Last week I went into Tokyo on a buying trip to look for extra-cool products for the coming Christmas season, since I have a feeling we’ll be needing lots of stock. I was training our newest J-List employee Ai, who’s in charge of finding new bento boxes, fun traditional products and interesting Japanese pens. (It will come as a shock to some readers, but Ai-chan is not an A.I., unlike pretty much every character in anime and games with that name.) Training Japanese employees on what products to get for J-List can sometimes be a challenge, due to the difference in the way they perceive their own country compared with “outsiders” (which is what the word gaijin really means) like us. While you or I might view a traditional tatami room as a mysterious and magical space quite unlike any other, a Japanese would likely see it as just another room, not understanding what all the fuss is about. Some of J-List’s most popular products — the generic clear umbrellas that are everywhere in Asia, those traditional kompeito candies, or kanji name stamps — completely baffle our Japanese employees at first, until they come to view their own country from the outside, as foreigners do.
I’m a big fan of beautiful tatami rooms.