Bespoke Order Pricing
I'm three years in to my business relaunch and things are getting bigger and growing fast. I now have to make sure that I am covering all my costs as well as being paid for my time.
Buying a piece of my jewellery isn't just the raw materials and the time it takes me to make it. The hours of design, discarded prototypes, sourcing fabrics, travel expenses, IT equipment, packaging supplies, website hosting, accountancy fees, utilities, studio rental not to mention the hours of training I have undergone (and the money I've invested) to develop the skills to make the finished item.
I have known for some time that my business model didn't make very much sense. Why was I selling a bespoke piece (designed with the customer, emails going backwards and forwards, pulling out kimono silks and making a single piece at a time) for the same price as one I made in a batch of 10 (which is a far more ergonomic production model)?
In the next few weeks I'll be rolling out online bespoke packages (the elite line of Bikudesigns) for you to order directly. I'm trying hard to streamline the process, and I realise that the new pricing structure may be too expensive for some. But I believe I am now charging the correct price for my exclusive work.
You can still buy off the rack for cheaper than the bespoke line, and cheaper still in the VIP Club. But if you are in the market for something exclusive, designed with you, FOR you, then the bespoke package is for you. And if it's not for you then, I hope you find something you love somewhere else (hopefully in my VIP Club).
Jayne Nakata joined me on Messenger this month to talk about her unique approach to coaching. She believes that putting your oxygen mask on first is essential to living your best life. Read on to find out how visualisation can get you to places you dream of going and the importance of letting go of perfection.
Where do you come from?
I'm from New Zealand and I've lived all over the place. Mostly in extremely beautiful places such as Wanaka, Mt Ruapehu and Te Anau. All breath taking, beautiful natural places. My parents worked in the hotels at these places so I grew up in the hospitality industry, going to work in the hotel on weekends to help my Dad if it was busy and they were short staffed. I got my first job at the age of 10, making toast and coffee in the kitchen for the waitresses so they could clear more tables! I left New Zealand 16 years ago and moved to Iwaki City, Fukushima.
What brought you to Japan?
I started studying Japanese when I was 13 at high school. I studied for 6 years, failing my 3rd year at University in Japanese. I decided that I would finally go to Japan for the first time ever and learn to speak Japanese properly. I'd never heard of the JET programme, so I managed to get a job working in Eikaiwa (English language school) and was hired from NZ. I arrived in 2002, in Iwaki and I still live there 16 years later!
Did you always have an interest in Japan or did you just want to travel in general?
I came to be very interested in Japan through my study of Japanese language at high school. But given that it was the early 90s and the internet didn't exist, I really didn't know much about Japan when I arrived! I have to credit my first Japanese teacher for his kindness and patience which made the Japanese language part of my life, I cannot imagine what it would be like to not be "learning Japanese" 25 years on I'm still learning. After arriving in Japan I realised there was a whole culture and country that I didn't know about as I'd been so focused on the "language" so much. That was definitely one of the benefits of actually going to Japan and not just trying to learn from a text book.
And the story of your first Japanese teacher was just covered in a TV show in Japan right?
Yes, if readers would like to view the show, it's here with English subtitles: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PdS6Pp1ZTbmd2hra2
I'd always wondered what had happened to him after he left our school 20+ years ago. I'd tried to find him on google and what not but hadn't had any luck. When the TV show picked up our request to find him, I was so excited as he is was a lovely person and a great teacher. It was very surreal to meet him as an adult and hear about his experience first hand.
If you could go back in time ...what would you like to tell (or warn) your 20 year old self about (for times ahead). (From Johanna MacGregor The Tokyo Chapter)
I'd warn her about not following her own dreams/passions. For me, teaching English was not my dream job. It was the means to get me to Japan and it worked. I am what I would say a 'good' or 'popular' teacher. But it's not my passion and I know I spent too many years doing that because it was easy. I'd say to my 20 year old self to go for the job that you are "not completely qualified for". Playing super safe when you are 20 really is a waste of time as there are soo many chances for iteration for trying other things.
Was there a moment in your life that changed how you live today?
Hmm. I guess it was about 3 years ago when I was desperate to leave Japan. I had a 1 year old, a 4 year old, a great house, a husband with a good job... but I lived in semi-rural Japan and was feeling unfulfilled and lonely. I felt certain that leaving Japan would be The Answer! Surely it was living in Japan that was making me unhappy.
I was trying to convince my husband to quit his job, we'd sell our house and all our stuff and move to New Zealand where surely life would be perfect and I'd finally be able to get a job that would fulfill me. Luckily for me my husband flat out refused. He wasn't ready to toss in his job and try to make a new life for himself in a new country. So that left me with the problem of trying to change my life, even though I couldn't change my circumstances.
