Sake Restaurant& Bar in Eagle Street Brisbane

9 ways to go J-Cool in Brisbane

Thirty years ago, I packed my bags and went to live in Japan for a year. For a country kid, it was like Alice going down the rabbit hole, slinging my way unimagined wonders, the oddest cuisine and the most curious sights.

Fast forward 30 years and Japan is now J-cool – with a capital J. Its culture plays out in Brisbane via the thousands of Japanese-born residents who have brought a patchwork of food and fashion to the city and the Queenslanders who shape their livelihoods from long stretches in the land of the rising sun. Today there are anime-inspired gyoza hubs, uber cool bars with Japanese undertones, and Japanese-inspired fashion labels.

And nowhere can you see the cultural creep better than at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) where a new blockbuster exhibition Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese Fashion has raised the curtain on all things Japan.

The good news is you don’t have to wait for the exhibition to experience Japanese culture in Brisbane. Here are my own top 9 J-gems to do:

Future Beauty Showing at GoMA

1. Future Beauty: 30 years of Japanese Fashion: I spent far too many hours with my shoes in underground malls and my nose on Comme des Garçons’ shopfronts to miss this exhibition. Not only is this global blockbuster the sole Australian showing, it has the world’s first Comme des Garçons pop-up shop within a gallery environment. Future Beauty runs from November 1 through to February 15, 2015 at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA).

2. Sake Restaurant & Bar: Shaun Presland’s story is as amazing as the sushi he serves in his Eagle Street Restaurant. A Brisbane boy who completed a chef’s apprenticeship with the Army Reserves, Shaun travelled to Japan in 1994 and worked for two years in a ryokan (small inn), learning authentic Japanese cooking before bringing that knowledge back to his riverside venue.

Bird's Nest in West End

3. Bird’s Nest: Carve small bites of chicken from just about every part of the bird, skewer it, marinate it and then grill it over burning white coals using 17th century cooking methods and you have yakitori, a Japanese street-food that’s about to explode on the Brisbane scene. Bird’s Nest co-owners and ‘besties’ Emi Kamada and Marie Yokoyama are Brisbane girls with Japanese heritage who have brought the next-big thing to West End.

Apartment's Nick and Ben Chiu

4. Apartment: If it’s cool enough for Pharrell Williams, then it’s way too cool for me. Tucked away on Albert Street in the city centre, local kool kats and brothers Nick and Ben Chiu, offer the only permanent avenue to purchase Comme des Garçons in Brisbane, alongside a heady range of Japanese streetwear at their men’s boutique, Apartment. Get in with these on-trend funsters and they may even invite you to their A Love Supreme music event that fuses DJ sets by international artists with cool fashion vibes.

5. She came to Brisbane to learn English back in the 1990s, but Masayo Yasuki, the designer behind cult Brisbane-born label dogstar, found freedom and inspiration here and is now renowned for fashion with bold, edgy lines. Check out her store in Paddington and her studio in Woolloongabba.

Fukutoshi Ueno’s flat-pack sells at Artisan

6. Forget IKEA. Brisbane designer Fukutoshi Ueno’s flat-pack ‘Dress Code’ – a striking furniture piece created in collaboration with friend, Akira Isogawa – can be purchased via Artisan in Fortitude Valley. So cool in fact, that those in the know at the National Gallery of Australia purchased it for their permanent collection.

7. Searching for some Japanese vintage to add to your fashion collection? Last year Kazuyo Kashiwagi opened her own artisans’ store, Kazuyo’s Collection on bustling Boundary Street, West End. Home to a collection of Japanese and Australian wares, it also sells handbags crafted from kimono fabric salvaged from her family home following the Niigata earthquake.


8. Say kampai to this! Some of Brisbane’s best bars have blended the freshest fusion of Japanese aesthetics with top-shelf drinking. For a playful take on the Orient, check out Kwan Brothers (Fortitude Valley), Lychee Lounge (West End), and Cloudland (Fortitude Valley) which features tatami floors, cushions and sunken tables.

9. Moga literally means Modern Girl, but a quick sweep of this inner west suburban restaurant in Paddington proves that the sushi station and its garden restaurant appeals to both sexes. There’s lots to like about this place. Top of the list would have to be the Rosalie Roll.

Have I missed any must-do Japanese experiences in Brisbane here?