel approach.