A Gift from Japan

A Gift from Japan

I am Joe Tsuji, the owner of the online shop “A gift from Japan” ( name-stamp.com ). I have taught Japanese for 9 years in a language school in Kyoto, Japan, where students come from around 25 countries. I have a lot of fun talking with my students and helping them learn the Japanese language and customs.

Our school is in Kyoto, one of the few Japanese cities that maintains traditional buildings such as hundred years old houses, shrines, and temples. Many students are interested in Japanese pop culture (Manga, Anime, Japanese games, etc.), and Japanese traditional culture and activities.  Some of the activities students are interested in include: visiting Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, walking in traditional buildings and scenery and learning to wear Japanese traditional clothing and accessories. Through my work as a teacher, I’ve realized that many international people love Japanese culture. I could understand this interest through the many questions my students asked me about Japanese culture.

As a Japanese language teacher, I decided to give my best to teach the Japanese language to international students and spread our wonderful Japanese traditional culture to the world.

Motivation

In Japan, we use a special stamp called “Hanko” instead of signing papers and documents with our handwriting. Students must make their Japanese name stamps when they come to Japan. Hanko is also called “Inkan,” and is used to sign papers to open a bank account, buy a house, rent something, or seal an important contract. It’s considered a form of ID in Japan and is an important part of Japanese society.

If you come to Japan for a long term, you’ll need one for your bank account, to rent a house, and so on. When my students had to make their Hanko, they asked me how their name is translated into Japanese Kanji or Katakana characters. Every student enjoyed it when I tell them the characters that most suit their name. I could see their eyes brighten up in joy and interest, and they always asked me to introduce the wonderful Hanko culture to the world. For this reason, I established my online Hanko shop 5 years ago, wishing to spread the joy of creating your name seal to the world. Most of my customers let me know which Kanji or Katakana characters they want me to include in their Hanko. I receive many emails filled with gratitude and kind words from customers who express their satisfaction with their unique Hanko or the happiness of their loved ones who received a name stamp as a gift.

From left on the photo of traditional Japanese clothing.

•Yukata (a light and casual Kimono)

•Samue ( loungewear, casual wear, work clothing)

•Jinbei ( loungewear/casual wear for warmer seasons)

•Hanten ( a Japanese traditional half coat )

Half a year ago, I helped the Japanese Traditional Clothing and Accessories culture survive after the Corona Pandemic economic shock by selling those items to foreign people who couldn’t come to Japan. I wish to spread Traditional Japanese items to the world, let them be more recognized abroad, and grant my customers the same joy and satisfaction in wearing traditional Japanese clothing.

I hope “Made in Japan” becomes internationally praised and valued. It would be nice if these clothing items were used outside Japan.

Furoshiki (a traditional Japanese square cloth, folded and knotted to wrap or transport items such as gifts and presents, or for usual grocery shopping)

Problem Challenge

Japanese food (Sushi, Ramen Tempura, Sukiyaki, and so on) is famous. thanks to Japanese chefs and restaurant owners who try to improve their skills and spread Japanese cuisine to the world.

However, unlike food, which people can easily and directly experience, my business is online. Those living abroad cannot see or touch the products they buy. This is one of the major problems that traditional Japanese items have to be internationally recognized.

Some time has passed since I started selling Japanese culture-related items, but people outside Japan don’t know about the basics of Japanese clothing and accessories. They do not search for them on the web. Although they see traditional Japanese clothing, they don’t know how, when, and where to wear it, and they are also worried about getting the right size.

They realize Japanese sizing might be slightly different and a Japanese XL or XXL is usually not as big as an American one. This makes them hesitant to buy.

People who know a little bit about Japanese culture acknowledge that the most typical traditional clothing is Kimono, but they might not know other details. For example, most Kimonos can’t be machine-washed at home, or that are more informal and casual clothing like Samue, Jimbei, Yukata which are usually made of cotton and can be easily washed and cared for at home.

Opportunities Available for the Business

I want to give my best to overcome challenges such as spreading Japanese traditional culture abroad. The best way to do this is to explain to interested people what those items are, how and when they are used, and which clothing is suitable for casual events or wearables. I have a blog, a YouTube channel, and other SNS where I try to explain everything. I also found word-of-mouth spreading within the Japanese language school I teach, the online reviews that my students leave, and the flyers I distributed in pubs and restaurants to be effective. Living near Kyoto city, which is appreciated and worldly recognized for its traditional culture, is a big boost for my business.

I find new interesting Japanese traditional items I would like to introduce to the world, and I always try to do it in the most affordable way possible. However, if I had a chance to meet investors interested in my project, I would open an outdoor stall in the US or Europe.

I’d love to take my Japanese wholesaler partners abroad to places where we opened a shop. I want my investors to meet personally with people from many countries so that my customers can experience the charm of Japanese traditional clothing and accessories and learn how to use them in everyday life.

I wish for Japanese culture to spread and become appreciated in the US. I can collaborate with Europe, Japanese, and Western traditional items shops to help people rediscover and enjoy the cultural roots of different places in the world and keep precious traditions alive.

Advice to  Others

You need to understand the products people outside your country might need if you want to open an online shop and sell your country’s traditional items.

Create a way to contact your customers. Find good wholesalers’ partners who can keep stocks for your online shop. Also, you may not know how your business will go from the beginning, so organizing and keeping stock might be a problem for your business.

I also suggest not asking for a discount from your wholesalers to keep your cooperation last for a long time. Teamwork is the most important factor in this business.

Keep spreading information and details about your business constantly on blogs, YouTube, or other SNS. Getting your company to be hosted in other blogs or magazines like this is also a wonderful chance to be known by a larger audience.

You can go abroad to let your customers discover, touch, try on and see your items physically. Communicating with people face to face is the most important thing, and it will give you the best satisfaction.

Don’t give up on your business, and keep doing your best to create the opportunity for your project to spread to the world!

Keep making an effort to let people know how fantastic your culture is, how amazing your items are, and their background.

Barbara is a freelance writer and a sex and relationships adviser at Dimepiece LA and Peaches and Screams. Barbara is involved in various educational initiatives aimed at making sex advice more accessible to everyone and breaking stigmas around sex across various cultural communities. In her spare time, Barbara enjoys trawling through vintage markets in Brick Lane, exploring new places, painting and reading.

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