--Why did you choose this neighborhood for the VISION GLASS JP showroom?
(Noriaki Kouda, designer of VISION GLASS JP) We moved to the Asakusabashi area of Taito Ward in 2010 when my wife Tomoko Ozawa, who is also involved in VISION GLASS, launched her independent career "mocomeshi" as a food designer. We chose this area primarily because it was a place where we could work easily. Many wholesalers who live in this city are conveniently located within biking distance, and our supplies, we can get easily at the nearby Ameyoko Market.
Around the same time, manufacturing-related events such as "Speak East" and "Monomachi" kicked off in neighboring Kuramae, and new shops gradually started to spring up, and eventually it all led up to the current liveliness of the neighborhood.
--Please share your impression of Taito Ward where you are currently located.
I am originally from Adachi Ward (just north of Taito Ward), so I'm relatively familiar with the Ueno area. While Taito Ward is small, it has many faces. The character of the northern area around Asakusa is very different to that of Asakusabashi, in the south. The culture is also a bit different between the chaotic Ueno area and the areas along the border, such as Ikenohata and Yanaka. I personally really like the downtown Shitamachi feeling around Asakusabashi, but I think Taito Ward is a place that contains so many diverse nooks and crannies that anyone could find their own favorite. The area around the NOHGA HOTEL is known for having many pachinko manufacturers, so I found it interesting that the hotel was built there.
My strongest impression of Taito Ward is the communal bonds formed in the area through festivals. Until I moved here, I rarely had the experience of putting on a traditional hanten short coat and carrying a mikoshi portable shrine in a festival procession in my own neighborhood. I used to wonder what even motivated people to join such festivals, and eventually I realized that it was because they were living and running their own businesses in the same neighborhood. If you live in a different area from where you work, it is unlikely you'll be very conscious of your connection with the area, but if you live and work in the same place, I think that you are more likely to feel this connection. As a result, I think you will also get involved in events like the local festivals. I think where you live really impacts your relationship with people, even if only slightly.
--VISION GLASS offers a line of glass products that has been sold by the Indian company Borosil for over 30 years. Mr. Koda, you discovered this product by chance during a trip to India with Ms. Ozawa, and then began importing and engaging in a wholesale business in Japan. What about this product appealed to you the most?
We really loved the simplicity of the product more than anything. At first, we just used the glasses at home, but the more we used them, the more they just seemed to blend into our lives. It was amazing how they never felt out of place. While we used the glasses as drinking glasses, they can also be used for a variety of purposes, such as holding plants or potpourri or just for storage -- the glasses adapt to anything. There was simply no other everyday item that would blend into the background so beautifully without stealing the spotlight. We became an import agent and began engaging in a wholesale business of the glasses for the simple reason that we wanted to have access to a product we wanted to use for a long time.
This is just my impression, but I felt the simplicity of VISION GLASS could only be expressed by Indian kitchenware, where spoons were created straight out of a mold, or plates were perfectly flat. In Japan, there is a habit of putting a lot of energy into the minute details, but I think we can actually learn something from the unadorned simplicity of Indian style.
--The "No Problem Product" is also an initiative that seeks to bridge the gulf between Japanese and Indian values, isn't it?
The products that the manufacturer Borosil ships to us in Japan are considered to have no problem, however upon inspection there are sometimes products that cannot meet the standards of the Japanese market. Among these products, some present no usability issues so we label them as "No Problem Products" and sell them at the same price as regular products. The "No Problem Product" initiative allows customers to make their own decision on whether these products are usable or not.
When I went shopping in India for the first time, I asked a clerk at a kitchenware store whether they had a particular item in stock that was cleaner. He took the item and just wiped it off on the spot, saying "No problem," and handed it back to me. That led to the name of our "No Problem Products". And that is what it's all about. It's not about just doing what the other person tells you to, but communicating and meeting each other halfway. That was another interesting lesson from my trip.
--It's about recognizing the differences between our values and finding a point of compromise, isn't it? Even little things can change how we engage with the people around us and how we see things.
At the same time, I thought that it made me consider whether I was paying for a product, for its use, or whether it was just an act of consumption.
I really wondered about which one was bringing me satisfaction. I'd like our customers who take home one of our No Problem Products, to have a chance to think about their actions and assumptions that they may have never noticed before.