A WEEK OF MOTTAINAI
Mottainai: The regret you feel when wasting something that still has life left in it.
The concept of Mottainai can be applied to forgotten things, unused spaces, used objects that are no longer needed and even people. All of which apply to me, my family and especially to my brand. Bikudesigns was founded on this very concept many years ago, not as a 'good idea for a business' but as a deeply ingrained philosophy of life that has been within me since birth. Actually, before I was born.
I'm descended from a long line of make-do-and-menders. Tripe dealers, silk weavers, shop owners, seamstresses and a milliner and the one thing they had in common was their working class roots and the necessity to get by any way they could. That would mean altering, adapting, making or crafting anything they needed with what they already had. I grew up with stories of long-dead family members who kept chickens in their inner city yards, who sewed their own wedding outfits, of cardboard wedding cakes and a world resembling an L.S.Lowry painting.
The generations lived (and fought) their way through world wars, bombings, rationing, austerity, fear of having nothing or losing it all. Even though my experience of growing up was vastly different to those long-gone days (no-one ever asked me to sweep the street, scrub the front step or do the laundry with a dolly and a mangle) the lived experiences of the family I had never met were built into me. Fix what is broken. Alter what doesn't fit. Make what you don't have.
And this, in a very round about way, takes us from the streets of Manchester and Salford to inner city Tokyo. The spirit of Mottainai travelled thousands of miles with me when I moved here, I suppose there's no escaping your values!
When my kids were little, I would make toys from bottle caps, reuse PET bottles to make investigation activities and even make them clothes from time to time. And when it came time to let things go, I sold, donated or gave away their old clothes, toys and baby ephemera. We had charity flea markets outside our house and around that time the 'Mottainai Box' was born.
It sounds much more glamourous than it really is...it's a box or crate with a handmade carboard sign (naturally!). And it works like magic. We gather bits and pieces from around the house that we no longer need but still have life in them and add them to the box in the genkan. When there are few things in there we pop it outside and invite our neighbours to shop the items for free. Lately it's taken an unexpected turn with family members shopping the box for different projects. See? Magic!
In the last month we've waved goodbye to:
👋 Wooden hangers
👋 Easter decorations
👋 A small jigsaw
👋 Gacha toys
👋 ¥100 shop toys
👋 Kids cap
Flowers from a neighbour's garden with a thank you note for the hangers they took
If you love reusing things, like me and the rest of my family, I recommend this amazing temple to used goods! This is the Book Off Super Bazaar and there are not very many in central Tokyo. Most are outside of Tokyo in Chiba, Kanagawa, Saitama but they are definitely worth the travel! We headed to our closest one (an hour by train and free Book Off minibus) to kit the kids out with ski wear. We also picked up some other bits and bobs such as kimono fabric and hair ornaments.
The beauty of Book Off is that you can also sell your used items for store credit or cash. (Store credit is a much better deal.) This is such a great way to pass on your unwanted things with peace of mind make a few ¥¥¥ and teach your kids about saving the planet.
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I'm Victoria, the founder, designer and creator at Bikudesigns, a vintage kimono accessories brand in Tokyo, Japan.