How everyday items can bring a deeper sense of purpose to your life
ITSUMO’s story began as its founder Natsumi Akatsuka visited her homeland of Japan and returned to Canada with souvenirs for her friends. She could immediately see the joy these simple products brought them. The handmade gifts were tangible expressions of beauty, endurance, and mindfulness rooted in traditional Japanese virtues. Yet as these artisanal crafts were fading in popularity in Japan, there was a growing desire for them in Vancouver, her new home. Today, Akatsuka hopes her Japanese goods and crafts brand ITSUMO can become a bridge to reconnect with this rich heritage.
How has your Japanese upbringing influenced you?
I often look back and try to remember what my grandparents taught me. My grandmother, for example, used to always do ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. Her joy was finding a little flower from a park or back alley and bringing it home to add new life and perspective.
Seeing that made me realize you can appreciate beauty in any way. You don’t need too much material luxury, but you can have luxury in your mind and heart.
What life changes set the stage for ITSUMO?
I was working in the fashion industry, which is very fast with a quick turnaround. It was really fun and exciting. But at the same time, I was starting to question, “Why is everything so disposable?”
I just needed to slow down a little bit. I didn’t want to focus on trends anymore or what’s going to come next. I wanted to go back to where I came from.
How can a long-lasting everyday object enrich your life?
I wanted to introduce traditional cookware and items that we use every day. How we feel using these products is very important. For example, a copper pot or copper kettle really shows the richness of patina that develops over many years. It does take a long time to get there, but that’s another form of luxury—the object ages with you. It’s really interesting to watch this patina process over 10 or 15 years. You look back and see how different it’s become.
How do you choose a product for your shop?
It’s a bit of a mixture of functionality, beauty, craftsmanship, and the tradition or story behind it.
In Japan, those little traditional companies are disappearing very quickly because people want something new all the time. But we love working with these craftspeople. We want to help them.
ITSUMO is an invisible bridge between Japan and North America. Knowing where you come from, that’s very important to us.
Give us an example of an ITSUMO product that embodies the harmony of beauty and function?
Yumiko Iihoshi Porcelain is beautiful tableware made by a Japanese artist. It comes in different glazes and shapes. It’s beautiful, but it’s very functional and usable, perfect for single people, but also for large families.
Your shop emanates a feeling of simplicity. In a complicated world, what’s the value of simplicity in life?
At ITSUMO, we’re very interested in the philosophy of Mingei, a Japanese folk art movement. The concept is to appreciate the ordinary—the things that we take for granted in everyday life. Even one little bottle opener or tape dispenser can be amazing. There’s a reason for its design and why it works.
What do you think defines luxury today?
Luxury is about having time and space in your mind and heart. If you’re always rushing around and don’t have extra space, then you probably won’t appreciate simple beauty. For example, when I’m really busy, I feel very stressed and can’t think creatively. So having quiet time to myself at home is a luxury. Time is very important.
When you have extra room in your mind, you may think, “Oh, let’s bring this flower home.” Maybe you like it, or perhaps your partner or children might like it. It adds a sense of seasonality to your home. That’s a luxury.
Is there a product that has improved your life in an unexpected way?
We carry beautiful handmade Japanese bamboo baskets. This is a category that isn’t often highlighted in our shop, but it’s my personal favourite. Bamboo baskets are very functional because they were used as agricultural tools. They’re great for gardening at home or for storage, keeping small toys or random things in one place.
The ones that have the handles, they’re very strong. I usually take one with me to the farmer’s market for grocery shopping.
It’s a lost value in a way. People just walk past the bamboo baskets and don’t really think about them. You’ll only understand their value once you start using them.
How important is preservation in Japanese culture?
The Japanese find tremendous value in nurturing one single thing for a very long time. It could be a product, a concept, a philosophy, or an education. We need to pass that on to the next generation and keep it going. We shouldn’t lose that sensibility. The process of mending, fixing, and repairing helps us connect to a different kind of beauty.