An Interview with Japanese Founder & Designer, Yukiko Yamamoto of 紅小梅 (べにこうめ)・京都 (きょうと).
A stunning, fashionable, light-hearted, and fun woman, Yukiko Yamamoto happily shared her personal trajectory. Now at the age of 67, she runs a design studio for kimono accessories called 紅小梅 (べにこうめ)・京都 (きょうと) in Kyoto and Shanghai with 4 full-time employees. Yukiko creates custom-made and personalized goods for her customers based on their wishes.
Fundamentally optimistic and warm, you would never guess that Yukiko has overcome betrayal and embezzlement of a former employee, surmounted huge piles of debt, and been the target of constant gossip. But she has!
Yukiko’s Astute Advice
Yukiko has the following words of wisdom for those who want to start their own business in Japan. But honestly, these pieces of advice are practical for all Japanese people, regardless of what they want to accomplish in life.
1. Follow Your Own Path
In a highly homogenous and group-oriented culture, following your own desired path is actually incredibly challenging. But Yukiko did it, and so can you.
She specifically said, “自分の道に行きなさい!” Or, go your own path. That way you will live life with no regrets. And you will be the creator, director, writer, and actor of your own drama.
2. There is Absolutely Nothing You Can’t Do!
When you utter the words, “I can’t,” or “I don’t,” you are already making a negative cause or setting your life in a direction of not being able to do X.
In Buddhism, I’ve learned that every thought, word, and action is a cause. A cause can be in the spectrum of positive and negative. But in order to accomplish a goal, you should align all thoughts, words, and actions towards successfully fulfilling that goal. That way, every fiber of your being will be moving towards a positive direction.
Accordingly, Yukiko’s resiliency is due to her mentality of “やってやれないことはない,” or there is absolutely nothing you cannot do. In other words, you can do absolutely anything you set your mind too.
Discovering Her Calling
Up until she was 30, Yukiko was in a completely different field. When she moved to Kyoto from Kyushu, she applied for a job thinking it was a coordinator-type of role. Instead, it turned into a 4-hour interview. Obviously, they loved her.
But she politely declined, saying that she had never done a designer-type of role. And the interviewer replied, “一度やってみたら ?” Or, “What if you take a chance and try?”
And that’s how she began her career as a designer.
This small company created kimono accessories and had a factory in China. By working hard, Yukiko quickly became an invaluable asset. She learned a little Chinese, sharpened her designer skills, and became good friends with the customers.
When she was around the age of 40, the owner started to mentally deteriorate, and the company soon fell apart. However, the customers still had a strong demand for the products, and Yukiko had established a fantastic relationship with them.
With 2 other men, Yukiko started a new company at the age of 42. Although the business was going strong, one of the men decided to embezzle the company and quickly fled afterwards. Now, she was personally responsible and liable for the company’s debt.
Plus, still unmarried and living a life of a single woman, she was often the target of gossip. But when I said that must have been so difficult, she laughed heartily and retorted:
“Everyone used to ask me why I was laughing so much with so much personal debt? You’ve just got to do what you’ve just got to do.” Put simply, “仕方がないから、やっていくしかない!”
Then she relayed a story about her father, who also happened to run a small company in Miyazaki, Kyushu. He always used to say,
“As a business owner, you are like a duck in a pond. You are all smiles above water, but your feet are tirelessly working underneath.”
With this mentality, Yukiko always maintained a positive, optimistic, cheerful front. After all, who would want to be in business with someone who is clearly unhappy? And no matter what anyone else said, Yukiko fundamentally knew that she was pleasing her customers and enjoying the life of a designer.
Plus, she also transformed the company to have only direct relationships with customers. Instead of having a middleman or selling to department stores that markup the product by 150-200%, Yukiko works directly with the customer to ensure that she is creating a product that they truly love. And this makes her truly happy.
Spending two weeks every month in Shanghai to manufacture the products, she returns to Japan to visit customers and maintain a strong relationship. By creating products that both she and her customers desire, Yukiko is creating what she adores, or “自分が好きなことをしているだけ.”
So it’s no longer a job for her; rather, it’s her passion!