I'd been following Natalie Sisson, The Suitcase Entrepreneur for a while (fellow NZer) and I'd joined some online groups on Facebook to try and grow my network. I met Helen Iwata who invited me to join a blog challenge Natalie was running. We set up a small accountability group and the first exercise was to write out our 'Perfect Day'. From doing that exercise, I realised what it was I really wanted. I wanted time in NZ, I didn't really need to LIVE in NZ. I wanted more time in nature. All the things that I'm doing today came out of that exercise. It still blows me away how that one 30 minute journaling session changed the tragectory of my life and I'm slowly ticking off the things that were on there!
Tell us what makes your coaching style unique compared to other coaches out there? What’s your special angle?
I work specifically with Japanese women. I realised that as I was going through my own transformation, I was getting so many questions from the women in my immediate vicinity about how I was doing these wild things! They wanted to know how I could go away for a weekend, travel to NZ twice a year, go out for a run. So I decided that instead of looking out into the internet for potential clients I would serve the women who were right in front of me who needed my help.
The main premise of my coaching is that I lead by example. I want to show the women in my community what is possible even if you life in rural Japan. Even if you have kids. Even if your husband is Japanese. You can live your best life in your own way even though you are Japanese. Of course I coach in Japanese which is very tricky but it means that I can reach anyone in my community regardless of English level and it shows I'm committed to 'imperfect action'.
I started out planning and presenting retreats about 2 years ago. I found that women in Japan really wanted a fun way to spend that 'me time' that wasn't being completely alone either. As I've gotten busier with this, I've decided to focus on helping entrepreneurs to put on their own retreats here in Japan, specifically in Iwaki City, Fukushima. There is a big barrier for people who want to do this, but don't have the language skills or the connections to do it themselves. I love meeting entrepreneurs from different markets and countries and showing them how great my part of Japan is (that hospitality blood runs strong in me that's for sure!).
Shall we talk a little bit about visualisation? I was so amazed at the story from your podcast about one of your idols. Can you tell us what happened?
Ah yes, that was a huge coup for me to prove to myself that actually, anything IS possible. I'd been a fan of James Wedmore and his podcast called "Mind your Business". Last January I was out walking and listening to his podcast and the idea popped into my head that one day "I" would be on this podcast. At the time it seemed so far fetched and bizarre I didn't give it too much thought! I didn't even have my own podcast at that point. Over the last 6 months, I'd thought about how one day I would be speaking on that podcast. I didn't get caught up on the HOW, that was just beyond fathoming how it could possibly come to fruition. But in the mean time I would amuse myself with visualising what my conversation with James would be like when I did go on his podcast.
A few months ago I decided to make the leap and take James' online course called Business By Design. I also decided to jump right in with his Next Level coaching program. It was a big investment for me but it felt like just what I needed at that moment. As part of joining the programme, I actually got a chance to talk one-to-one with James himself. That was mind blowing for me as I'd gone from not being on his radar to being a student and being able to talk to him. At the end of our call, he asked me if I had anything else I'd like to ask or say. So I said to him: "James, I just have to tell you this and if I don't I'll kick myself forever. Yesterday when I got into the car, your podcast started playing on the car stereo. My daughter said to me "Mummy, are you going to talk on this podcast?" and I replied "Well, Yes I am!!"..... James laughed and said "That's awesome! What should we talk about?" Soon I had an email from his assistant booking me for an interview! So I'm grateful for the universe for giving me that tap on the shoulder to speak up and tell him that I was going to be on his show!
So visualisation for me a powerful technique! I'm currently visualising some other things, you might see them come to fruition soon! I'll let you know when they do!
If a woman walked up to you asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?
I'd say to them to make time to put themselves first. Practice the art of putting on their own oxygen mask first. I think it's a muscle you can build and the more you do it the easier it gets, the more natural it feels, the more everyone else around you gets used to it too and it all just becomes the norm! When you are taking care of yourself first, your whole life becomes easier because you now actually have more to give the others in your life who need you.
How did you get to be so awesome? (from Lindsay Sawada from Setagaya Yoga Studio)
Ha ha!!Thanks Lindsay! Gee that's really lovely to hear! Um....
Let's say, I'm a work in progress and that's OK. I always look back and see who I used to be and how much negativity I used to carry around with me. I guess it's the one thing I can always lean on to help me be more "awesome" is to be positive. Even if I'm actually having a crap day, I can usually turn it around just by finding that teeny tiny piece of positivity in something.
I don't expect perfection from myself either, far from it. I'm kind of a 80% is good enough gal and I think that helps too. But the one rule I have that I try to stick to 100% of the time is to only put out positivity into the internet. I think that it's so important that people can come to my part of the internet and know that it's safe there and it's going to be a pleasant experience.
Want to find out more and connect with Jayne?
Website and newsletter sign-up: https://www.jaynenakata.com/
If I could have a little chat with my former business self, I would give the old me a bit of tough love. You see, when I first started out with Bikudesigns I was a terrible perfectionist. A perfectionist to the limits of procrastination. And I played small. Little old me?
Imposter syndrome, not knowing my worth, comparison struggles, overwhelm, passive marketing, I was the mistress of the lot.
There. I said it. And now, here's the story of how it happened...
