Contemplating the role of an item through a Japanese point of view.
Momoko Mizutani （Momosan Shop Owner)
Hackney Central, North London is not popular among tourists, but it is a place where real lives and real problems of London take place. Momoko Mizutani who owns a store in this district has shared with us the current state of London, along with her experiences running her store.
I love the interaction between people of this town.
Momoko came to London about ten years ago as a student, then began working as a product designer. Later, she worked as a manager for tokyobike, became a buyer, then finally opened her own store. Before going into detail about her store, we asked her about her life in London and changes she has been feeling within it.
Ms. Mizutani: It’s been a year and a half since MOMOSAN SHOP opened. It’s in good condition because the building was new when I rented it.
－ It was a brand new building?
Ms. Mizutani: Yes. Only this building is brand new. All of the other buildings must be hundreds of years old. Some are from the Victorian era (lol). New buildings are rare here.
－ This neighborhood seems pretty calm.
Ms. Mizutani: The area with the larger street (Hackney Central Station side) is barbarous. It has become nicer over the years, attracting new people, but there are still old men walking around with beer in their hands (lol). The main street still has fried chicken stores that target laborers, but they are being taken over by stylish pizza joints opened next to them. That is the current situation, but a while ago, the street smelled like marijuana (lol).
－ It used to be that kind of area?!
Ms. Mizutani: The area was pretty edgy twenty years ago, but those elements have drifted northeast. Now, this area has become a commuter town for the middle-class, and there are more wealthy people living here. There is a mixture of people from different backgrounds, which is something I love about this place.
－ Everyplace here (in London) seems to be under the same situation
Ms. Mizutani: This district impoverished when the majority of residents became laborers, but since it is specified as a conservation area, construction quality has been maintained. Rebuilding and remodeling is restricted, so everyone just upgrades their interior.
－ I noticed that there are many nice cars parked on the streets. I took a walk around but couldn’t find anything sloppy about it.
Ms. Mizutani: Gentrification is advancing very quickly. Young people can’t buy houses here anymore, and London is becoming more difficult to live in. It’s becoming harder for creators to live here too.
－ That sounds pretty serious.
Ms. Mizutani: Rent may have gone up ten times in the last twenty years.
－ That is very significant.
Ms. Mizutani: I feel that London is becoming less interesting.
Ms. Mizutani: This kind of store is dependent on creators, so I am concerned that they will be driven away. The reason I was drawn to London is because it has something that other cities don’t have.
－ Where are the artists and creators drifting to now?
Ms. Mizutani: As far as I know, they are moving to other cities, like Bristol. I worry that diversity in London is fading.
－ Right. Diversity is an important feature of an urban city.
Ms. Mizutani: People who come to London are attracted to it in one way or another. I am not saying that the city has lost its appeal completely, but it has become a place for those who are successful, which is unfortunate.
Ms. Mizutani: Due to changes made by the government, non-EU foreigners must have a yearly income of at least 7 million yen to receive a permanent residency visa. With the way things are progressing, I won’t be able to stay here for long. Since around 2009, it is becoming more and more severe.
－ That must be difficult!
Ms. Mizutani: Potters in London say they are no longer able to maintain kilns in London due to the high rent. Rent in London may even be higher than New York. Food costs can be saved by cooking at home. Eating out is very expensive. You can’t buy a decent meal for less than 10 pounds. When I say decent, I am not expecting luxuries, but just decent.
－ 10 pounds is more than enough for a nice meal in Japan (lol).
Items with appeal are created by people with appeal. It’s the story behind it that is important.
Ms. Mizutani’s views towards the items of MOMOSAN SHOP.
－ By what criteria are the products selected by?
Ms. Mizutani: I sell anything that I am drawn to, from various countries including Japan and London. What’s important is the story behind the items, like who made it, how it was made, or what was emphasized during production. I feel that items with appeal are created by people with appeal.
－ Is there a concept in the selection of your items?
Ms. Mizutani: I used to emphasize diversity. Some items of a certain culture may be used for a completely different purpose in another culture. For example, a jar that is used for sauerkraut in Germany is perfect for making my Japanese pickles (lol).
