Originally published in Time Out Tokyo magazine issue 17 (December 2017)
A Shimokitazawa-based accessory designer and enthusiast of Japanese vintage products shares her passion for Japanese culture.
When did you first come to Tokyo? And what made you choose Tokyo as your new home?
I first came to Japan on the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) programme in the 1990s and lived in Saitama for a year. After leaving Japan, I travelled in Asia and South America and then worked as a teacher in an inner-city school in the UK for a few years.
I yearned for Japan when I was back home – I guess it was a kind of reverse culture shock. So I came back to work in an international school in Tokyo where I taught for 12 years before my two children were born.
It seems like Japanese materials inspire you. Why do you think that is?
I’m interested in the idea of wabi-sabi and find that working with materials that have a touch of the imperfect about them is inspiring. My designs usually have an element of asymmetry to them. When I make a pair of vintage kimono earrings, I deliberately select distinctly different parts of the same fabric to emphasise that they are a pair, but not perfectly the same.
What aspects of Japan influence your design?
I’m a vintage addict and believe in the spirit of mottainai. I search out the materials I use in my jewellery designs at vintage shops, antique markets and shrine sales, and sometimes I’m even gifted kimono, obi and obijime collections.
The excitement of not knowing what I’m going to find, the fascinating things I discover and the interesting people I meet inspire me. I’m lucky to live in Shimokitazawa, which is a well-known vintage town; I’m influenced on a daily basis by the things I see around me and the vintage enthusiasts I know in this area.
You are also a qualified ikebana teacher. How do you approach teaching Japanese culture, and have you developed any methods of your own?
When I studied Sogetsu [school] ikebana, it was important for me to learn the art in Japanese. I found that hearing the description of an arrangement in Japanese helped me understand the aesthetic more deeply.
As for teaching, the most important part of it was to explain the process of learning in Japan. Whether it’s a martial art, calligraphy, kimono dressing or tea ceremony, the process is the same. It sounds like a cliché, but first you have to prove yourself by learning the basic skills in a set order, and in turn, this commitment will earn you the right to show your creativity.
When did you first feel like a Tokyoite?
Even though I’ve lived in several different areas of Tokyo, it wasn’t until I moved to Shimokitazawa that I truly felt a sense of home. I feel like I live in a lively village with a close community, rather than in a giant metropolis.
How do you enjoy winter in Tokyo? What part of Japanese winter is your favourite?
The clear blue Tokyo skies, sunshine and crisp, dry winter weather are so invigorating. I find that I work so effectively on days when the sun is shining and my studio is full of light and fresh air. Something about the winter light makes the kimono colours come alive.
Finally, any winter survival tips for international visitors?
Bring heavy-duty hand cream, lip cream and gloves. Oh, and sunglasses.