We’re always on the look out for unique things in Somerset and people doing things differently here, so when we met Leila Hodgkins and discovered she runs a gorgeous online shop, Hatsukoi, from her home near Shepton Mallet, we got very excited!
Leila’s shop is full to the brim with cool homewares and accessories from Japan and we were really keen to find out more about it and ask her four questions we thought you’d love to know the answers to. So sit back, relax and find out all about Leila’s Far East adventure and the beautiful things she’s brought back to beautiful Somerset!
1. Can you tell us a bit about Hatsukoi & what inspired you to create it?
Hatsukoi is an online shop selling homewares and accessories from Japan, created by Japanese designers or inspired by Japanese lifestyle and philosophy.
I’ve been interested in Japanese culture and design for many years and always dreamed of visiting. It seemed such a mysterious place and so different from the western lifestyle I’ve grown up with. In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to go to Tokyo on holiday and now I try to go every year as I find it beautiful, inspiring, exciting and relaxing.
In Japan, they seem to have a different way of doing things. Although on the surface they appear to live very automated, convenient, modern lifestyles, underneath there’s always a current of ‘Japaneseness’ – in the colours, the design, the little touches of tradition here and there. The main thing I love about Japanese culture is their ability to blend traditional values with high-tech modern living. Modern technology can make us feel stressed and under pressure but in Japan, some effort is made to ‘disarm’ the technology - to make it comfortable and friendly. It seems cute and funny to us, maybe even childish, but the roots of this actually come from the Shinto and Buddhist philosophies; there are spirits and sprites in everything so if you’re going to manufacture something, you want it to be friendly, right? And why wouldn’t you want a pink phone covered in lucky charms, or a bus with a face on it!
Also, Japanese people are very connected to the seasons and to nature. When you visit in Spring there are cherry blossoms everywhere. In Summer, it’s hot and humid so evening fireworks and lantern-lit festivals are popular. In Autumn, the maple trees set the parks alight and in the Winter, the New Year celebrations are a time for family and giving thanks.
As well as being celebrated with family, friends and work colleagues, these changes in the seasons are reflected in the restaurants, decoration in the streets, at the station, in the parks and in the bright displays of the massive ‘departo’ department stores.
Really, it’s this connectedness and how it’s manifested in the colourful, pretty and bright things that people surround themselves with, that I wanted to bring to the UK - and why I started my shop.
The real beauty is that you can be as deeply philosophical or as frivolous about it as you like! I don’t believe for a minute that material things alone can make us happy, but warmth and colour in our homes can give us a lift when the weather’s bad, things aren’t going to plan, the computer doesn’t work or your back aches - and the word Hatsukoi is actually the Japanese word for true love, which always makes me smile.
2. Can you tell us about some of your favourite things in the shop?
It may seem a strange choice, but some of my favourites are the sets of sieves, especially the smaller ones. I don’t think this style is very easily found in the UK, but I use mine all the time!
It’s so useful having a little basket to put things in. I store food in the fridge in them and use them to rinse vegetables and fruit - especially things that have been grown in my Somerset garden.
Sometimes it feels like everything you buy in the UK is huge, but in Japan it’s easy to find small sizes which fit much better in modern homes.
Another favourite is this Nebuta glass jug. It’s easy to think that everything from the Far East is just churned out of a factory, but this glassware comes from a region famous in Japan for its tradition of glass production - and the name and design have so much meaning. The Nebuta Matsuri is a summer festival held in August in Aomori City and the colourful, textured pattern reflects the fun, bright colours and excitement of a summer there.
I’ve a similar jug that gets used all the time. I’ve had it for ages and it’s the reason I wanted to stock this style in my shop.
I take a great deal of care in picking out the things I add to my shop. Everything in it is something I would, and often do, use myself at home.
3. If you could give anyone a gift from your collection, what would the gift be, who would be the recipient and why?
I was chatting with someone I know the other week, who told me about his seventeen year old step daughter. He said she was always bored, but that any cajoling to do something, make something or even listen to music, was met with disdain. I would give her one of these lovely Freestyle notebooks and a roll of Schedule Masking Tape and encourage her to write something, draw or make a scrap book.
I love stationery and probably make the mistake of assuming everybody else does too, but I truly believe the act of writing by hand, the feel of paper in a book and the connection between eye, brain and hand is a great way to trigger creativity and helps us express ourselves.
4. Tell us a secret about Hatsukoi that no-one else knows!
That’s a hard one because I think I tell people everything! :)
One thing that perhaps people don’t realise is how long it takes me to get the things I buy over from Japan. Everything I order comes by sea and this takes a full three months from the time I place the order to it arriving in the UK. If the goods are handmade to order, it can take even longer. This means I have to plan way in advance and be very patient too! I get really excited about placing a new order, but then just have to forget about it until I get the notice that it's landed.
Oooh... now that does take a huge amount of patience. We’d be rubbish at it, but in a ‘I want it and I want it now' world, there’s something incredibly precious about waiting for something special and appreciating it all the more when it arrives.
We hope you've loved hearing all about Leila’s journey - curating her fab Japanese homewares and accessories and bringing them to Somerset. We’ve already got a big list of the things that’ve caught our eye... like THESE!
So, check out Leila's shop (perfect for Christmas gifts – hint, hint Graeme if you’re reading this!!) and if you’d like to keep up to date with Hatsukoi’s adventures, you can follow Leila on Twitter and Instagram.