Picture the scene:
It's 2008 and I'm working in an international school in Tokyo. Already 10 years in Japan, newly married and desperate to have babies and change my life. Even though I found teaching extremely rewarding, there were parts of the job I found excruciating. And none of those parts involved the kids. Drowning in paper work, justifying everything on paper, recording every move that the children made yada yada yada. Ad infinitum.
So it was then that I knew things had to change. I'd already been using my HUGE teacher summer holidays to develop jewellery production techniques. I'd trained in Tokyo and New York in classical techniques, diamond setting, casting, fabrication and was even an Artist in Residence at a jewellery studio in Sydney. I knew what I wanted to do but I was stuck in a rut.
While I was teaching I started to study ikebana with a passion and worked on building my jewellery (Brit sp.) skills by setting up a 'little side-business'. In my head (and even out loud), I called it 'little' and so, unsurprisingly, it lived up to its name. I believed that, "If I make it, they will come." And they did, Occasionally.
In 2010 and then 2012 came the babies and I was really busy being a mum for several years, but still toying with the idea of being an entrepreneur and making jewellery for a living. And while the littlest was a baby and the biggest started school, I wrote a parenting book, which to this day is still sitting unpublished in my studio. I'm not sure it will ever be in print or in digital format for that matter. I see it as my sanity project, my transition from professional life, to motherhood, showing up everyday to a project that I cared about rather than a mill stone. It was my bridge to working for myself.
In 2015 I could visualise a time that I would have several hours a day to work when my youngest would be in school everyday. I gave myself 18 months to create a viable business that I loved, all created straight from the heart. The old Biku 'little side-business' was gone, and I launched full-throttle into the new incarnation you see today. Well, not quite what you see today, I have grown a lot in the past almost three years and I'm still learning.
10 Steps to working for YOU: The G.Y.O.B. (Get Off Your Bum) Business Model
1. Start from the heart. Find your thing and really, REALLY dig deep as to WHY you want to do it. Be brutally honest with yourself. Can you imagine doing this full-time? Do you have the necessary skills? Are you TRULY committed? Can you talk about it with a passion that is inspiring to others? Do you grin from ear-to-ear when you tell others about what you are planning to do? If you find yourself saying, "I've got a great idea for a business..." run in the opposite direction, as fast as you can!
Don't compare yourself with other people in your chosen industry or copy what they are doing, find yourself and be that.
I can't stress it enough. Putting in the work at this point is the most important part of your new business and it will save, time, energy, money and probably tears in the future...as long as you are truly honest with yourself.
2. Just get on with it. Procrastination is a creativity and motivation killer. Second-guessing is not allowed...go with your gut. And if you were truthful with yourself at the start, this should be instinctual (see point 1) and easier than you think.
3. Launch before you're ready because it (and you) will NEVER be completely ready. In fact, you may start to talk yourself out of launching because something doesn't meet your original vision. Or "It's not as good as her business"... or "Am I good enough?" ... or "This is a bad idea."....etc. etc. Don't give your brain the space to seek perfectionism. Good enough is good enough.
4. Be proud to call yourself what you are and say it loud. Repeat after me, "I am a (insert cool business title)." Make friends within your industry, with your customers and with other entrepreneurs. These guys will be your constant cheerleaders and a great source of help and support. They will help you with your direction and to keep moving forward if they share your passion (that pesky point 1 again?!)
5. Don't worry about what people think about you. If it's right, you'll know. And never forget, your family and friends are not necessarily your customers/ clients. In this instance it really is OK to ignore their opinions. They are just worried for you.
If you are true to your passion and values, your people will find you. Cheer at every 'unfollow' and 'unsubscribe' because that means you are getting closer to your true tribe. Why preach to the unconverted if they are not interested in what you believe?
6. Show up. Do your thing every day without fail (and again with the point 1?) to keep that flow going.
There will be days when you accomplish nothing or make mistakes, these days are more important for your business than 'successful' days. They will help you to grow, show you where you need to put in the work or help you see the direction you need to go in.
7. Play the social media game in a way that you love, doesn't feel burdensome and transmits your brand values. Social media in one form or another seems to be here to stay and is a fab way to grow your core audience. Jump on that train!
8. Learn how to brand from the heart. Not just a logo, or brand colours, your core values and ethos are what should drive your business, and this truth will keep you motivated and on track (back to point 1).
9. When you make your first bit of money, show your biz some love and pay other people just like you to help. Think about your own skills and the time available, then outsource to your heart's content. Logo design (mine is by veraverita.com), website creation, content creation, accountant, social media help, branding, take training courses, find a coach. These can all be deducted for tax right?
10. Enjoy the journey. You will change, you will become empowered. People will be pleased for you, and excited but also envious that you are living your best life. Get ready for the roller-coaster. It's a great ride!
In summary, see Point 1.
Soooooo a few things have changed over at Instamingle for the new season kick-off. The first bit of news is that Edwina has decided to step down from her admin role due to work and family commitments. She assures us that she’ll still pop into the mingles when she can. Thanks Edwina for co-hosting the last 5 Instamingles with me. It was such great fun!
