Where do you originate from?
Hello! I'm Australian. From Melbourne, actually.
I'm the oldest of four girls. We lived in a lovely green suburb outside of Melbourne that used to be considered a bit far out of town but I'm pretty sure it isn't anymore! I'd love to say that I grew up beside the beach like most people like to think all of us Aussies do but Melbourne's famous for having weather that often decides to change its mind throughout the day.
Did you always have a love of Japan? Do you remember the moment that inspired you to move to Japan?
I kind of .. well..kind of ....fell into it all. When I started my first year of high school it was compulsory to learn a language for two years - then you could decide whether or not you would continue with it after that.
My school offered Japanese and French and, especially at that time, Japanese made a lot more sense to me as Australia had lots of trade ties with Japan. In fact, a few years later our career counselors were even hinting that even having Beginner Level Japanese on our first real resumes would make us more employable.
So ...yes... long story short... I really liked it and I had a great language teacher who said I had nice intonation for a beginner...and blah blah blah... I kind of decided that I would go with it! I did a few state language competitions through school and then I was encouraged to apply for a scholarship to live in Japan as an exchange student for one year. I was delighted and terrified when I was accepted! So off I went to Kurashiki in Okayama (properly proper Japanese countryside - I'm talking rice fields the whole lot) for a year at the age of 16!
I had a fabulous time, don't get me wrong. It was an invaluable experience. But I also think it is why I will never, ever, EVER downplay it when I meet someone in Japan who is right in the midst of culture shock. Its a really horrible feeling and makes you question a lot about yourself and just the basic, everyday things you do and the reactions you have. I'm kind of lucky that I got it all (and I feel like a smack-bang got whacked in the face kind of got it!) out of the way so early.
I revisited Kurashiki recently with my Hubby and kiddies and I actually felt really proud of myself after seeing that quaint and very traditional town. My husband was surprised too. He was like "Whoa...there really isn't ANY English here, is there!?" (So I relished in feeling like a hero for as long as I could.) I just remember one of my first nights there and my Mum called to see how I was going and it was in the middle of dinner. I said, "I'm great!" (then burst into tears), "But my dinner is a whole fish and the eye keeps looking at me…."
How did you end up back in Japan?
After that time in Kurashiki, I went back to OZ, finished high school, went to Uni - but I sort of flip-flopped around not really sure exactly what I wanted to do but Japan and Japanese was always the constant. I wanted to get back to Japan and especially as an adult this time. Home stay was sooo amazing and I really got to get my brain around real Japan but I was also fantastic to be Japanese during the day but be 100 % me once the sun went down.
So I did a working holiday in Japan and taught English to kiddies in the morning and language school at night. This was in Kobe in the Kansai area of Japan. I then got a job with an International Ballet school where I started off looking after ballet students who were training to be professionals and then quickly moved into full-time cultural & language support for the teachers - who were all from English speaking countries. I then moved onto working for the Japanese hotel chain Okura.
I met my husband in Kobe and although we moved around and have done some other overseas expat roles together I've always worked in a Japanese speaking environment so I was naturally thrilled when we found out he had been offered a role in Tokyo when I was pregnant with my second child.
What inspired you to start blogging?
Because, even though I've gone back and forth, I've been in Japan such a long time (over 11 years now) I was the person a lot of friends would ask for tips and tricks before they were coming to visit. I was almost always writing the same things out again and again and the level of detail varied depending on how busy I was that particular day.
I'm just so madly in love with Japan that I was sad when I heard that people had the money or wanted to really get into 'the thick of it' but just didn't know where to go. And then... I had my own personal instagram account where I started showing people the places that were particularly good for taking kids and talked about my frustrations when I came to adjusting to a new way of getting around with children (my youngest was just 4 months when we arrived in Tokyo.)
There are lots of Mums, like me, who want to do fun things for kids but ALSO want to mix it up with cool things for them too - that's how I pretty much always plan out our adventures. Kiddie stuff, kiddie stuff, Me stuff, Me stuff, Kiddie stuff.
I was doing all of this research in English and Japanese to plan out my own days and I thought it might help others. And I got a really big response. A big response from young women without any children who wanted to know where I'd taken that cool shot or eaten that meal ...and then also from Mums who were just like me, who didn't want to just stick to the easy completely English-friendly spots - they wanted to get out there, see cool things and have proper, exciting adventures as a family. I liked the idea of not just saying, 'Here is this cool park', but going to the next step and saying, 'And then after the park , go around the corner and there is this cool shop to get this funky coffee ... and if the kids get bored on the way home? Stop off here, here and here!' I've had such an amazing response and I've met some truly spectacular people . It's been such a pleasure.
