At Healthy Living London, we absolutely love books. Even more so when they’re written by those we’ve met and follow on Instagram. So it was pretty darn exciting when we discovered that Erin Niimi, who we’d met several years ago at a food event, had her debut book out, Japonisme, on 19th April. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview on her new release, described as an exploration into the Japanese art of finding contentment, including practical tips and tricks to live a happier, healthier, more thoughtful life.’
How did Japonisme come about in the first place?
I have been writing about Japanese food, travel and culture on my blog, Island Bell, for quite a few years. Japonisme came around on the back of that, and working with my publishers to come up with a concept that was true to my background and upbringing, and bringing the aspects of tradition and these beautiful philosophies to a new audience.
How would you sum the book up in 3 words?
Such a tricky question! Contentment, mindfulness, and happiness.
What was the best thing about putting together the book and was it a labour of love or something which came together in a relatively short space of time?
The best thing about putting together the book was how it brought me closer to different members of my family in a way I hadn’t before. I loved chatting to my aunt, who practices tea ceremony, about why she decided to start practicing, and it gave me a lot of insight in a way I hadn’t noticed previously.
The full manuscript took a few months, but in many ways I’d been beginning to put this together over the past few years, through my blog.
What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has definitely been managing time! I was at culinary school part time, and working full-time with my digital work with charities at the same time as writing so finding the time to take care of myself was something I had to be really disciplined about, and prioritise.
If we only have time to read one section of the book, which would it be?
I think the ocha chapter, all about tea. The philosophies behind tea ceremony are something we should all be striving towards, in many ways – and it is probably the chapter I feel the most emotionally invested in!
What are your top three places in London to experience authentic Japanese culture?
Katsute 100 tearooms near Angel have an excellent selection of Japanese teas that I definitely recommend! I also always feel like I’m in Japan when I go to the Atariya sushi bar in West Hampstead. The last one is Choosing Keeping, on Columbia Road. They have a big selection of Japanese stationery and it always reminds me of the end of summer as a kid, when I would stock up before the school term started!
You only speak about the positives of having Japanese heritage – were there any negatives and how did you overcome them?
Growing up with mixed heritage definitely had its challenges, and there were times were it was difficult to deal with ignorance and misconceptions that come out of that. In many ways, its amazing that both sets of grandparents – who all grew up during the Second World War, on opposing sides – had so much goodwill, respect and admiration for each other. Confronting ignorance and prejudice takes a lot of patience! It’s definitely still a work in progress.
What’s your favourite Japanese food?
What’s one Japanese food everyone should experience?
Natto! It’s a sticky fermented soybean, and everyone has an opinion on it, just like you do with Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. I’m in the former camp.
You write this book and sound like you’ve got life pretty sorted. But then you mention Kaizen (continuous improvement) – what’s your kaizen?
This question made me laugh, because I definitely don’t feel that way at all! I definitely am very happy in London, and have a nice routine – I like where I live, I have a job I enjoy, and close relationships with friends and family – but these are all things that can change. I try to enjoy and appreciate the little moments as they come. I want to continue to try new things, and challenge myself – but also avoid burning out, so trying to maintain that balance for me is key.
As a Kuishimbo (this translates as being somewhere between a glutton and a gourmand and is what Erin’s Japanese family would most likely describe her as), what would your ultimate meal be?
I recently got back from Hawaii, where my mum lives now, and we went to this great place for tsukune which are Japanese chicken patties on skewers. We had those after a really nice day of hiking up Diamond Head, and that was such a satisfying meal that I wouldn’t mind another one of those at some point!
What’s the mantra or quote which is most relevant to you right now?
I think that ‘the prime of your life doesn’t come twice’, which is a Japanese proverb, is one that is really resonating with me right now. I want to make sure I’m making the most of where I am at the moment, and trying to experience as much as I can.
You mention Shinrin-yoku in your book. Where’s your favourite place in the UK to experience the practice of forest bathing?
I really love the Lake District. It’s so stunning, so great for walks and swims and clearing your head.
We love the phrase Shoganai (translated as ‘it cannot be helped’), as something to remember and so we can shed anxieties about things we cannot change. What’s your favourite Japanese phrase?
My favourite would have to be kuidaore, which means spending all of your money on food, or eating until the point of bankruptcy. It just hits a little too close to home sometimes!
Your grandfather seems to be quite a big inspiration for your book. If there’s one thing you could say to him right now, what would it be?
He definitely is, I think his approach to work and life shaped me more than I realised. I’d love to tell him how much he’s taught me, but if I could see him again I think I’d get him to come with me on one of our jetlag-induced sunrise walks in the hills of Kamakura, in the countryside.
More about Erin
Erin lives in Bethnal Green with her housemate Lea. By day, she works for a charity which helps them use digital technologies and social media to meet their goals and ambitions. By night (and at weekends), she’s a food and lifestyle blogger. She loves having people over for dinner parties and on Sunday mornings, she can most often be found people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere at Columbia Road Flower Market. She’s also a little obsessed with otters.
Japonisme is published by Harper Collins and is out on the 19th April and is available from all good bookshops and online.