So who is stepping up to the Instamingle plate? You may have heard me talk about one of my business besties Alex Morrow from Turquoise Port who was featured on this blog earlier in the year (read all about Alex here). She is already an avid Instamingler so is keen to work with me to take the meet-ups to the next level. Yay!
I’m beyond excited to work on yet another project with Alex (my work is stocked in her beautiful showroom and we launched The Collective Market in Spring with Gizem from Foodie Tours Japan).
Annnnnd a final piece of news is that Tokyo Instamingle now has a Facebook home. This is a closed group for Japan Instagrammers (or soon-to-be Instagrammers) who are entrepreneurs, bloggers, creatives and anyone who has an interest in IG.
Join the group here for Instamingle events, occasional tips and tricks, Instagram news and updates about brand new Instagram features.
See you over on Facebook Minglers!
Water-loving Kelly Wetherille left Minneapolis in 1997 and has moved around the globe ever since. She has been in Tokyo for the past 16 years and has steadily added a sheaf of skills to her portfolio. Unlike most people, Kelly has found a way to use all of her skills at once to create a multi-hyphen career.
Where do you come from?
I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, MN. For those unfamiliar with the region, the state is nicknamed "Land of 10,000 Lakes," which is actually something of an understatement, but it's a nice, round number that sounds good. So needless to say, I was surrounded by water. Summers were spent boating, swimming, water-skiing and tubing on the lakes, and during the winters I did a lot of cross-country skiing, since the area gets a lot of snow but is also relatively flat.
Minneapolis is a great arts city, second in the U.S. only to New York in terms of theater seats, and with some of the best museums and galleries in the world. It was a great place to grow up, but I think I've come to appreciate it even more since I moved away.
Tell us a bit about what brought you to Japan?
I got the travel bug at a very young age, and as soon as I was old enough to leave the U.S. on my own, I did.
I lived in South Africa as a Rotary International exchange student, and then I enrolled in university in western Massachusetts (at the time, I wanted to get as far away from Minnesota as I could).
During college I lived and studied abroad in London and Quito, Ecuador, and I spent a summer backpacking solo across Europe. But for some reason Asia just never really called to me. Then my boyfriend at the time (who is now my husband) asked if I would ever consider going to Japan to teach English for a year or two after university. He had lived here as a child when his father was a diplomat at the Ecuadorian embassy, and he loved Japan and had always wanted to come back as an adult. I didn't really have any better ideas of what to do with my life at the time, so I said, "why not?" Somehow our one to two years has now morphed into 16 years!
So you didn't really have an interest in Japan before you came here?
Nope! I literally had no interest in Japan or even Asia in general. I don't know why - probably I just didn't know enough about the region, but I definitely never saw myself living here long-term. I had put so much time and energy into learning Spanish that I always thought I would be in a Latin American country, but now Japan has stolen my heart and I've realized what a difficult place it is to leave!
How do you think your early life influenced how you are and what you do today?
In so many ways. My mom says that my love for the water started in a water babies class that she took me to when I was just a few months old, and ever since then I have never felt as at home as I do when I'm in, on or near the water. Maybe that's why I love living in this particular island nation so much.
Also, my parents have always been very supportive of me. Growing up, they always told me I could be or do anything I wanted to, and even though my life has always followed unconventional paths, I have always had their support, which means so much to me.
Your multi-hyphen career really reflects this ethos. Describe your work and tell us about your unique angle?
The last time I worked a typical full-time desk job was seven years ago, but even then I was freelancing on the side. I have always loved having variety in my life--it's what stimulates the mind and keeps things interesting--and growing up, I always pictured myself doing some kind of active job rather than a desk job.
For a long time I wanted to be a nature guide or national park ranger, and I still think this would be a really cool thing to do. But for now I work mainly as a writer, editor, content creator, media consultant, website developer (Kelly was the designer behind The Tokyo Chapter blog) and sometimes translator, as well as teaching classes in SUP (stand up paddleboarding), yoga, and SUP yoga (yep, that's right, yoga on top of a SUP board)
Images copyrighted to Quincy Alivioo
WOW! That's a lot of balls to keep in the air! How do you balance everything and make sure you get everything done?
This is something I am still working on, but I have found that one of the hardest things as a freelancer is learning when and how to say no. It's true what they say about when it rains it pours, and so during those busy periods it's hard to turn down work because you never know when a dry spell might hit. But the older I get the more I learn that keeping my sanity is just as important as keeping myself afloat financially, so I have slowly started getting better about turning down a project or job every now and then.
I would love to be able to increase the number of classes I offer each week and to slowly reduce the amount of desk work I do, but at the moment this isn't possible since SUP and SUP yoga are still quite new to Japan and not very well known here. Getting a constant stream of students can be a bit of a challenge, plus you're always at the mercy of the weather (every year I have to cancel classes because of typhoons), so I need to have some kind of backup for times when it's just not possible to do many classes.
