Interview with Babur of Best Japanese

Posted: 19th January 2023

Hello Babur and thank you for joining me for an interview today! Could you introduce yourself and your connection to Japan?

Hello Elly! Thank you for your time today. Sure. My name’s Babur and my connection to Japan is that my mother’s Japanese. One spring holiday, while visiting my Japanese side of the family I decided to extend my stay in Japan and get to know more about my Japanese roots having grown up in the UK. Like many others before me, I loved my time in Japan so much that I ended up staying longer than intended. First the plan was one year and then that one year soon became two and then three and before I knew it, I had spent 18 years in Japan!

For anyone who hasn't come across Best Japanese before, what is it you do?

I set up the Best Japanese website shortly after coming back to the UK and finding there were no English websites that covered the essential information I was personally looking for – such as where local Japanese supermarkets are located in London, and which Japanese restaurants were truly authentic and made me feel “at home”. At the same time, I was getting asked questions about Japanese food and culture from new friends in the UK and when I checked online to see what was written about certain foods like Tonkatsu, not only were there very few articles but even Google search results suggested “do you mean Tonkotsu”? Then on Instagram, there were influencers selling “authentic” Japanese cookbooks with recipes for ramen that included ingredients like sriracha sauce and udon noodles! It was hard to read comments where people were thanking them and believing this was how to make real ramen.

So the main goal of Best Japanese from the start was to create a platform to share accurate knowledge on Japanese culture, food, lifestyle, and travel. I also hoped to build up a community of people interested in Japan or Japanese culture. Over the last 18 months, we’ve managed to form a small team of friends and family who are all connected by Japan, and we hope to continue to grow and provide helpful information for those wishing to learn more about this unique country and its culture.

On the Best Japanese website, you often include information for learners of the Japanese language. Personally, what’s your biggest tip for learners?

Japanese is not the easiest language to learn especially with the three different writing systems, and grammar that contrasts greatly to European languages. Once you start to be able to speak a few sentences of Japanese and read Japanese, whether it’s on signboards, menus, or online, without a doubt you will feel a real source of pride in your new skills.

In my opinion, the tricky part at any stage is keeping yourself motivated especially when moving between levels when you feel like you’re on a plateau and can’t see any improvement. So here is my biggest tip: if you really want to enjoy your Japanese learning journey and keep yourself motivated, you need a teacher who can guide you through tricky grammar points and introduce fun learning resources you can study at home between lessons. Rather than struggle through some rather dry grammar examples or trying to figure out which online explanation is correct, I’d recommend finding a Japanese teacher or a language exchange partner who has a high level of understanding of both Japanese and your native language. Time is money as they say, and your future self will thank you for this decision!

(Note from Elly: I promise I didn't ask Babur to say this bit!)

Recently, I enjoyed reading your recommendations of Japanese dramas to watch over the winter break. I also really like encouraging my students to watch dramas, as they can include a lot of handy everyday language. If you had to pick one drama to recommend, what would it be?

This is a really difficult question for me as there are many great dramas available to watch online these days. Probably the easiest in terms of accessibility would be the dramas on Netflix but there have been some pretty strange ones on there for sure. A drama which I watched recently and enjoyed was “First Love”. Yes, it is a drama about a first romantic love but it’s not too sickeningly sweet and in fact I’d say there are some real heart-wrenching scenes in there (but not about what you might think) as we see the couple in question decades later living separate lives. What makes it great for Japanese learners is you get to see everyday Japanese used in a variety of scenes and situations (high school, workplaces, family gatherings and meals, friends hanging out, and of course quite a bit of relationship talk). Probably this will be hard for an absolute beginner to watch for sure, however I do think it’s one of those dramas you can rewatch and pick up new vocabulary through the Japanese subtitles. And of course, let’s not forget you’ll remember the lyrics of First Love by the time you’ve finished the drama. (First Love is by one of the most well-known J-pop artists Utada Hikaru.)

You also introduce a lot of Japanese food on the Best Japanese site. What’s one Japanese food you wish was available in the UK?

This is the hardest question Elly! I guess if you are located in one of the bigger cities especially London, chances are you can get most of the Japanese food you are craving. If there was one restaurant, I’d like to see it would be a Japanese Kaiten Sushi restaurant that has the same quality sushi as one in Japan (not found one yet in the UK). If we are talking single items of food, my pick would be Nagoya-style Chicken Tebasaki. Specifically, Sekai-no-Yama-chan’s Tebasaki. These chicken wings come with a crisp skin, are coated in a savoury-sweet glaze and black pepper kick. It also brings back memories of the city I called home for 15 years! This is also a call out for Sekai-no-Yama-chan to open a restaurant in the UK! Since we should finish with at least one dessert, my go to here would be Tokyo Banana. They’re a delicious, sweet fluffy sponge cake with a mini-banana, and one of the most popular souvenirs in Japan. It’s also not possible to eat in the UK unless someone brings it back with them or until Tokyo Banana open up a store here

Finally, what are you looking forward to in 2023? Any plans to visit Japan?

Yes! I’m planning to travel back this year, which will be the first time to go back since the pandemic started. Really can not wait to go back and see my family and friends. Also, there is plenty of incredible food I’ve been waiting to eat, and I’d like to try and visit as many places in Japan as possible.

This is also the year we are hoping that Best Japanese will take off. We’re getting good traffic to the website and have built up our Instagram, but we’d like to hit our original goals in creating a real online community be it on our site or on socials. One where we can get Japanese experts in food, culture, travel, and language like yourself Elly to introduce the parts of Japan or Japanese culture that inspire or excite them the most. In this way we’ll able to provide our readers and followers a true impression of modern Japan as well as Japanese culture in 2023!

On my side I’d also like to say thank you for taking the time to interview Best Japanese and for some excellent questions! Thanks again Elly and Ippo Ippo!

Click here to view the Best Japanese website and find out more about Babur's top tips for Japanese food, events, Japanese language learning materials and more.

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