30 Apr Midori Mukohara
Interview & Photography by Kat Leung
Stories of outlanders are always fascinating, especially when it’s about a cross-cultured journey of family, career, and self-discovery. Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, following her college graduation, Midori Mukohara moved to Taipei after her marriage with her Taiwanese husband. In between the collision of cultural differences and the various expected roles of being a wife, a mother, and a career woman, there is a remaining space where Midori preserved her raw identity and polished herself into a resolute woman of tenderness. In 2012, as a part of self-extension, Midori founded Fujin Tree 355 ─ a beautiful select shop on the quaint tree-lined Fujin Street, sharing her unique visions of beautiful objects and enriching our city with new styles and energy. The journey of entrepreneurship is full of wonder, courage, and hardships. As time flies through her 11 years in Taiwan, Midori now enjoys every bit of her busy life and career. In a sun-filled winter day in January, we spent a lovely afternoon with the ever cheerful Midori, talking about her definitions of confidence and elegance, as well as embracing the beauty of imperfection.
Can you tell us about your background and the culture you encountered when you were growing up?
I was born in Kobe, a busy port city in Japan. Kobe is a city of diverse cultures and western architectures. I remember when I was little, there were a lot of boutiques selling various styles of imported clothing and homeware. Since I was little, I’ve been interested in textiles and beautiful crafts. I guess it was very much influenced by my mother. She is not a typical beauty and doesn’t know much about brands nor designers, yet she knows very well about distinguishing her own sense of aesthetic. She would pick up an old shirt from my dad’s closet, roll the sleeves up, and dress up in her own way. She loves gardening and would put out seasonal plants in front of our door and collect various containers to decorate different plants. She inspired me so much that her habits all eventually became my habits.
I still remember back in high school when I wanted to buy designer labels just like my classmates did. I asked permission from my mom and she said to me that I didn’t deserve those things until I could actually afford them in the future. I then started to realize that the sense of style doesn’t come from trend following. Even just a plain shirt and a pair of jeans can still look modern and chic. I do have fashion labels that I love, yet I would focus more on the style or personality they present and see them as a source of inspiration.
From Kobe to Tokyo, then to Taipei, how have the cultural differences influenced you?
I studied high school in Kobe, then moved to Tokyo for college, majoring in comparative culture studies. It was an interesting 4-year course with an influence of American education. Most of my classmates were Japanese with foreign backgrounds. Then in 2007, I got married right after graduation and moved to Taiwan. My classmates were not typical Japanese; rather than working in the country, they all worked in different parts of the world after graduation, which sort of motivated my relocation. My husband, Jay, wanted to start his own business, and I also hoped to do something interesting and creative, so we moved to Taipei with a vision and anticipation. Moving into a new culture, I first applied to schools to learn Chinese. I soon felt bored after being a student for too long. Later on, I worked for a Taipei-based Japanese company till I got pregnant and turned into a full-time housewife. It was a rather depressing period because I became a mother at a young age, without fulfilling my own expectations in my career. I felt lost finding my own position in life. Eventually, I did come up with the idea of opening a shop and sharing interesting and well-made Taiwanese goods to the world, things unlike typical souvenirs like pineapple cakes or Formosa tea. Back then in Taipei, there were luxury boutiques and homey little shops but nothing in between those scales. I aspired to open a store that was sophisticated yet approachable and would fit into Fujin Street, the beautiful neighborhood we live in.
Do you think Fujin Tree 355 expresses your personality? How have you explored, developed and established your personality after all these years? Were there any changes?
I think so. The keyword of my shop is comfort. At the beginning, I selected lots of loose-fitted clothing, and perhaps it’s the nature of cotton and linen. The impression of material made the shop often be described as “forest style” (a type of Japanese street style so-called Mori Kei). I was doubtful toward the feedback and didn’t want to be stereotyped. For a short time, I started to lose faith in what I selected for my store. However, I have learned to edit my standard and eliminated a lot of stuff. A lot of friends used to talk me into consigning their products, but now I’ve learned to say no. With time of refinement, I now feel confident and proud to say that my shop represents my aesthetic expression. It is modern and thoughtful with good quality. Even if the style or cut is loose and relaxed, you can still look chic. Customers can explore and experiment with their style in our unisex outfits. I simply dislike the idea of being categorized.
How would you define beauty? Does this definition apply to the products selected by you?
If I have to define a beautiful person that attracts me, first it would be someone who smiles naturally. Secondly, it would be the quality of imperfection. For instance, when I hire my sale associates, I’m not attracted by girls with flawless make up or hairdos. Rather, I prefer those with room for improvement and redefinition, for she can grow into a prettier and better self. Maybe it’s the rawness. I am not interested in perfection. The beauty of imperfection is more fascinating to me.
You are the owner of a select shop and a mother of two. How do you balance your roles and fulfill all the responsibilities? What are the challenges?