Your blog and social media channels very much feature you and your family. How do you find the confidence to get up close and personal with your audience?
Do I seem confident? Well that's a bonus. I think the brilliant response I have had has made me want to keep posting and making quality, detailed content. My readers aren't silly. They know how to get themselves and their family from A to B once they are aware of what's out there, so I didn't feel the need to walk them through the towns but just give as many interesting options as I could.
I think I'm confident with what I'm sharing because it's real. It's my real life right now. My kids won't be this little forever but this is me ACTUALLY looking for a cool place to have lunch after the park. I'm also fine to post a picture or video of my kids having a meltdown. That's also real life (ha ha). I remember last year I took a video of my kids when we were on a Ferris wheel right next to Mt. Fuji. The view was STUNNING! BREATHTAKING! I turned the camera to the kidlets “Check that out, guys!", I said. And my youngest said, “Let’s go back to the car!!!!!!”
I was a bit cocky when we moved to Tokyo with kids at the start. I was like, "This is going to be sooo easy for me. I speak Japanese and I know the whole 'Japan drill'". But ... no I got a shock! Not because it's difficult to live here with kids (in fact the opposite) but there are different types of obstacles compared to other international cities.
So what's next for The Tokyo Chapter?
Ooohhhh .... well the most immediate plans are to write a lot more things that are geared towards people without kids (does that sound like the best excuse to go on more date nights that you've ever heard?) while keeping up my Tokyo with Kids content.
Of course, I'd love to work more with Japanese event planners and eateries to let them know that they are missing a big space in the market by not making all of their restaurants more accessible for young families. And also just letting people know that there are international people here who are adventurous and are foodies and are loving Japan and are wanting to delve deeper into the real Japan. I'm also hoping to start up a blog, or at least an Instagram, in Japanese with the same themes and vibe that I have going right now. Further down the track I'd love to have some Tokyo Chapter events but that's all just little dreams on a Pinterest board for now.
Your branding is on-point. Before we finish, can you give us three quick tips to creating a cohesive brand?
Oh thank you. I'm still learning as I go.
1 I think what has worked for me so far is REALLY KNOWING MY AUDIENCE. I'm lucky because it's quite easy for me as it's basically just... me! Well, me if I hadn't been here before and didn't speak the language.
My reader is outgoing and adventurous and wants to see all of the cool stuff and make spectacular memories. If she's a Mum? Well, she would walk on fire for her babies so wants them safe and smiling. She wants to see them really experience this country - wholeheartedly. I have lots of women responding to my posts who are writing to me and telling me what they wish they could do or sharing with me something cool they have found. They are also happy to share what didn't work for them and my mind is opened up again. I actually have 3-4 of my friends who read and follow my content who I have in mind when I'm posting on Instagram or writing an article and I think, 'Is this how I would tell them the details in real life?' and then I try to stick with my most natural ‘voice’.
2. CONSISTENT FLOW & DESIGN
If you've looked at my blog or Instagram you'll see right away that I'm a visual person. I like to make sure my photograph colours are bright and my fonts and messages are quite girlie (I've always been a really girlie girl) So my theming is broad but I'd like to think that people could see one of my posts and have a good stab in the dark guess that it was from me.
3. My final of the three (I'm not even sure if this is usually included as a part of branding but it's something that has surprised me in how effective it has been) is ... CONSISTENCY And, this time, I don't mean from a design perspective. I mean that it's about showing up and showing people that you're serious and committed to truly detailed posts with the reader in mind. People start Instagram accounts and blogs everyday but not many people have the stamina to keep it up. I found that people were so much more comfortable with really looking at what I was doing when they realized that I was serious about it and I'd be following up with something more tomorrow.
How can we find out more about you and follow your updates?
I use stories to show our adventures and share/ ask for opinions on a daily basis.
Each month of 2018 I'll be interviewing Japan-based business women who are carving out their own unique niche.
This month, interiors curator Alex talks about life before setting up her business and the inspiration behind her idea.
Where do you originate from?