Can you share an epiphany you’ve had in the past that changed the way you live today?
I remember coming to a realization as a high school student that I regretted the things I didn't do much more than the things I did do. So from that point forward whenever I am unsure of something or going back and forth on it, I just try it and see how it goes. Whatever it is, if it doesn't work out or if I decide it's not for me I can always stop, but at least I know and no longer have to wonder about what could have been.
How do you feel about Japan?
I love Japan. I am one of those annoying people who is always telling friends back home about what an amazing place it is. Of course that doesn't mean that it is without its problems, but for me the good far outweighs the bad.
I will say that I think I have gotten more patient with the frustrating things about living in Japan (for example, dealing with banks and other institutions where bureaucracy and red tape rule), but I still definitely have my moments of frustration, just like anyone else. But I love the people, I have amazing friends--both Japanese and international--and I love how safe and convenient Japan is.
Tokyo truly is an incredibly easy city to live in but I also love traveling Japan. Even after having visited dozens of countries around the world, still some of the most breathtaking scenery I've seen has been in Japan, and I find that in the really rural places people are even more open, lovely and willing to help than they are in Tokyo. One thing that surprised me when I first came to Tokyo and that still impresses me to this day is just how easy it is to get to some really stunning, rural places from Tokyo. Even just an hour or two on the train can get you to some amazing spots, and I think we are truly fortunate to live in a place like that where we have the best of both worlds.
In search of peace and tranquility in the city. Where do you recommend?
Ha ha, I'm hesitant to give away my secrets! But one of my favorite places to go when I need some quiet time to think or just be alone with nature is the Institute for Nature Study in Shirokanedai. It's not a park in the sense that you're not allowed to play with balls or anything like that, and it isn't manicured at all - it truly is a natural oasis right in the middle of the city. It's also not very well known, so every time I go it is usually very quiet, with just a few families on walks and some amateur photographers or painters working on their craft. I also absolutely adore the garden at the Nezu Museum. It has such as peacefulness to it that it's hard to believe it's right in the middle of Omotesando!
My favourite season in Japan is….
As much as I love summer (yes, even Japanese summers--I'm a weirdo like that) I think I would have to go with autumn because there are just so many things to love about it. The brilliantly colored leaves are just the start. It's still warm enough that I usually don't start wearing a jacket until November or so, and the air gets fresh and crisp. It's a great time to travel to areas outside of Tokyo.
Also, the beaches empty out (only July and August are considered "in season" for the beaches near Tokyo) but the water stays warm, so it's the perfect time of year for SUP and other water sports. In fact, the sea around Japan stays warm for much longer than it does in places like California, thanks to warm currents that come up from the Philippines. My SUP yoga season goes from April through the end of November, which is very long and unheard of in many other places!
Connect with Kelly
Kelly is currently creating a sparkling new website for her media company. Follow along on her social media channels for an announcement.
Although I am thoroughly loving running my fantastic vintage kimono jewellery business, there are times when I yearn to try something a little different.
My past jewellery life was all about precious metals, stone-setting, soldering, stamping, texturing, chain-making, granulation...you name it, I was probably doing it at some stage. And when my kids were babies, it seemed so impossible to do. So messy, so dusty, so noxious, that I put it all on hold.
The tools are still organised and the materials are waiting. My jeweller's bench is set up and ready for action...I just need to tip my hands the wink and we'll be off.
Back in 2009, just before Miss 8 was born, this is what I was up to in the studio. Painstakingly cutting and soldering pieces of silver tube for my 'Bamboo' collection. This was all based very loosely on a photo I had taken in the late '90s of a stacked pile of bamboo (yes, I'm really THAT old!). The perfect circles in varying sizes fascinated me back then and a whole collection emerged from that one photo.
I work in a completely different way these days, preferring to focus on the materials I'm using and what they can do. Experimenting and setting aside, thinking and planning. But I'm definitely the same maker, My pieces back then (and now) certainly evoke 'Japan', but these days in a different and perhaps more obvious way. Yet the sensibility of design, the clean lines, the lack of fuss, the simplicity and detail continues on.
So the gauntlet is cast and I accept the challenge ahead. A new line of precious metal contemporary jewellery will be launched in the Winter (hopefully in time for Christmas).
I'm not going to rush, I'm going to take my time and see where the materials lead me. This time I have no big ideas or grand plans. How exciting is that?
This month Catherine O'Connell, inspirational lawyer and Japanophile talks about her amazing journey from the corporate world to becoming her own boss.
Where do you originate from?
I was born in Christchurch New Zealand in February - that's summer time. So since coming to Japan all my birthdays have been winter. Christchurch is a small city of 450k. My dad was a drafting engineer and my mum called herself a homemaker on the 5-year census form. I had three brothers and was the only girl. I think this was formative for me in my growing up because I still like being around and working with males and can do a lot of boy stuff like change car tyres.
When did you last live in NZ?
I last lived there in 2002 up to November when I came to Japan on November 11 that year.
Tell us a bit about what brought you to Japan?