Ms. Mizutani: Items of different shapes and forms exist in the world, and the usage depends on the creativity of the owner. A sauerkraut pot may be given a new purpose.
－ Right. Saves you from ordering a pickle jar from Japan (lol).
Ms. Mizutani: I have been a foreigner living in the United Kingdom for a while now. When cooking, I substitute sake with wine (lol). The result is not necessarily the same, but that’s that.
－ How do you think your customers perceive the items?
Ms. Mizutani: Most customers ask me “is this a Japanese store?” although none of the items displayed are Japanese (lol). I guess there is something Japanese in my selection. It is not a “Japanese store”, but there may be Japanese elements in the products that I choose (lol).
－ These items are not from Japan? The pottery looks just like “Bizen Yaki”.
Ms. Mizutani: This is “Cotswold’s”, not “Bizen Yaki”. It is pottery which has been continued for over 200 years in the United Kingdom, created by Bernard Leach (Bernard Howell Leach, 1887-1979. Acquaintance of Muneyoshi Yanagi who studied pottery in Japan), a potter who had close ties with Japan.
－ Are there any plans to increase product variety?
Ms. Mizutani: Increasing products would help attract more people, and I am interested in selling Japanese items and clothes, but space is a big issue. I don’t want the store to look cluttered. Any ideas to display more items without making the store looked cluttered? (lol) If I try this myself it will get messy, just like my house. I think it’s in my personality. On the contrary, if there are too little items, the atmosphere looks too “Zen”.
－ Do you think customers expect that?
Ms. Mizutani For some stores, yes. There is a stereotype that Japanese items are “small” and “Zen”.
“Cotswold’s”, not “Bizen Yaki” item are displayed on the top shelf. They look just like Bizen Yaki to the amateur eyes. At the bottom left of the photo is the “Sauerkraut pot” made in Germany. The knob on the lid also serves as a weight, so you do not need pickle stones which are usually used when making pickles.
Although the items look Japanese at first glance, they are not from Japan. Still, customers get the impression that the store is “Japanese”.
I feel that the community is disappearing.
Chatting at the storefront is artist, Mr. Mukai who lives in London. People often stop by to talk at MOMOSAN SHOP. Most creators who have lived here for a while know each other. Mr. Mukai hosts “Study O Portable” with his Dutch wife.
Ms. Mizutani: Sometimes friends would pass by on their bicycles and wave. That sense of community is still present, but it’s gradually fading.
－ How unfortunate.
Ms. Mizutani: Now that the rent is high, stores that have capital strength are increasing, turning the area into the next West End.
－ Everyone seems to be saying that.
Ms. Mizutani: Still, I can see my friends here. They even stay for tea (lol). We would sit on the bench in front of the store and chat. I really enjoy that interaction. Like many stores in London, this store doesn’t have air conditioning. Due to the large windows, it almost feels like a sauna during the summer, so we can’t really stay inside (lol).
－ That sounds pretty tough (lol).
－ You’ve been greeting many people during this interview.
Ms. Mizutani: Yes, they are all my friends. One thing that I noticed after coming here (London) is that people are very careful about spending money. In Japan, many are moved (controlled) by the media. That is something that you don’t see here. People would visit multiple times before purchasing, allowing me to become close with them (lol). If they are really drawn to the creator, they will buy the item regardless of its price. Everyone has a strong sense of self.
－ So there is a community created by these people. It’s quite different from a typical morning of a store in Japan.
Ms. Mizutani: Really (lol). This is every day for me.
“MOMOSAN SHOP” is closest to the Hackney Central Station. This area, not known to most tourists, is full of real life of London. Although it is not visible from outside, there have been significant changes in the residents of the city, driving away many artists and creators who create communities, affecting the culture of the city in many ways. Large-scale development in the center of the city, along with the rise of property value, are forcing many former residents to move away, causing what we once perceived as “London style” to disappear.
Text: Koichiro Sato
Picture: Chihaya Kaminokawa
79a Wilton Way, London E8 1BS
+44 20 7249 4989
Study O Portable
Postal Address: 71a Greenleaf Road London E17 6QW United Kingdom
Studio Address: Zero Belfast Road London N16 6UH United Kingdom