The Japanese-Catalan cultural fusion: manga, anime, sushi, and sake
Despite the distance and lack of immigration, Catalonia has fallen in love with the East Asian country over the past decades
Contemporary Catalonia and has been influenced by many different other nations, mostly either nearby countries such as France or Italy, or else ones that have contributed many immigrants to Catalonia such as Pakistan or India.
However, Catalan culture has been considerably influenced by the culture of a particular country that’s not very close and hasn’t provided many immigrants, but the lure of its pop culture, its cuisine, and its customs have made locals here fall in love with it nevertheless.
The influence of Japanese culture is very strong in Catalonia, and that’s largely thanks to animated television series, or anime.
Marc Pérez from the Racó del Manga podcast tells Catalan News that the modern love story between Catalonia and Japan kicked off in the 1990s when Catalan public broadcaster TV3 bought the rights to the anime series Dragon Ball.
They put “high-quality” Catalan dubbing over it, and Pérez tells us that “the tradition is very, very important here.”
Catalonia got its own television station, TV3, shortly after the transition to democracy after the Franco dictatorship and the ban on the language in public space was ended. Fast forward a few decades after TV3 began showing anime and we’ve got a society practically obsessed with Japanese culture, with Catalans being hugely enamoured with the East Asian country.
In fact, the animated series that were put on screens across Catalonia came at a very particular point in history, where they happened to be the main cartoons available for kids to watch, and for the first time ever, offered entirely in Catalan. As such, anime and the Catalan language share a peculiar but strong bond thanks to the growth of TV3.
Since then, Catalonia’s love of anime has only grown and grown, culminating in the annual Manga Barcelona fair that drew over 150,000 people before the pandemic, and 122,000 in the latest edition that kicked off in late October.
Dressing up as characters from different manga books, anime series, or video games is known as ‘cosplay’, and it’s a central element of the subculture.
Meri, a Catalan cosplay artist, tells Catalan News that making the elaborate costumes are very hard to do by hand. She explains that sharing her work with people online and at events such as the Manga Fair is “very great.”
“It’s a lot of work, this is two or three months of cosplaying here right now,” she tells us at the Manga Fair dressed up as Sub-Zero from the game Mortal Kombat 9. “I think it’s a kind of art,” she says. “Not only music and painting is art, this is crafting and I think it’s art.”
Anime and cosplay are not the only features of Japanese culture that have been imported. Famed Michelin star chef Ferran Adrià even declared in a 2016 interview that sushi is now considered a traditional local dish. Japanese cuisine is beloved by Catalans.
Marc Pérez from the Racó del Manga podcast believes that the connection between Catalonia and Japan in terms of their cuisines is “very important.” He describes Japanese food as the ingredients of the Catalan kitchen, “but made in a different way.” “There’s a beautiful symbiosis there,” he concludes.
Japanese cuisine has truly taken off in Catalonia, with plenty of restaurants and businesses dedicating themselves not only to sushi, but also to mochi desserts, traditional tea, while Catalonia even boasts two sake breweries.
Kensho brewery, in the southern Ebre Delta region, and Seda Líquida, found in a mountain village in the Pyrenees to the north, have been producing the Japanese alcoholic beverage since 2015 and 2016 respectively, and were both born out of a love for the East Asian country and its culture.
Sake is the national alcoholic beverage of Japan, where it is used in many different celebrations and events. Japan is, obviously, the main producer and consumer and only in countries like the United States, with high numbers of Japanese immigrants, is sake typically produced.
There are fewer than 2,500 Japanese citizens living in Catalonia, according to the latest available statistics from the Catalan Statistics Institute (Idescat), but the people here have a special place for Japan in their hearts, and as such, two breweries have opened up in recent years to help spread the spirit.
Antoni Campins, head of the Seda Líquida brewery in the mountainous village of Tuixent told the Catalan News Agency in 2016 after brewing his first batch that he was “really happy” with his creation, “because it’s no longer just an experiment, it’s something I’ve been able to taste and it’s come out well.”
Campins even went one step further during the pandemic creating a new beverage that perfectly symbolizes the fusion between Japanese and Catalan cultures - the world’s first ever sake-vermouth.
Music, dance, and films
The influence of the East Asian country goes far beyond manga and food.
The Matsuri Festival is an annual event held in Barcelona celebrating Japanese culture with an emphasis on music and dance. The last edition before the pandemic drew 23,000 spectators, and hope to return to action in the spring of 2022.
The cultural centre Casa Asia is also very active in putting on workshops, language courses, and events on literature, philosophy, and even tea.
Mar, a visitor at the Manga Fair, was especially enchanted by the Japanese culture as a whole. “I think we have to know about other cultures,” she explained.
“There are a lot of interesting things about food, religion, customs, traditions. A lot of things that I think we don’t know and we must know. So I think it’s very important.”
Cosplay artist Meri told Catalan News about her appreciation for traditional Japanese temples, and said the Japanese people are “nice, very disciplined, and also very nerdy” like Catalans.
Marc Pérez sees the cultural appreciation going both ways, saying that the Japanese are “crazy” for Gaudí buildings across Barcelona and Catalonia. “And we are crazy for Japanese culture.”
Added to all of this are thousands of people who practice judo in Catalonia, those who enjoy Japanese films as part of the Asian Film Festival, and those who visit Tokyo-style listening bars, such as Curtis Audiophile in Barcelona, that have a particular emphasis on sound quality.
The influence of Japanese culture is alive and well in Catalonia today.
Press play to listen to Catalan News' Filling the Sink podcast on Japanese culture in Catalonia.