When I was 16 I was in my last year of school and didn't really feel like I wanted to go to university and had a feeling about the tourism industry but had no idea how to get into it.
I went off to the Christchurch Polytechnic and long story short I took a year doing part time Japanese while studying a travel diploma (IATA) to become a travel agent. I loved the Japanese and applied for the full time course and got in. I started with basically "this is a dog" kind of Japanese and ended up coming first in Japanese class both years. During the second year of that course I came to Japan to Kurumayama Kogen in Nagano Prefecture to participate in a "New Zealand Fair" with my classmates. That sealed the deal for me about my love for Japan.
After that I won a NZ-wide Speak Japanese competition and first prize was a trip to Japan and one week in Tokyo. It was fabulous. I finished my Japanese studies and became a tour guide for JTB, and during that time my customers asked me lots about NZ law and business. That got me studying more about the NZ legal system and with the help of a Japanese friend who had done law at Keio, and encouraged me, I left JTB and went to University finally to study law and teach Japanese to the first years.
Upon graduating I took up a job with a firm in Christchurch looking to expand into the Japanese market and was the first Japanese speaking lawyer in NZ in a law firm. During those years I got into anything Japanese I could, - the Japan Festival, the Sister City Committee with Kurashiki and I brought student groups and mayoral groups to Japan for friendship visits. After 7 years in the firm, my great friend Tania showed me an advert in a law magazine advertising for an in-house counsel in Japan and I applied for it and got that job. That is what got me here 15 years ago and I have stayed since!
So you worked in the corporate world for how many years?
I worked in NZ in a law firm for 7 years. In Japan I basically have been in-house lawyer for the 15 years I’ve been here except for 4 years when I worked for an international law firm and had one year with them in Tokyo and one in London and two on secondment to a corporate Japanese multinational.
It’s big step from working in the corporate world to entrepreneur. What were the reasons you decided to take a new direction?
During working in my last corporate role as Head of Legal, I was faced with what ended up being 8 months with no support person when my legal staff left the company. There was no service to hire a part time lawyer, and the only option was a very expensive associate from a large firm and there was no budget for that. This spurred an idea for me to one day provide a flexible lawyer service for short term secondments. I didn't know how I could do that but knew it was not available in the market and was a gap begging to be filled. After 5 years with this company in 2017 I was entitled to receive retirement so as I turned 50 in 2017 I decided to leave and make a go of running my own firm that can provide short term and flexible secondments. And that is where it is and so the plan has come true and is unfolding now as a real viable business.
Can you tell us about the services you offer and who your ideal clients are?
My expertise is in Commercial/business law, corporate, compliance and regulatory. I have three buckets of clients I love to look after. They are in-house legal teams, Japanese law firms and yes, entrepreneurs who are growing a maturing business or just set up and need legal structures in place.
First is as I alluded to above, working for legal departments in companies large or small as seconded in-house counsel to cover their gaps in staff, project work, maternity cover etc. So working for them anything from 1 hour a week to 1 day a week for legal needs. Those clients can be also on retainer.
Second is for Japanese law firms who need to expand overseas and don't want to hire a full-time head count but need a lawyer with Japanese and English on hand so I help them to strategise and work with their overseas clients, usually as a "secret weapon" in the background.
Three favourite places in Japan, your favourite season, the best cocktail bar.
Kurashiki, Naoshima and Miyajima. Favourite season is Autumn - the RELIEF when that humidity of summer has dropped away and the evening insects are singing away. The best cocktail bars are Apero or Crista- especially for Shiso martinis!!
Three best places for working lunches...us entrepreneurs gotta eat right?
Oh yes. I love going to Roti in Roppongi for lunch - you can have super healthy or burgers and nice wine there. I also like Zealander in Maru building. It serves,... you guessed it... NZ food like lamb and other delicious cuisine. Third, Longrain for Thai in Ebisu Garden Place.
What are your plans for the future of Catherine O’Connell Law? Any special projects you can tell us about?
Since I just kicked off 2.5 months ago it is all about building the brand and a book of clients. I have just got a secondment (which is terribly exciting) so that will take me a while to work through. I can see the business will ramp up faster than I thought so I am on the look out to hire part time lawyers who have in-house experience. I think this could end up being Japanese bengoshi (lawyer) women who have left full time work to have a baby and have not returned to the grind of big law firm work. They are brilliant and want to work, but not full time, so my next project is to build up a jinzai-bank of lady lawyers who want to work with me to disrupt the legal services market in Japan. The other thing I am working on doing is podcasts/interviews of general counsel and lawyers working in house in Japan.
How can we find out more about you and follow your updates?
You can read more about my backstory on my website www.catherineoconnelllaw.com.
I write a blog post every month so please check my blog on the website drop down menu. I also publish my posts on LinkedIn and Facebook.
For anyone receiving Tax Accountant Ms. Yasuko Mori's Community Newsletter, I am guest writer there every other month until Feb 2018.
