BEIJING'S HIDDEN FORTRESS OF FANTASY JAPAN

Basement mall entrance to Koyama Sanlitun



Koyama Sanlitun is a China chain restaurant serving Japanese food in a manga-themed environment. It appeals to a young urban crowd familiar with Japanese popular culture icons from film, anime, manga and TV.  The interior is decorated like a gallery celebrating Japanese pop culture. The restaurant which serves a broad range of Japanese fare, can only be entered after taking off one's shoes, Japan-style. This is part of the "Japanese" experience, and is more Japanese than the Japanese in the sense that Japanese restaurants, mostly especially those located in big cities and modern malls, do not require removal of footwear, though the tradition persists in rural inns and onsen resorts.

During a recent spate of Sino-Japanese tensions I talked to some student aged diners at Koyama who said they liked Japanese food and culture. In fact, the act of eating the cuisine associated with China's leading economic and military rival can even be seen as "hip" in the sense that it does not comport with the "square" propaganda of the Chinese government which is always railing about history issues that do not seem a pressing matter to most young people. 

"If the government doesn't like it, I like it," a young man told me, winning a round of conspiratorial grins from his companions.

The food and fun decor of a place like Koyama clearly provides for most of the draw, but patronizing such a place may also provide individuals who are fed up with the heavy-handed pedagogical push coming from Chinese TV--with its stridently anti-Japan war dramas and sharply biased news reports-- a subtle  way of registering dissent. 

The demonization of Japan continues apace on Chinese TV, making Japan loom larger than life, and perhaps inadvertently pushing young people to embrace the culture of the "enemy" for the fun of it.