A profile of Japanese female founder, Harue of Hodge Podge.
Meet Harue — a unique, captivating, and extremely warm individual. She’s different. She’s fashionable. And she’s strong! Over the course of multiple meetings including a dinner and a few visits to her store, I got to know this remarkable woman.
Launching her first store at the young age of 21 in Aichi Prefecture and running that business for 12 years, Harue has now been overseeing a high-end women’s fashion business in Kyoto called Hodge Podge for the past 18 years.
Harue shared how Japanese people used to save money to purchase high-quality goods at local, small stores. This culture incentivized the creation of long-lasting products. And store clerks had face-to-face interactions and dialogue with their customers, thereby creating an atmosphere of trust in the brand.
Now, Japan — and the rest of the world — is moving towards a high-consumption culture, of 消費文化 (しょうひぶんか), and mass production of goods, or 大量生産 (たいりょうせいさん). With large AEON Malls, $1 Daiso Stores, and Convenience stores, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to retain the Japanese tradition of supporting local, small businesses that date back to the Edo period.
To retain Japan’s rich cultural tradition, Harue launched her second business — Hodge Podge — at the ripe age of 44 in 1999. And now in 2017, her business has successfully surpassed the economic ups-and-downs and is thriving!
Part of the reason her business is still successful, is the mere fact that she cherishes sincerity and honesty, or 誠実 (せいじつ). Not only does Harue create lifelong friendships with many of her customers, designers, and buyers, but she also relishes hearty exchanges with everyone who visits her store, including me. Plus, everything she sells in her shop is “Made in Japan,” which I dare say, is a complete rarity nowadays.
Highlights of Harue’s History
A successful serial entrepreneur, Harue has had a different upbringing from other Japanese women. Born in Kyoto to a relatively wealth family, her parents divorced when she was 14 — a rare occurrence in 1960’s Japan. She and her mother then moved to Aichi Prefecture, but she left as quickly as she could to join her older sister in Tokyo.
Between the ages of 18-21, she had fun in Tokyo! Compared to a small, more rural area of Aichi, Tokyo was an exciting, cosmopolitan world with top designers such as Junko Koshino. While there, she fell in love with the world of high-end fashion, saving up to purchase goods that she adored. Extremely passionate about looking and feeling good in the latest fashion at that age, Harue wanted to figure out a way to do it as a career.
Soon afterwards, her sister married and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. As a result, Harue spent a few months in San Francisco with her sister, and quickly fell in love with the artistic, multicultural, and diverse city — a far cry from where she had left.
With the inspiration she received from spending quality time in Tokyo and California, Harue decided to start a woman’s clothing store in her hometown of Aichi at the age of 21 with the complete financial backing and support of her mother. Her mother reasonably thought that if her daughter was back home, she would soon get settled down and married to a good husband with a respectable background. As such, she indulged in her daughter’s venture.
Since no one was selling high-end women’s fashion in Aichi, Harue had virtually no competition. As such, her business was a resounding success! Of course, she worked tirelessly to make sure every minute detail of her store was perfect. And she cherished each and every interaction with anyone who came in contact with her store — from designers to makers to customers.
For the next 12 years, Harue ran a successful business in Aichi, forgoing marriage around the age of 25 like most Japanese women, and even having children.
But then, she met her first husband. And at the age of 33, she married him — an extroverted, gregarious, and cosmopolitan photographer. Together, the couple decided close her store in Aichi, and to move to Kyoto, whereupon, Harue became a 専業主婦 (せんぎょうしゅふ), or full-time housewife.
For the next 10 years, she attended thousands of art shows and events around the Kyoto area with her husband. And they built a wide variety of friends from all over the world.
But every single night, without fail, they entertained her husband’s guests and new friends. Drinking late into the night, many would even spend the night. And while it was incredibly fun, and she met some fantastic people, Harue had zero time for herself, no privacy and no personal space.
And as a full-time, typical Japanese housewife, Harue cooked, cleaned, went grocery shopping, did all the laundry, took care of miscellaneous details for her husband’s business, handled the household finances, etc. However, most Japanese housewives are not incessantly cooking meals for 6+ people, cleaning up after everyone, and rarely getting a good night’s sleep.
Most importantly, she wanted to start her own business again. After 10 years of marriage, the two decided to get divorced — a rarity in Japan.
In America, her background is quite normal. But in Japan, where social pressure to fit in is paramount, and everyone knows everyone else’s business, it’s takes a lot of courage to start a company that may fail, to get married later in life, or not at all, to get divorced, and to do anything that is somehow different from the norm.
Like many of the Japanese female entrepreneurs I have interviewed such as Mariko Fukui, Chika Tsunoda, Yuka Fujii, Emi Takemura Miller, etc., Harue had a unique background different from the majority of Japanese women.
A Glimpse into Harue’s Present Life
Not only did Harue spend her formative years in international, multi-faceted cities, but she also began her own company at the age of 21 and waited to get married until 33. Plus, she even got divorced. She neither followed the normal path of a Japanese woman, nor felt like she needed to fit in. And that’s what sets her apart!
She’s different. She’s unique. She’s hilarious. And she’s accomplished!
Now happily married to her second husband, a chef who is currently working at a restaurant in Tokyo, and who happens to be 11 years younger than her, Harue and her husband enjoy living a quiet, tranquil life in Kyoto. Both of them may soon claim the title of “entrepreneur,” as Harue’s husband plans on opening an izakaya restaurant in Kyoto this year.
Working at her own “pace,” Harue works only 5 days a week between 12-7:30 pm (19:30), and not 7 days a week like she used too. And at the ripe age of 62, her goal is to continue running her store, until the day she passes away. Accordingly, it’s important for her to focus on maintaining her health and 体力 (たいりょく), or stamina / endurance.
But during her days off, she’s not twiddling her thumbs and watching TV. Rather, she is taking English and personal computer training lessons. Plus, she has a leadership position in her local Buddhist organization, meaning that she’s busy almost all the time!
Like most elderly people in Japan, who I often see lugging heavy goods in their bicycle baskets and appear thoroughly independent, Harue is no different. With a positive attitude towards the future, Harue will keep up her naturally optimistic, or 楽観的 (らっかんてき) mindset.
Words of Wisdom
Harue’s advice to female entrepreneurs actually applies to anyone who wants to become an entrepreneur: 一所懸命 (いっしょけんめい) がんばろう! Or, give your company an all-out effort and work with all one’s might!
Harue exclaimed: “Any one can create a successful business in Japan, no matter what!”
After all, a mere 40 years ago, Japanese women had to have a 保証人(ほしょうにん), or guarantor to borrow money from the bank. Now, they don’t! So what’s stopping them? Not much. Hence, just go for it!