First things first, please introduce yourself.
Well, I’m Zia Rahim, the founder (CEO) of Japan Nakama, but originally people know me as a rebel or a person who doesn’t like walking on a set path. I like to find my own way of doing things and looking at the bigger picture for the benefit of the many, rather than a few. Like many people in my generation (The Millennials), I was influenced by things that I used to watch on TV and the latest fads. Fads like Beyblade or Tamagochi and interesting, unique items that you wouldn’t get in the UK. Having a PlayStation and Gameboy brought awareness to things like Pokemon and Tekken, which greatly influenced my creativity and even my taste in music.
So, my thirst grew but I never realised that these interests were a direct link to Japanese culture, I just knew it was something I enjoyed. After researching further into each of my interests, I started to realise the “Soft Power” influences were of Japanese culture. Around that time, we used a 56k dialup modems. So I put in one of my many AOL 30 Day internet trial disks (my generation knows what I mean) and searched the internet for other Japanese-y stuff. I found myself ahead of the UK in many ways, I even found Dragon Ball Z episodes that hadn’t come out in the UK yet! I observed the fashion, the artwork which was often Manga style – which led to my interest in art and illustration, which led onto graphic design. As the internet evolved, as did I. I began to download many types of Japanese music by artists like Kyoshi Maikawa and Mayumi Itsuwa – who are ENKA singers because I love older style Frank Sinatra style music, Ayumi Hamasaki, SPITZ, Asian Kung-Fu Generation and more. I was fascinated in how the Japanese were so focused on their craft, so dedicated. This was when I realised there were many people in Japan who perfected their skills, I really admired that because in this new age of information, we have an overload of options and directions that were opening, we often didn’t know which pathway to take or what to do. However, to completely commit yourself to a certain path and have laser focus, to master it, is what really interested me in Japanese Culture, so from thereon, it spiralled.
I aspired to learn the Japanese language to do business in Japan, so it’d allow me to read more into the history and about the Japanese society and an insight into their state of mind was so different to ours. Even if you look at our super heroes in western society, there’s a Superman, a Batman, a single man who fights or defends, never a team. But if you see Japanese Animations or Films, they often feature a Team – like the DragonBall Z fighters or Power Rangers which is based off the Japanese “Ju Rangers” – Ju meaning 10 in Japanese. That’s why I believe they’re truly successful, because each person in the team is a master at their own skill and collectively could achieve anything (But in their case, defeat the evil monster – lol)
Tell us more about Japan Nakama.
So, as I’ve already mentioned the individualism in this country is about the few and not the many. Because we’ve gotten so used to using Facebook and Twitter, we have thousands of friends online but we barely even have 5 that we interacted with in real life. Community is lacking in real life, and people born in the generation after mine don’t even know of a community-based world or grew up playing on the streets with their friends. We understand that we cannot erase technology but instead of allowing it consume us, we can use it to improve us.
Nakama, care about the importance of a community of people, a community that is interested in Japanese Culture for their own particular reasons, who are able to come together and enjoy various activities or just share information face to face, there is no substitute for real life interaction. So, Nakama translates to “Someone who is close to you” or it can mean circle of friends who are close to you. In a way, you could say that they are a team who defeats the evil like in the Power Rangers. We found that there were quite a few people who were interested in Japanese culture in London but are spread out thinly. Some of them have marketing and business knowledge and are able to flourish but some were competing, but there was no unification.
So we decided to create Japan Nakama, to bring all of these people and what they’re providing together into one place. Each person on our company team is like a Japanese Artisan, they’ve honed their skills over the years in their particular field. I know I can rely on them for their expertise. We’re a bit like a team from an anime or a movie, one guy has a Sword, another has a Crossbow, then you have a Magician. Each are powerful in and of their own… But if you bring them together you can take on much bigger opponents. For example Wayne Daniels, a founding member acting as CMO at Japan Nakama, has also travelled on a similar path to my own. We’ve both searched for Japanese-related events when we were younger and found ourselves as young entrepreneurs involved in Japanese companies at the age of 19. We worked together to provide marketing, technology, creativity and business knowledge to support and improve those London based Japanese businesses.
Wayne has even created his own clothing company, which influenced by Japanese Culture too, and also speaks fluent Japanese. He understands many aspects of native thinking within Japanese culture, while also having built up many connections with influencers in the Japanese society like myself. In addition to that, we have Haruka Takeuchi who is a Waseda University Graduate, one of the best private Universities in Japan, especially in Politics and Economics (which was her major). She came to the UK with the intention to create cultural relations between Japan and UK – she’s an irreplaceable asset in understanding the cultural influences! As a company, our information is absolutely correct because we’re based in London, so Haruka is able to give us an educated insight into the Japanese Market. Coupled with her connections to Japan and London, she has helped us connect to people who would have otherwise been outside of our reach. You could say… she opens doors for us.