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This month, Tokyo-based Australian interior designer Katie O'Brien talks about life, design and her personal mission of living life as an aspiring zero-waster.
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Tweed Heads, Australia - half way between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. During winter I lived on netball courts with weekends spent travelling in buses up and down the east coast of Australia, from Cairns to Sydney playing netball in squads and representative teams. Whilst in summer I lived on the beach at Greenmount Surf life-saving club, competing in Nippers as a junior, cadets as a senior then doing weekend Surf Life Saver patrols. All I wanted to do was be outside, run around and do sport - that was my life!
When did you last live in Australia?
I last lived in Melbourne, Australia in January of 2016. My Husband Ash and I had been based there for three years at that stage. Ash is originally from Melbourne but we met in Brisbane where we both lived and worked as Interior Designers at the time (I am a Commercial workplace / office Designer, he was an Educational and Institutional Designer). I studied Design and worked in Architecture firms for a total of 10 years in Brisbane and prior to that lived in Sydney for 2 years where I studied Design straight out of school.
Tell us a bit about what brought you to Japan and how long you have been here?
I had travelled to Tokyo twice as a tourist and on the second trip with Ash I proposed to him on the rooftop of our favourite design hotel (Hotel Claska in Meguro) with Mt Fuji sparkling in the distance - so Tokyo is a favourite city of ours!
We always wanted to live here but without being fluent in the language we never thought it would happen. So we targeted international Design and Architecture firms based in Tokyo, assuming they would be more willing to accept a foreigner. After stalking the website of Gensler and Associates for only 2 months (the world’s largest design firm with over 5,500 employees and 56 studios globally) a job came up and I applied and was accepted! We then had to finish a renovation (of which were part way through) get married (which we had been planning for a year) go on a post wedding holiday to Europe (for 5 weeks), return home, pack up as much as possible and move - all within 3 months! I arrived in Tokyo on February 13th 2016 and Ash came 2 months later.
Did you always have an interest in Japan? Was there a moment you remember that inspired you to try life in Japan?
Coming from an Architecture and Design background, Japan holds a special place for nerds like us! Japanese design principles are placed on a pedestal during our formal education and learning about the masters such as Tadao Ando and Kengo Kuma at university is what started my obsession. Japan is a myriad of contradictions at her core; old and new, futuristic and traditional, loud and crazy yet wonderfully serene. This juxtaposition is what draws Designers and Architects in as we try and make sense of the cultural landscape, the physical fabric of the environment and the lexicon of the city.
3 things you love about Japan. 3 things you can really live without.
Love: Efficiency, Selflessness, Midnight blue skies
Not so much: Beige overcoats, Japanese Patriarchy, Business bureaucracy
Tell us a little about your personal mission.
I was always BUSY in Australia, lecturing, volunteering, renovating, playing sport, going to design events, working stupidly long hours, trying to being social - I didn't know how to say 'No' to people. As ludicrous as
it sounds, I had to move to the busiest city in the world to learn how to relax a little; a Japanese paradox in
every way. So these days I have learned how to say no. To take time for myself, my body, my mind and
respect mother earth, all of which have recently lead to a pursuit of a minimalist, Zero Waste lifestyle.
Q & A Corner
I’m finding it so hard to reduce waste here in Tokyo. What reaction do you get when requesting your coffee be made in your own reusable cup? I feel like they take such pride in their presentation and packaging of products that it might be a bit awkward? Coupled with the fact I can’t speak Japanese to make the request clearly.... can you also tell me how to ask to use your own cup in Japanese please?
Saying 'No' to excessive packaging is all about a combination of confidence and politeness. I have my regular cafes I get coffee from so the staff know I use my own cup. But at the start it was hard, so I asked my Japanese friends to write down translations for me. Recently THE TOKYO CHAPTER did a great blog piece on 'Zero Waste lifestyle' in Japan and featured some simple Zero Waste phrases you can use in Japanese.
You have such great tips to reduce waste. I was wondering if you have tried to convince friends and family to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle? Have you been successful?
My friends and family are well aware of my Zero Waste aspirations and it has taken time for them to adapt to this new lifestyle too. For example, no more omiyage for Japanese coworkers is a big thing given how culturally ingrained it is here. But I use this as an opportunity to educate them about Zero Waste decisions.
For close friends and family I purchase them Zero waste presents. For example, bathroom kits that have bamboo toothbrushes, natural toothpastes, soap bars and cosmetics in recyclable packaging. Or stylish reusable coffee cups, water bottles or carry bags that are easily used day to day. This inevitably makes them conscious of their decisions and propels them in a more thoughtful sustainable way themselves.
I’d like to know more about how you feel about working in Japan - as a woman who is killing it! I’d love to know how you felt when you first moved here - a city with sooooo much creative design and inspiration - I imagine it would have been brain overload at first!
