Rug-of-war: the urban picnic contest hits London

by Rhiannon James

Picnopolis in London credit: Tokyo Picnic Club

Salads were tossed, hampers hurdled and napkins flourished as competitive picnicking came to London last weekend.

Members of the Tokyo Picnic Club, a society dedicated to promoting al fresco dining, flew in especially from Japan to judge competitors on their menu, picnic gear, fashion sense and sociability at the Picnopolis urban picnic contest which took place in Hoxton Square in Hackney on Saturday as part of the London Festival of Architecture.

A group of colleagues from East London clinched the gold with their array of homemade cakes including rhubarb crumble and brownies. “They also invited many people who didn’t know each other but who made friends at the picnic,” said Kaori Ito, co-founding member of the Tokyo Picnic Club and an associate professor at the Tokyo University of Science.

The competition, which was held in conjunction with RIBA London, has been staged in previous years in Singapore, Newcastle and cities in Japan and is part of the club’s ongoing mission to redefine the traditional British picnic for modern urban living.

Picnopolis at Yokohama (left), Singapore (top right) and Newcastle (bottom right) credit: Yutaka Suzuki/Tokyo Picnic Club

“In Tokyo, we have very small park areas, much smaller than those in other big cities such as London, New York and Paris and they are not very accessible to the public – many activities are prohibited and some parks close at 4.30pm,” said Kaori Ito, co-founding member of the Tokyo Picnic Club. “We wanted to change this situation – we need this free space in the city – and this was how the club began.”

Since claiming the “picnic right” in Tokyo in 2002, the club’s 80 members, which include architects, designers, illustrators, photographers and food coordinators have gone on to work on developing special food and drink for urban picnics such as greenfield and brownfield beer; designing picnic equipment; finding new picnic spots in Tokyo and beyond and establishing rules for al fresco dining. The club is also researching the 200-year history of the picnic and owns a collection of more than 100 antique hampers.

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