How did you go about developing the Japan Nakama App?
As I mentioned before, there is already a lot of Japanese news available on the Internet provided by various organisations and enthusiasts. However, there is no central place to get all of this information. So, we’ve used the latest technology and taken advantage of mobile phones to create an App, that unifies everyone’s voices together. In addition to this, we found that when searching for Japanese events, the most popular coming from Japan Foundation or Japan Society are easier to find than more private events and Meetups, so we’ve also added events information to the app, which will allow people to find out when the latest Japanese events are coming out.
The last and quite prominent feature is the Spotlight section. We felt that there are many people who influence the Japanese community in London but because they don’t belong to large organisations or lack marketing ability, their skill and influence is not recognised. So we want to the whole Japanese community to acknowledge the people who are actively trying to make a difference.
What do you hope people will get from the Japan Nakama App?
I hope that people will be able to find all the articles written by the known and the unknown, for those people to feel encouraged to continue pursuing their passion in their particular area of Japanese culture. Also, allowing those who subscribe to many blogs, email subscriptions and spend countless hours searching for Japanese culture in the UK to simply enjoy something in the palm of their hands.
What’s your favourite Japanese restaurant in London?”
So, I’ll try my best not to be biased here because my other company (Brand Development) improves the branding design and development for a few well known Japanese restaurants in London – and I’ve grown an attachment to them. I’ll give a quick shout out to those restaurants who I’ve helped… haha no kidding! It’s quite difficult for me to give you a restaurant that’s my “favourite”, I’m quite an adventurous person, so I’m always looking to try out new restaurants. But, I will mention restaurants that has served my favourite kind of Japanese food – Sushi and a good Ramen. There’s many types of Japanese food that I like, I’d say my favourite Ramen is from
Monohon Ramen in Old Street, I can taste of the passion within the food – from the handmade noodles to the well cooked broth. So far, it is the only ramen that has satisfied me. Another, would be… A restaurant called Kamome which is based in Brixton, hidden away. Because I like staying healthy while enjoying my favourite Japanese dishes, I’ve found that the options available at Kamome are the perfect combination. They have many organic based dishes and are even gluten free. It tastes like something that I would make at home, if I had that level of cooking skill – they make sure that the oil is light and clean, the vegetables were fresh and that every part of that dish was something that I would enjoy eating. Like, the Chicken Karaage batter… is white! Like fish and chips white! It’s so light!
Are there any big Japan events you’re particularly looking forward to?
There’s an event called Wabi created by William Reed events company that I’m looking forward to. I recently took part in Hanami on 17th April in Regents Park with – with two of my friends who’ll will be launching their Japanese Related companies – a perfect time to celebrate.
What’s next for Japan Nakama?
We’re gonna build a Gundam. Next question – lol. Next plan for Japan Nakama is to create another App, it’s a secret right now, but it’ll help to benefit the Japanese community in London! However, our biggest focus is on improving our current App and taking feedback seriously, because the App is for the Japanese community rather than an ego boost for our company.
Next, we’ll be creating Neo Japan, which is a building, a home for Japanese community. They’ll be able to experience the latest Japanese oriented technology such as Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Games Consoles, a Japanese Cinema for Movies, Anime, a Manga Cafe, and an environment with the focus on allowing people to hone their skills. For example if you are an artist who paints Japanese-related paintings, then we’ll provide you the digital platform or the supplies to improve yourself through classes and personal workspaces. Or if you’re someone who likes to make games or are interested in robotics, then we’ll have projects that we can collectively fund to make reality. For example, our first project that we had a team for was to make a fully operational Gundam / Mech. Or for a person who wants to create Wabisabi Pottery, or create hanging Hydroponic Wasabi Farms – you’d just need flowing water system.
Perhaps we’ll see the next 3D Culinary Chef because now you can now print food from a 3D printer. This will be a place where people will be able to wear their Cosplay outfits and take on their own real persona, which may other be unaccepted in the outside world. Much like Japan, where there are subcultures of people who can dress how they want and they’re not bullied or made to feel uncomfortable. In addition to this, we will create a business work space, which will consist of small Japanese businesses who are looking to have an impact the Japanese community in the UK. These type of people would have access to our connections, marketing, technology and other aspects in which they lack and or even assist them with funding to help excel them into the future.
One thing that I want people to understand is that this is a place for everybody, weren’t not going to make things overly expensive or create an aesthetic that only a certain demographic can fit into, this will be Your Japan in London.