Babur is the creator of a not-to-be-missed website about Japan named best-japanese.co.uk. Japanese on his mother’s side, he spent 18 years in the country and even if he is now back in London, he wants to share his love and passion for Japan through his website. Today we asked him about his story and projects!
Hi Babur, thank you for agreeing to join this interview. Could you please introduce yourself, your current projects and tell us about your connection to Japan?
Thank you for taking the time to interview me. My name’s Babur and I created Best Japanese shortly after returning to the UK following on from almost two decades of living in Japan. The aim of Best Japanese is to help people find accurate information on Japanese food, culture, and travel. For example, where to find authentic Japanese restaurants, or where the Japanese supermarkets are located in London. We want Best Japanese to be a platform where people can learn more about Japanese culture and lifestyle, and also where we can showcase creators, artisans, guides, producers and businesses in or connected to Japan.
We heard that during the time you were living in Japan some years ago, you created the first Halloween parties in the country? Halloween wasn’t popular in Japan at that time so how did the idea come about and how did you fulfil it?
I can not take credit for the creating the first Halloween parties in Japan since there were many Halloween parties already taking place. However, together with two co-organisers, we built up the largest multi-venue Halloween event in Japan, not in Tokyo or Osaka but in Nagoya, where we had 15 venues with over 3000 attendees and spread out over several city blocks. Nagoya is more conservative than the other two cities, so it did take careful curation to build the event up by bringing together the international and Japanese communities, LGBTQIA+ community, and we had all music genres represented. I’d say in hindsight we also took care to never commercialise the artist line-up or the event and this is how we kept the Absolute Halloween successful for over 10 years. It was always about the local musicans, DJs, bands, artists, dancers, and talent. We made a choice early on to never fly in international artists, and simply focus on our community and the grassroots festival vibe.
Because of your previous work at Inside Japan and your travel history, I imagine you have connections with a lot of people. Would you like to tell us a story or anecdote related to Japan that has particularly impressed or amused you?
It’s hard to pick one story or talk about just one person but what impresses me about Japan and Japanese people is seeing how deep their consideration is for others and their surroundings. This is probably going to be a common thread for many stories you hear about Japan. Essentially, I’m talking about Omotenashi when it comes to hospitality and mindfulness, as the standard level of hospitality you receive anywhere in Japan is not something I saw growing up in the UK unless you were at a top hotel or restaurant. The preparation involved when inviting guests in Japan is astounding when it comes to the consideration of details. And it’s executed flawlessly so you probably wouldn’t even notice until perhaps later, thinking wow they thought of everything! All of this is of course completely unconnected to receiving tips which are not accepted. Even in spontaneous situations that haven’t been prepared for, you’ll see Omotenashi in action, like seeing staff from a restaurant running down the road for over 500 metres to catch up with our group and pass on a bag that one person had forgotten to take with them after their meal!
For those who may not have come across it before, can you explain exactly what “Best-Japanese.co.uk” is? How did the idea of making a website come to you?
I believe I’ve covered what Best Japanese does in the first question, however to go into a little more detail into the exact story of how it came about, it was a combination of two things at the same time. The first was seeing all the inaccurate information on Japanese food and culture online such as fake-Japanese recipes claiming to authentic and made by experts just so they could sell some cooking books. Simultaneously, my friends in London had lots of questions for me on which Japanese restaurants I recommended, and about Japanese culture in general. I realised that there was no website or social media account currently existing in the UK that covered all of this information (in 2021), and from the start the aim was to go further and provide accurate information on modern Japan and to be a platform to support creators and businesses that have a connection to Japan.
You often talk about food on your website and social accounts. I know it’s hard to pick only one but can you tell us what is your favorite Japanese food?
Very difficult question there and I don’t think I can pick one but I’ll try. Like a lot of other people I would say I love sushi and ramen. If there was a favourite Japanese food for me, perhaps it would be Okonomiyaki because it reminds me of my childhood when my mother used to make it at home. It’s also not difficult to make a perfect Okonomiyaki even in the UK, whereas sushi for example will depend on the quality of the ingredients you have on the day or the restaurant you go to. It would be the same for ramen and this is not something that can be made quickly and take several hours at least to prepare and cook.
You are a deep Japan expert. What would you recommend to travelers who have already visited the country on previous trips and are looking for an experience a little bit out of the mainstream itineraries?
It would completely depend on what interests the travellers have and which parts of Japan they enjoyed visiting before. If we’re discussing which areas outside of the Golden route I personally recommend, it would be Shikoku island or the Tohoku region. Both areas are off the beaten path and offer plenty of unique Japanese experiences, historical sites, incredible food, and beautiful scenery. Also until now, Nagoya has always been excluded from mainstream itineraries but this is a city I’d recommend if you want to discover everyday life in Japan. You can visit the famous covered arcade shopping area of Osu Kannon, try the delicious Nagoya cuisine, and see some outstanding festivals. In the years to come, especially as Ghibli Park develops further and once the new Maglev line is operational, Nagoya will most likely form part of the new Golden route so now is your chance to check it out before all the tourists get there!
And what is the thing about Japan you miss the most since returning to live in the UK?
Without a doubt all the Japanese side of my family and my friends. And then of course the weather with dependable seasons, the amazing yet reasonable food, the infrastructure especially the Shinkansen, and potentially this may seems strange but Japanese clothes stores. It’s often hard to find the style of clothes I’m looking for in the UK and while I’m very grateful for Uniqlo and Muji, I wish there were more options!
Do you think you will be travelling to Japan again soon? If yes, what is the main thing you absolutely want to do when you arrive?
Yes, fingers crossed I will be back in Japan this August! I usually have a routine when I get back to Japan where I go to a convenience store and buy some onigiri. It’s really nice to have the other Bento lunchbox options too, and generally sitting back on the Shinkansen or train to Nagoya and hearing Japanese all around. Knowing that things run on time, and every place is kept clean and in good condition is definitely something to savour. From there it’s a matter of visiting my family and friends as soon as possible and enjoying as much Japanese food as possible at what I consider to be the “correct” price.
Do you have any new projects in progress or something specific that you would like to share with our readers?
Sure. We’re continuing to build out the travel section of our website plus start our monthly email newsletter which will include our latest articles as well as recipes and we’re aiming to include travel or lifestyle related deals and offers too. So if you’re reading this and interested, please head over to our website and signup to the email newsletter. Also feel free to follow us on Instagram and our other social accounts especially if you want to see which restaurants we recommend!
Thank you Babur for kindly agreeing to join our interview, we are sure we have provided some very interesting insights thanks to you. We would be happy if you would keep us informed about your upcoming projects and hope to see you again soon.
For further information:
Want to experience the reel Japan with a local? Book a tour with an expert guide!