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Guest Blog – Yoko Ishikawa, owner of Japanese boutique store Norr Kyoto

Guest Blog – Yoko Ishikawa, owner of Japanese boutique store Norr Kyoto

Guest Blog – Yoko Ishikawa, owner of Japanese boutique store Norr Kyoto

In May 2023 we travelled to Japan for a 3 week adventure of a lifetime! We started in Tokyo, then travelled on the Shinkansen (aka. Bullet Train) to Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima. On our stop in Kyoto we met up with Yoko, a lovely lady that got in touch back in 2020 after we had just finished our trade show at Top Drawer to see if we would supply her with our stationery to her store called Norr Kyoto.

It was such a pleasure to finally meet in person at her beautiful little boutique store in Kyoto, which was filled to the brim with a selection of stationery, books, ceramics, & delicate little antiques that Yoko hand sources from multiple countries.

After we’d visited her shop she took us down the road to the university botanical gardens, where we were shown round by her as she said it’s one of her favourite places to visit & so we finished with a wonderful lunch in the bright & plant-filled restaurant space.

The most recent order to her was a selection of our limited edition mugs that we designed in collaboration with Emma Alington for our Afternoon Tea theme. It was without a doubt the most terrifying order I’ve ever shipped! 16 very delicate bone china mugs, wrapped in tissue, then paper, then boxed, then wrapped some more! I said a little prayer to the shipping gods that they would arrive intact & thankfully they did.

As it’s been just over a year since we visited Japan we thought that it’d be the perfect opportunity to let you learn a bit more about one of our international wholesale clients & all about how her brand came to life.



Q) Hello Yoko! Firstly can you share with us the story behind how you started your business?

A) My journey began with a deep-rooted fascination for European culture, particularly in the Nordic countries. After gaining experience at a small Scandinavian design shop in Tokyo, I pursued my interest further by moving to London in 2010 to study “Scandinavian Studies” at university. Following my graduation, I decided to attend a school of craft in Sweden, where I met many passionate individuals dedicated to handcraft. Inspired by their work and perspectives on crafts and products, I launched a small store upon my return to Japan in 2016, offering products from both emerging makers and timeless antique/vintage pieces.



Q) What appeals to you most about what you do?

A) I exclusively sell products from small companies or individuals, allowing me to closely engage with their stories and connect with my customers. Additionally, my knowledge of histories and cultures enables me to provide background narratives for vintage items, rather than merely selling them.

Q) How do you source the products for your shop, and do you have any criteria or preferences when selecting items?

A) I find products from a variety of sources including trade shows, design/handmade events and markets, European design shops, occasionally finding gems on Instagram. While I don't have strict criteria, I gravitate towards designs that embody a sense of craftsmanship and uniqueness.

Q) Where has your favourite location been for sourcing items?

A) London stands out as my favourite sourcing destination, offering a vibrant atmosphere and a wide array of both old and new designs to explore.

Q) What sets your store apart from other similar businesses in the area?

A) My store simply offers a wide range of design products and vintage items that few others handle in Japan. Additionally, I sell books alongside the products, allowing customers to pair products with European literature, which adds a unique dimension to their shopping experience.



Q) Could you tell us about the most unique or rare item you’ve ever sold in your store? What made it special?

A) One of the most unique items are trays by Emelie Gårdeler. She is an artist who has provided illustrations for many picture books in Sweden and has also designed beautiful items using her paintings inspired by Swedish nature and landscapes. Her products are not widely available, even in Sweden, so I am proud to have worked with her for the past seven years and to offer her creations in my shop. Her trays aren't just functional; they're small works of art.

Q) Do you have a personal favourite type of product you enjoy sourcing the most?

A) I love paper products, especially notebooks. While I sell various types of notebooks in my shop, I also collect them for myself, even though I already have plenty at home waiting to be used.


Q) What strategies do you employ to attract both local customers and tourists to your shop?

A) I find that offering something unique is key. For example, I regularly feature a diverse selection of vintage powder compacts on Instagram, which are rare finds in our area. This has drawn in many visitors and introduced my shop to new customers. Now, approximately half of my customers are tourists who come from across Japan!



Q) How do you stay updated with trends and changes in the market for what you sell?

A) While I generally don’t focus too much on trends, trade shows are still important for staying updated and discovering new things. I also visit shops in cities like London, Paris and Copenhagen, which often reflect market changes.

Q) Can you describe a challenge you’ve faced in running your business, and how you overcame it?

A) The biggest challenge was definitely the pandemic. With strict regulations in Japan, I couldn't open my shop or travel to Europe as usual. I then decided to open my shop by appointment only to avoid having too many customers in the small space. Initially, I intended to revert to normal operations after a year, but most of my customers actually prefer this system because they can browse items closely and take their time. Surprisingly, sales are now better than before, so it has worked out very well.

Q) Looking ahead, what are your aspirations or plans for the future of your business? Are there any new directions or expansions you’re considering?

A) I believe that I'm on the right path, so my plan is to gradually expand my shop and stay true to what I'm doing now: featuring unique designers and vintage items, maintaining honest sales practices, and continuing to be a good storyteller.



Q) If you had to start again, what advice would you give yourself?

A) Explore and experience as much as you can. All types of inspiration are valuable for your shop!