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This is a past article published in Hiragana Times. Each Japanese paragraph is followed by its English translation or vise versa, and furigana are placed above each kanji to make Japanese study even easier. [Magazine Sample] [Subscription Page]

Uncovering Japan’s Hidden Quality Sundries

[From June Issue 2011]

katakana

Opened in October 2010 and located in Jiyugaoka, Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, “katakana” is the name of a “souvenir shop that sells everything cool from across Japan.” “We call it a souvenir shop because we want our customers to shop lightheartedly for their friends and for themselves, even if it’s for something simple like a pen,” explains KAWANO Junichi, a store representative, who adds that katakana is really more of a sundries shop that offers quality Japanese items than it is a real souvenir shop.

The shop was named katakana after a part of Japan’s mixed writing system. The connection is that katakana is “a type of character made by arranging existing kanji, which originally came from China,” and which symbolizes the modern Japanese lifestyle of continuously adopting parts of other, foreign cultures. In fact, every item the shop sells is something used daily in Japan. However, katakana forgoes stocking other typical stylish Japanese sundry items such as washi (high quality Japanese paper) and traditional lacquer ware.

On display are items ranging from a 60-yen erasers to jackets costing tens of thousands of yen. Kawano chose each store item himself using the simple criteria of, “Is it worth the price?” and “Will it still be usable after ten years?” Having previously worked in the apparel industry, he doubted the tendency to quickly rotate items at low prices just to follow seasonal trends. So instead, at katakana he decided to have stock that carried “constant value,” choosing items with importance, at reasonable prices and with enduring design appeal.

Of course, they do also sell traditional crafts, but only on the condition that such items fit with modern Japanese life and can be comfortably used. For instance, Kawano stocks “mage-wappa,” an old-style lunch box made by bending thin cedar boards from trees grown in Akita Prefecture, because of the good taste it brings to rice once placed inside. Although rather expensively priced at 9,450 yen, he decided to sell it because he judged its overall value to be worth it.

The shop doesn’t overtly advertise selling items “collected from around Japan,” but Kawano says that “I would be thoroughly glad if our customers just think that our shop is selling attractive items.” He adds, “If they happen to notice that everything is conceptualized here and end up feeling that Japanese goods are of quality, then that’s fine too.”

Items sold at the shop are also well-received by non-Japanese who are looking for quality indigenous goods. Although Kawano has ideas about opening shops overseas sometime in the future, his first goal is to make katakana the hub of Japan’s sundries community. With Tokyo being the city where most people from around Japan gather, he wants to use his advantageous location to fulfill his dream of “Making our shop a place where people from around the country can introduce their local items, a place where good things from around Japan meet.”

katakana

Text: ICHIMURA Masayo


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