Navigating Japanese business practice has been the one thing I've struggled with the most since moving here. No amount of reading or research can prepare you for how different the work culture is compared to Western practice. However, the best advice I've been given as an assertive, confident western woman in Japan is 'slowly, slowly, gently, gently'. Japan takes its time, and you just need to be patient. I'm lucky to work for a company who prides itself on both its Eastern and Western approach to business and I have a great mentor with our current Design Director being an American woman with over 25 years’ experience who lived and worked in Japan 20 years ago as a graduate!
In terms of inspiration, when I first moved to Tokyo it was frighteningly overwhelming. I really felt like for the first 6 months I was treading water and failing at life! Learning how to go to the bank, how to post letters, navigate the city, go to the super market - HOW MANY DIFFERENT SOY SAUCES CAN THERE REALLY BE IN ONE AISLE??? Once I got this 'living' thing down pat, then then creativity and inspiration hit me and I've never looked back! Moving to a completely different country (at age 33 mind you) is like being a kid experiencing so many firsts! I find wonder in footpath tiles, shrine statues, lost clothing, kombini shelves,
people’s faces. Absolutely everything is new to me, I see it all through a special 'Japanese filter' and as cheesy as it sounds, I fall more in love with this country and its people every day.
I’d love to hear any tips on where to shop for package-free groceries!
Then with your interior design hat on, any tips you might have for establishing a home office with very limited space!
The best way to shop for package free groceries is to keep it local! The Aoyama Farmers Market is held at United Nations university is every Saturday and Sunday from 10-4pm. LINK HERE
The sellers will want to put your produce in a plastic bag but I come prepared with my cloth bags and they are always obliging - sometimes giving me free produce for bringing my own bag! Not only do they have fresh, local produce but a rotating roster of social events as well. One week you might have a coffee festival, followed by a vintage clothes sale or a rice growers market the next week. So we make a day out of it, buy our fresh food and then have lunch and check out the events.
The key to a home office with very little space? Digitise as much as possible, as regularly as possible. Invest in cloud storage (so you always have back-ups) and scan hard copies, file them and recycle the original. Invest in great software that allows you to draw / mark up on PDFs such as Adobe X reader or Bluebeam meaning you don’t have to print paper.
Issue receipts digitally via email and if you HAVE to send things via mail, paper envelopes all the way. Minimise your stationery (no need for 20 different pens, just keep 3) and use file boxes to organise the stuff you do need to keep. On the last Friday of each month do an office clean up: digitise, minimise and relax! If you keep on top of it, the space will always be organised.
Top tips for eco friendly living room.. I’m well aware of kitchen stuff, bathroom - but not the living room. Tips on heat/cold, plants etc.
PLANTS, PLANTS, PLANTS are the best ECO friendly lounge room item you could get! I love plants but I tend to love them too much, over water them and they die. So I choose pants that are resilient such as Devils Ivy, Aloe Vera, Ivy, Cactus and Monstera. Other tips include using breathable cotton fabrics for lounge covers and cushions that can easily be removed and washed (rather than dry cleaned with chemicals and unnecessary plastic). During winter we preheat our bedroom for an hour before bed, and set a timer for it to turn off as we fall asleep. In summer we use a fan to keep the air moving and use AC before bed the same way we use the heater.
Other Zero Waste tips:
My Zero Waste journey started after living in Tokyo for two years and feeling like I was producing triple the waste as to when I was living in Australia. YES Japan has next level recycling but a lot of collected waste is still burned, placed in landfill or shipped overseas to process. Globally, recycling is not the aim anymore. We need to say NO to packaging in the first place or aim to purchase non-plastic items.
Check out @ecostore.jp in Ebisu. This store offers a variety of dish liquids, laundry liquids and fabric softeners that you can purchase by using your own containers.
How can we find out more about you and follow your updates?
Follow me for Her Waste info and tips @eco.de.iko on Instagram
Or for my design life @katietectonic
Any final take-aways for us aspiring zero-wasters…
Four easy changes you can make are:
1. Love fizzy water like me? Then buy a Soda stream! I am addicted to ours and you can sign up online in Japan for refillable canister delivery or do this in person at Tokyu Hands or Bic Camera.
2. Ditch the pre-packed sauces, dressings, curry packs etc and go fresh! Grow fresh herbs (or use dried ones) to make bases from scratch. You can buy spices in bulk at Bulkfood stores in Shin Maruko and Moto-Sumiyoshi https://www.bulkfoods-market.com/ (they plan to open a Tokyo location soon) or buy online in BULK and minimise packaging that way.
3. Buy a blender - even a little hand held one which will help you make your new amazing sauces from the above spices and some really tasty desserts!
4. If you HAVE to buy packaged goods, choose paper or cardboard first or aluminum cans as they can be RECYCLED fully instead of DOWN-CYCLED.
A lovely customer messaged me with a jewellery problem the other day. She had been travelling with her neckpiece and had somehow tangled it up so that it was now unwearable. After posting it to me, I saw that the fix was easy... I was imaging complete disassembly and restructure.
Watch this short video to see how I solved it and how to care for your neckpieces.
Victoria Close from Bikudesigns jewellery interviews creatives, bloggers, business people and curators to talk about their lives in Japan.