When I told people that after Switzerland, we were going to Hamburg via two nights in Düsseldorf, people scoffed: “Düsseldorf. What are you going to do in Düsseldorf?”
They couldn’t believe we would use precious family holiday time in Germany to stay in Düsseldorf for two whole nights. But we knew something they didn’t. We had a hidden agenda with Düsseldorf…a hidden Japanese agenda.
Düsseldorf is located on the Düssel and the Rhine rivers and was a city long known as an international business and financial hub. Something that is less known about the city is that Düsseldorf has the biggest Japanese community in Germany (about 11,000 residents) which is also the third largest in Europe – after Paris and London.
It is also home to the biggest Japanese Buddhist Temple in Europe, with an adjoining study and event centre called the EKŌ House of Japanese Culture. After getting a little lost in the sleepy suburb of Niederkassel, with some local help we finally found the front gates to the place…only to find them locked.
My family were disappointed, to say the least, after coming all of this way and finding it closed. As they started walking away, I obnoxiously pushed all of the buttons on the gate intercom in frustration. A loud buzzing sound suddenly came from the gate and we blinked in surprise as the doors swung open. We were inside – with the whole place to ourselves!
The whole complex was built in 1993 and is well maintained as they host a number of Buddhist festivals, tea ceremonies and events every year.
Düsseldorf also puts on a Japan Day every year around May or June and it is the largest festival of its kind in the world – attracting more than a million people. They have Japanese food stalls, kimono fittings, Japanese musicians, calligraphy and always finish off with a fireworks show. (I’m determined to go to this year’s one!)
Since the 1950’s, Düsseldorf has housed more than five hundred Japanese companies and the workers and their families include both temporary and permanent residents.
The main Japanese quarter in the Düsseldorf city is called Immermannstraße, a long road lined with Japanese book stores, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, bakeries and even a Japanese hotel called Hotel Nikko. Before going there, I was envisioning a typical China Town sort of street overflowing with tourists, food stalls and noise but this ‘Japan Town’ was completely different. If you didn’t know about it, you wouldn’t even realise it was there.
This Japan street came alive out of necessity to the Japanese business workers, so everything was practical and functional – not a tourist trap at all. Walking the streets and hearing Japanese people go past made me feel like I was back in Japan. We had lunch at a ramen place called Takezo, which had the best ramen I’d had in a very, very long time.
The problem with living in a tiny town like Passau is that there aren’t many Japanese people living here, which means I can’t get my hands on Japanese food or products – something I was used to getting easily in New Zealand. So I’ve craved for Japanese food since being in Germany. Like really, really badly. So badly that my mum has had to send me Japanese food products like udon and curry packs in the mail from NZ!
Düsseldorf also has a Japanese school, supplementary school and even a kindergarten. I really wonder what it would have been like to grow up in the vibrant Japanese community of Düsseldorf. I went to Japanese supplementary school when I was younger too, but that was in Christchurch where we don’t have a fraction of the Japanese population!
Even though people doubted our choice in going to Düsseldorf, we were so glad we did. We all had the best Japanese food and shop experiences that we’d had in ages and it was most definitely on our list of travel highlights! I want to go back just to eat there!
So, did you like Düsseldorf’s Japan Town?
Would you like to visit here too?