I grew up in a veeeeery small village in Thuringia, eastern Germany with a population of around 350 people. Very rural area, not too much going on. I had just turned 15 when the Iron Curtain fell.
Wow! How did life change after that happened?
Not too much changed immediately, but it opened a lot of doors a few years later. I would never be where I am now as we did have rather heavy travel restrictions imposed on us.
When did you last live for a period of time in Germany?
I moved to Ireland in early 1998 and never returned to live in Germany again. I learned English in Dublin and worked as an Au Pair. Onto London after that. I gave myself two months to find a job and ended up staying for 10 years interrupted by one year of traveling the world. Getting a job in London was pretty easy back then. My background is banking/finance and there was quite a bit of demand for people like me. My first job in was with an American stockbroking company, followed by working for one of the largest hedge fund companies in Europe and a start-up Merchant Bank. Exciting times!
I met my husband in London, he’s from New Zealand. After we got married we decided to move to Auckland. That was back in 2009. When we first arrived on the shores of NZ I worked as a translator at NZ Rail and also had a job at the University of Auckland before re-joining the financial world, working in the Wealth Management Department at HSBC NZ.
We had just purchased our dream house when my husband was asked to move to Bangkok for his job. I was sooo excited! I always loved Bangkok and had spent quite a bit of time there during my travels. That was in 2013. I ended up running the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok. Never thought I'd do anything like that in my life!
On to Kuala Lumpur in 2015, again with my husband’s job. I changed direction again and wrote for a magazine as well as being in the editorial team. Another move came in January 2017. Tokyo!
Do you think living in so many different countries has shaped your thinking/ outlook?
Definitely! I am a lot more patient than I used to be, more open-minded and possibly more tolerant.
Being exposed to so many different cultures and countries was the best thing that ever happened to me. And not just that: moving around quite frequently requires to keep an open mind about career choices. I became a lot more flexible and daring.
So, here you are in Tokyo...3 things you love about living here. 3 things you can really live without.
Love: The food!! The safety! And it is sooo clean!
I can live without: Winter! I am really suffering after 4 years in the tropics. Also: Language barriers and earthquakes.
I felt that injecting some colour into people’s lives is a very positive thing to do. The response from Tokyo’s foreign community was fabulous from the onset. That group of people is my main focus group for the time being. My customers like the colours as well as the uniqueness of most of my products.
I did quite a bit of research before I started, went to many shops and department stores and realised that nobody had the type of collection that I had in mind.
What are your plans for the future of Turquoise Port? Any special projects you can tell us about?
I didn't want to have an online shop initially as I like the direct contact with the customer. My products all have a story which might be the people that make the product, the history of an item or the material the product was made with. And I love telling the stories. However I get asked quite frequently about the possibility of online shopping so that is one of the projects I will be working on.
I also hope to do more collaborations with like-minded people in the entrepreneur space. Those may be joint projects, pop-up events etc.
How can we find out more about you and follow your updates?
I do have a website, but I mostly use Instagram and Facebook for updates. Or you can come to my showroom in Higashigotanda, (by appointment)!
Created for a Sony Pictures event for Angry Birds
I sharpened up my skills and began making cakes for my family and friends' celebrations. I realized that it was really a passion for me and I am still so excited every time when I get to make someone else happy with my cakes. It's such a privilege to share people's special occasions. I like to see how kids change in their cake requests from year to year, and I love hearing the stories of people's lives. Husbands who surprise their wives with thoughtful cakes, parents who book their child's first birthday cakes months ahead because they are so excited!
Cake decorating is very labor intensive so I find it hard to get long periods of uninterrupted time to create. I am thankful that my family and friends have been so supportive of me and I am lucky to be able to balance orders around the other responsibilities in my life in an attempt to get some balance. That being said, I often feel like I am sliding through on the skin of my teeth every day.
I try to push the limits with my cakes where I can. I love the challenge of interesting and unusual requests. I hope to make people say "Wow!", and the best comment, "I can't believe it's a cake!" Sometimes gravity is an annoying obstacle however!
Contact me at:
I'm originally from Hiroshima and now live in Shimokitazawa. I'm married with one child.
I run a small restaurant/ cafe called Kamay Kitchen which serves Teishoku (set menu meals), cakes, drinks, etc. We cook a fusion of Japanese and Philippine home-cooked recipes and try to use organic rice and vegetables as much as possible. We don’t use any MSG and try very hard to avoid GMO foods.
