This month Tokyo-based adventurer, photographer, graphic designer and jewellery designer Janine Vleugel Naoi talks about the blurred line between work and play and the importance of finding beauty in the everyday.
Where do you come from and when did you last live there?
I’m from Melbourne, Australia. Specifically about 60km from the city in a beautiful beach side town on the Mornington Peninsula. I last lived there about 18 years ago, then moved to Melbourne city where I and last lived about 15 years ago. I lived in Amsterdam for 3 years before coming to Japan, so I've been here for 12 years.
What was your life like as a child growing up in Australia? Did your early life have any impact on how you think/ live now?
Yes, in kind of an opposite effect kind of way. It was a fairly suburban/beachy area, and everyone was into either surfing or AFL football. That really wasn't for me, as I was always creative and never liked mainstream ways of thinking. I was quite shy and doing my own thing, and always felt a bit embarrassed doing the things that everyone else was into.
Did you always have an interest in Japan or did you just want to travel in general?
Having a graphic design background I was always interested in Japanese design for its rich tradition, and on the flip-side, its craziness. I visited Tokyo as a pit-stop going to Europe, and although I loved the week or so I spent in Tokyo, my heart and mind were heading to Europe, so nothing actually happened about "Japan" until I met a mysterious and handsome young Japanese man (haha now my husband).
You are involved in many different businesses with your husband can you tell us about the work you do?
Having a graphic design background led me to eventually work in a communications company here in Tokyo, however having self-employed parents I always wanted to have that flexibility myself (also, Tokyo... need I say more?).
I had the chance to join my husband's parents jewelry design business in 2011 on the condition that I bring in freelance design work to help support myself, and bring new customers. Alongside learning the skill of jewelry design from my father-in-law and eventually designing some of the collections, I take care of a lot of the visual marketing for the business including graphic design (of course ), photography, visual merchandising, social media, online site including our online store, all the way through to dispatching online sales domestically and worldwide. I also sometimes also say "irashaimase" to customers in our Ginza store.
When I'm not doing that, we also have a photography business which started through my graphic design work which started as mostly corporate/commercial work, and now we do a lot of personal portraits, wedding photography, etc. We are also exclusive photographers for Getty images, and ambassador for a few outdoor brands.
On the side, we do some travel consultation which was the result of demand as we made a website sharing our photography about the various Islands of Japan, as well as a website sharing photos and tips on day trips from Tokyo.
Why did you come up with the idea to diversify?
It wasn't such a concrete plan actually, but we took some opportunities along the way.
Our commercial photography work and design work trickled in, and we didn't really have to put a lot of effort into promoting ourselves. When a friend decided to move to Tokyo we wanted to help him to achieve his dreams of becoming a professional photographer, so we decided to promote ourselves collectively. Things really took off after that!
How do you structure your days with so much on your plate?
Usually I use our Ginza shop as my work base and prioritise what needs to be done. We usually try not to take on more than one shoot a day, and as there are three of us (myself, my husband and our very talented friend Sam Spicer), doing this it's not so impossible. Things often run into the evening after our daughter goes to bed.
I bet you have some great travel stories (I seem to remember reading one about leeches) from your off-the-beaten-path business. Care to share?
Haha, this story involves leeches too! We always tend to get ourselves into an off-road driving situation, even though our car is tiny and not at all suitable for off-road driving.
We went camping a few weeks ago and innocently went down an unmarked road beside a cliff face just to see what was there. It was quite a steep road, and our tiny car just couldn't make it back up. Queue panicking 4 year old in the back seat and driver me being ever-so-zen-calm about this silly situation. We tried tree bark under the tires, and with multiple attempts we were finally able to get the car out, only to realise that we had picked up many leeches on our feet and legs in our struggle. The car has a strange rattle now (most likely not leech related).
You obviously have a passion for Japan (leeches excluded) from the locations you choose for the photo shoots, to the jewellery collections to the travel business. If you ever left Japan, what things couldn’t you live without?
The convenience of Tokyo life!
I couldn't live without the healthy diet and tasty seasonal produce, I couldn't live without the convenience of the combinis (convenience stores), I couldn't live without this profound culture that envelopes literally everything, I couldn't live without such diverse nature which is within fairly easy distance from such a major metropolis, I couldn't live without such a wide variety of climates in a single country.
What’s your life philosophy? Does it have anything to do with slow-living?
I try to do things that I love spending time on into the way I can support myself and help others. I try to blur the boundary of work and play, and aim for work that feels like play. I try to find beauty in the everyday, as I feel that this keeps my heart light. I always try to surround myself with positive, optimistic people, and consciously avoid people who drag me down. I strongly believe that good coffee is an essential way to start the day, and a nice glass of wine is an essential way to end the day.
Connect with Janine here:
Photography: www.ippei-janine.com and www.spicer-naoi.com
Jewelry work: www.ateliershinji.com
Islands of Japan website: www.ippei-janine.com/travel-japan-islands
Tokyo day trips website: www.ippei-janine.com/tokyo-day-trips
I'm Victoria, the founder, designer and creator at Bikudesigns, a vintage kimono accessories brand in Tokyo, Japan.