It’s extremely hard to balance everything. I think I still can’t find out the answers. I still remember when I first opened the shop, my child was only 3. With the high maintenance of a child, I had to bring him to the shop and cope with his fuss and impatience. Now that all the hardships are gone, I’ve learned to seek rescues and allow others to help. I won’t insist on being a perfect mother. Sometimes after work, I would tell my son: Mommy is really tired today. Can we just order food deliveries? I am lucky that Taiwan is very convenient in terms of food availabilities. With time flying so fast each day, my body can get pretty exhausted, but my mind is content. Eventually, I think we should all pursue what we like to do and follow our hearts and values.
How about the balance in life and work?
My life is basically family and work, and I am completely satisfied with it. My husband and I have similar personalities: we are both very active, forward thinking, and restless. Life is short, so just do what you want and make it even more dramatic! I don’t like people who criticize others without even trying themselves. Action is important. I love to be with people with a positive mindset.
How would you describe yourself?
I think I am a positive and independent person. I always believe in my senses and intuition. When I’m not completely sure with something, I would follow my instincts rather than discussing with others.
What influence would you love to share through your shop and yourself?
I hope that my shop, both the products and atmosphere, can be inspiring to my customers. I love the word “inspiration”. To inspire is what I’d love to achieve.
It is difficult to keep your own ground and stand with what you believe in. When you feel insecure or uncertain about your decision, what would you usually do?
A simple practice that I do is to look at the sky. I set my eye level a little higher and think things over. When I get off from work, it’s usually late afternoon. Walking home on Fujin Street, you often see this beautiful view of the sunset. I feel relaxed when I look at the sky. Take a deep breath and everything will eventually be fine.
Going on a business trip is also good for me. I feel focused and refreshed with new inputs. Sometimes, I also ask my husband to come home earlier and I’ll plan a night out with my girlfriends. (laughs)
Tell us your favorite style or outfit that you like to dress in.
I love collecting new and vintage textiles, always keeping a lot at home. I think I got this habit from my mom. For outfit, it always depends on my mood that day. Sometimes, I’d take a long time to mix and match; however, comfort is always essential to me.
What attracts you?
I love handicrafts! Things that are one of a kind and authentically made, like the DOSA bags in my shop; they’re made with vintage fabrics in Africa. Every bag is different and unique. I am very much attracted to uniqueness.
In this fast-paced informative generation, what kind of articles would get your attention and what would you be interested to read?
When I read, I would prefer reading actual books rather than online articles. On the internet, I spend more time on surfing Instagram and taking notes down on the images and colors that I find amusing. Through Instagram, I also get updates from brand designers that I work with.
Do you like to read?
Yes, I love reading books: novels, photobooks, business-related, etc. Recently, I have read the The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I love his writings: the background, the characters, the culture, history, and all the real and surreal subjects. The connections of the dark side and beautiful side of humans are also fascinating. You would be attracted into his world. His style of writing makes me feel connected. Also, the message he tries to deliver, the emptiness after finishing a great book, the moment to think and digest, all gave me clearer mind. I really love the moment of thinking about only one thing.
I still remember reading Never Let Me Go back in college. The original text was difficult, so I read it in the Japanese edition. Since then, I have been very impressed and started to read more books by him. Last year when he won the Nobel Prize of Literature, I saw a section of his works in a bookstore. I picked out The Buried Giant randomly because I was intrigued by the title. I always buy books and things very impulsively.
What book character represents you?
I can’t think of a character from a book. However, I would say Kiki from the animated movie Kiki’s Delivery Service. She was a brave little girl who flew to a big new city to start a new life at age 13. I loved her curious personality so much that I even thought of naming my daughter Kiki. Recently, I watched it again with my kids. In the scene where Kiki was about to take off on her journey, her mother reminded her to keep up her smile no matter what happens. I felt truly relatable that girls are most charming with a bright smile.
What do you love to do when you are alone?
A coffee in the morning and a drink at night. When my children go to bed, I would pour myself a glass of wine, light up my favorite wood-scented candle, and watch a movie to relax.
If you can leave your current surrounding, where would you like to go for a break?
Anywhere with a beautiful sea. Maybe not in Japan as I visit there too often. I think it would be an island that I have never been to. I love to relax in the water.
What color would you like to describe yourself?
My name has a “green” (midori means green in Japanese). I think perhaps green with a mix of red; red represents my passion.
Any plans for 2018?
There’re a lot of new projects in the shop and company. I hope I can spend more time on cooking, at least once a week, and cooking properly for my family. I would love to spend more time in nature too; perhaps camping? Anywhere close to the mountain or sea.
Through our conversation, we’ve came to understand how Midori deals with life with her beautiful bright smile and her well-rounded persona.
Her serene attitude and positive drive not only takes her further but also uplifts the energy of every single person around her.
Fujin Tree 355 carries her spirit and continues to provide Taipei with countless treasures for discovery.
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