I sometimes do bento (Japanese lunch box) catering as well as outside catering for camping events and festivals.
Our place is super kid and baby-friendly. There is a tatami area with toys, a diaper changing table, and kids' chairs. We do two kinds of sets for babies and children. Of course, the place is no smoking.
From time-to-time we hold some workshops and events in Kamay Kitchen such as Ukulele classes, cooking workshops and live music and movie events.
I'm inspired by good food, vegetables, nice music, kimono, family and friends. I spend my free time going to live concerts, dancing with a beer in my hand! I also sing and play ukulele at live events. I organise events such YANAKAMA STREET MARKET and OHIRU NO KAORI.
I grew up in New Jersey, outside of NYC, and ventured west to California to study Anthropology in college. I was lucky to travel when I was young and eventually found myself in Asia. For the past 15 years I have been living in northern Japan with my husband and our 4 children.
Raising children in a different culture has been both challenging and illuminating. I particularly appreciate the food culture of Japan and the attitude towards providing healthy food for children, both at home and in the schools. I am always amazed at the colorful and well balanced bentos (packed lunches) that people make and slowly learned how to pack them myself. I wanted to share this part of the Japanese culture that has had such a positive influence in my life. I also love to sew which is why I created my company SORAbento.
SORAbento offers handmade bento bags, insulated lunch totes and other eco-friendly bags that are based on traditional Japanese designs. These styles cover a variety of shapes and sizes so you can carry a small packed lunch, a larger picnic spread or your latest haul form the farmer`s market. Quite frankly they are suitable for a multitude of uses and you can carry anything you like!
I feel like I offer something unique in the sense that I live in Japan and have infused the style of my bags with a subtle Japanese aesthetic. Wabi-sabi is a word that describes a transient and simple beauty found in nature and its organic imperfections. I strive to create a balance between utility and beauty and hope that the customers find the bags useful in daily life as well as a tiny bit inspiring!
The amount of energy in the current `makers movement` is really encouraging to me. Jess Brown`s rag dolls have been a constant source of inspiration for me. With their unique heirloom look they have a special handmade quality that appeals to me. Another favorite is Sara at Shisodelicious on Instagram. She shares her beautiful bentos that integrate whole foods from Japanese and Western cuisines in a truly enlightened way! I am grateful that there is a sustained interest in buying handmade items and healthy, locally produced food, which lies at the heart of SORAbento.
Despite all of this talk about healthy eating I must admit that I have a huge sweet tooth. I love to bake sweets and share them with friends over a cup of coffee and a good chat!
Connect with SORABento
You can learn more about SORAbento, life in rural Japan or tips on preparing bentos at my website www.sorabento.com
You can check out all the bags available for sale at www.etsy.com/shop/SORAbento
Facebook at www.facebook.com/SoraJapan4
It feels to me that this is the year of women. I'm dumbfounded by the fact that women are still having to take to the streets to protest unequal pay, angry about workplace disadvantage after childbirth and the generally sexist treatment and rhetoric being used in recent months. I think women have just had enough.
Why do we still feel bullied in the workplace (often from other women), feel like we are giving up a career when we have children, feel judged for our parenting decisions (to work/ to stay at home) feel guilt about working, feel guilt for parenting when we feel we should be working? No man is judged for their work-life decisions. It's a given that they will continue on the path they set out on. Or change it...whatever. We often have to take a diversion when we decide to become a mother. For some it's a career break, some a career diversion and for others a complete career change. I feel like we have been on a treadmill for the past 100 years. Emmeline Pankhurst must be doing flik-flaks in her grave. Or else, weeping.
This year we choose love. For me this means supporting inspirational women I've connected with over the years both in person and through social media. In this blog series they share insights into their lives as they juggle parenting and running a business that they find meaningful. Not only do these women work in creative fields, they creatively construct a job to fit around their families. They are surrounded by friends and family who are supportive of their work, which allows them to make a positive contribution (both financially and emotionally). Yes, our lives are pretty hectic at times, but we carry on because we are passionate about what we do. In the words of an upcoming poster on this feature, "I think I skid through on the seat of my pants, balancing plates in my head most days!!"
I hope you can stop by at the end of each month to read about their fascinating lives.
PS Please share the posts where you can and visit their social media accounts and business pages to show your support.