We would have gone to some lengths to meet Japanese football legend Hidetoshi Nakata. It seemed too easy when he appeared on our doorstep at the opening of Arigato in London. But for such a worthy cause, mountains were moved and meet we did, over some Sake on Southbank.
Arigato (Japanese for thank you) in London is an event running throughout the Olympics at London’s County Hall, to show Japan’s gratitude for the help they received from countries all over the world after the devastating Great East Earthquake in March 2011. Opened last Saturday in time for the Olympics, the event includes a photography exhibition showing the affected areas at the time the tsunami hit as compared to now, as well as Japanese dance performances, paper cutout demonstrations, traditional Wadaiko drum performances and the Hidetoshi Nakata’s ‘N bar’. It’s a thank you with sincerity; a thank you with a show that celebrates their culture and their talents, and teaches the countries who helped and sent aid about the people they were sending it to.
An executive member of the Arigato in London committee, Hide Nakata was travelling in Hong Hong when the earthquake hit, and spoke to his many friends in many high places to ask for help. Hide embarked on a personal journey three years ago, travelling across Japan’s 47 provinces in a bid to reacquaint himself with the country he left while a midfielder for Parma, Roma, Britain’s Bolton Wanderers and two Japanese Olympic teams. During his travels, he started researching the traditional Japanese rice based drink Sake. Now something of a connoisseur, Hide has manufactured his own brand, launching in January 2013. The N bar along Southbank, stocking 26 brands of Sake, is a homage to the traditional drink and a celebration of the craftsmen who made it. Propped against the bamboo bar front, under a Japanese umbrella that was too low for a heeled Westerner, Hide told i-D online about his experience of the Earthquake, the future of Sake and his Olympic opinions.
You were travelling in Hong Kong when you heard about the earthquake, what was your experience of it personally? I was walking around when the disaster happened. I got a phone call from my friend saying that there had been a big earthquake. But I thought, well in Japan there are so many earthquakes, it will just be a little one. But when I went back to my hotel and switched on the TV -the image I saw – I thought it was a movie. I couldn’t believe it. Of course I tried to go back to Japan but all the flights were cancelled. So I started thinking and talking to people. Fortunately I have friends all over the world, so I started talking to them about what we could do, and raised some money.
How did you get involved with Arigato in London and why did you choose to do a Sake bar? The Arigato in London programme is to say thank you for helping us after the disaster that happened in Japan. But I thought, more than just saying “thank you”, it would be nice to share Japanese culture as well, with people all over the world, especially during the Olympics. The last three years I’ve been travelling across Japan to learn about Japanese culture, visiting craftsmen, farmers, sake makers, the shrines, the temples. I tried to cover all the 47 prefectures in Japan.
Why did you want to discover Japanese culture? I lived outside of Japan – Italy for seven years and I lived here in the UK as well. Obviously, when I start talking to people, they ask me about Japan. Their first question is “where are you from”, I say “Japan”, and they say “oh I love Japan because of this food, or that place”, so I thought ok, even after football, people will always ask me about Japan so I thought it’s better to be a better Japanese person! So I went back to Japan and started learning about Japanese culture. Before that, I didn’t know anything about Japan really.
Where abouts did you grow up? Near Tokyo but when you’re living in your own country, you don’t travel that much and you don’t know about your country. So I started travelling and learning and I was fascinated by people living in the culture. So I thought it would be nice to share my experience with other people.
How is Sake made? And where is it made? Everywhere. In Japan there are about 1, 200 Sake makers and each maker makes about ten different brands. In this bar there are 26 brands. When you visit a Sake maker, it’s like visiting a winery and seeing how to make it, it’s a real craft. They use a lot of old manufacturing systems, it’s amazing.
And tell us about the setting of the bar here? Of course there are Japanese restaurants all over the world, but we still need to tell people how to drink Sake, how to enjoy it. The Olympics is perfect timing to tell the world about our culture.
Have you been watching the games? Yesterday I went to see the swimming but I watch the rest on TV. Today I’m going to gymnastics.
You’ve competed in the Olympics twice playing football, how did the pressure compare to league games, is it any different? Well, the Olympics and the world cups are different from the league games, atmosphere wise. But as a match, it’s the same. We try to win and deliver our best performance. For me, it doesn’t change. It’s a professional thing.
Arigato in London runs at County Hall on Southbank until 11th August 2012.
Text: Sarah Raphael