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Vancouver Japanese pop-up strives for simple joys

As popular Japanese chains put down roots in Vancouver, a local businesswoman delights in the little things.

Natsumi Akatsuka’s pop-up shop Itsumo focuses on simple everyday objects from Japan.

Amy Logan/Metro / Metro Web Upload

Natsumi Akatsuka’s pop-up shop Itsumo focuses on simple everyday objects from Japan.

From the artfully arranged omakase at Maumi, to the perfect simplicity of a white T-shirt from Uniqlo, the Japanese aesthetic of clean lines and spare but clever design has never been more in demand. But Natsumi Akatsuka felt there was something missing in Vancouver: a Japanese lifestyle store that focuses on slow living, the beauty of everyday objects.

“In Vancouver, there’s a lot of knowledge about Japanese culture, especially Japanese food, and stores like Uniqlo and Muji are really good at bringing Japanese products to a mass audience, but there were no shops I wanted to shop at,” said Akatsuka. “I wanted to contribute to community.”

She decided to open Itsumo, a roving pop-up shop, currently at 478 Union St., stocked with carefully selected objects that reflect her heritage.

“I’ve always been interested in beautiful crafts and quality goods. I wanted to build a bridge between makers and users,” Akatsuka said.

Her grandparents and parents ran small businesses in Japan.

“My father is a Japanese tea sensai. I grew up in a traditional family. “

Raised in Osaka until she was 12, surrounded by rivers and forests, she then moved to Tokyo, full of lights, skyscrapers and modern life at full tilt. Akatsuka’s aesthetic seems to take something from both places: the modernity and urban lifestyle of Tokyo and the quieter, slower, more traditional lifestyle of Osaka.

After traveling the world and studying art and fashion in London for five years, she finally settled in Vancouver where she lives with life partner Matt Tichenor, whose dream-like documentary footage of their visits to Japan is projected on the walls at Itsumo. Much of the imagery revolves around everyday life in Japan, including the home of her friend Mikako, her “biggest collaborator and inspiration. She’s very old-fashioned and a great cook who makes everything from scratch.”

“My nostalgia inspires me. The longer I’m away, the more I appreciate my heritage and the tools I grew up with. I started getting back into old-world living,” Akatsuka said, noting that when she was young, she was drawn to anything European or foreign but, after exploring the world, she established her own sort of style

She began to notice a hunger for Japanese objects. “I would be using a normal tool, something I would use everyday in Japan, and friends would be fascinated by it. I found it an interesting reaction. I would bring them back souvenirs from Japan and they would just be so happy. “

After working in the fashion industry, “where trend drives everything and it is so fast-paced and disposable,” she found herself yearning for slow living, a return to more traditional craftsmanship.

“We all have to cook and eat everyday, but it becomes more enjoyable with beautiful, functional objects. Even washing the dishes can spark joy.”

Clad in ivory, with a long canvas apron, Akatsuka busies herself in her shop, arranging a delicate cedar bough beside a silver and slate ceramic bowl, lighting brightly coloured incense. She pauses a moment, looking around, and smiles.

“I believe in things that can bring joy, in finding small happiness in the everyday.”

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