K5/KABEAT Plant Maintenance, Asa Shokubutsu
●Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Meguro, Tokyo. My parents are from Tokyo, so I guess that makes me a native Tokyoite.
●What was your childhood like?
I was active but shy. I didn’t play with many other kids, rather I played with a small group of like-minded friends. I took gymnastics classes and played table tennis, badminton, track and field, and many other sports when I was in school. I was also a member of the music band, playing the drums.
●What made you start playing the drums?
When I was in elementary school, they taught percussion in music class. But I also had a longing to be a drummer, so when I got a bit older I formed a band, copying hardcore, Western, and some other genres. I’m not much of a music expert though. I know it sounds like I was an active student, but I’m not the lively type who gets along with everyone, and I remain reclusive. I admired the more scruffy girls.
●What did you do after graduating from high school?
I always loved clothes, and since elementary school, my dream was to become a designer. Once I graduated from high school, I entered a fashion college. But at that time I also became interested in lighting work when I worked as a lighting engineer for a cultural festival, so after graduation, I entered a stage lighting company as a new graduate.
●What attracted you to lighting?
It was during this time that I worked on the lighting for a fashion show. When the lighting synched with the sound and the models’ movements and it made this perfect atmosphere, I felt this indescribable feeling of elation! It was addictive and felt great! The fashion show is the main event of that festival, so everyone was excitedly working on it. It was like a club that reunited once a year, with rehearsals and voices that had been passed down from generation to generation. Lighting to a rhythm and being able to feel the excitement of the space felt similar to the sense of unity I felt in the band. The sense of presence and rhythm I felt was fascinating. I just couldn’t shake that feeling, so I began thinking about a career in lighting.
●Did you find it challenging to work in lighting?
I worked in lighting for only a year, but it was a dream come true. It was with a company called Akari Gumi, which did stage lighting for plays, ballet, and other productions. We traveled from one end of Japan to the other in trucks and late-night buses loaded with equipment. Sometimes we would go from one community center to another in small towns, and other times we would do long-term performances in large theaters. Many of the productions felt high quality, not because of the size of the job, but because of the quality of the work. I was also involved in stage productions of Mr. Hisashi Inoue, Mr. Koki Mitani, and Mr. Hideki Noda, and I spent some days surrounded by a distinguished group of actors. It was an experience I had when I was young, but even thinking back on it now, I still get goosebumps thinking about how close I was to the work of these incredibly prestigious people. Even though it was only a one-year thing, I had so many valuable experiences that I have yet to encounter a feeling that remains so vivid in my mind outside of Akari Gumi. However, I still had a yearning for fashion, and I decided to quit.
●What made you want to return to fashion?
When I chose a career in lighting, I had hoped to someday be able to do lighting for fashion shows, but when I entered, all I could find was work in plays and ballet. Of course, it was very fulfilling and I had a hard time leaving, but I felt frustrated when I saw my friends from vocational school working in fashion. I wanted to be a designer and so started job hunting. In the end, I joined an apparel company introduced to me by an acquaintance, which was an OEM company. There was a lot of work that came from production requests from brands, and it was not a place where I could create designs from scratch. However, I knew that I would not be able to do what I wanted to do from the beginning, so I jumped into the company to try my best, starting in production management. I joined my first company at the age of 22 and worked in apparel until I was about 28, changing jobs only once.
●What made you leave the apparel company?
I don’t know what caused it, but I got tired and couldn’t work anymore, so I quit. In the lighting business, each job had a clear beginning and end, but in the fashion business, it felt like things were just rolling along without boundaries for the next six months or a year. I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I found myself in a state of depression and unable to do anything for about a year and a half. The president of the company I was working for at the time was very understanding and told me, “Take it easy, you can take a leave of absence from today,” and immediately processed me for sickness benefits without any blame, so I was able to take a leave of absence without thinking or worrying. I am sorry that I had to quit like that, but I am very grateful. When I was able to get back on my feet, or rather live properly, my mother, who works with plants, invited me to go with her to an open garden for a change of pace. I went along on a tour of the open garden with a light heart. I mumbled something about how nice it would be to work with plants, and the people around me got very excited, saying, “You should do it!” I was introduced to a part-time job as a plant broker, and I started working with plants at just the right time.
●Have you always been interested in plants?
My father is a freelance writer, but he also teaches mountaineering and took me camping and to the mountains a lot during my childhood. Now that I think about it, nature and plants were closer to me than I thought, even as a child. When I started my work, I felt soothed by the expression I saw in the plants…… Because I had sunk so low, I was extraordinarily moved by their beauty, but I also felt a comfortable sense of security. I thought that if I let the plants take care of me, I might be able to cheer myself up. And unlike fashion, working with plants is physically demanding, so I thought it would suit my character. Also, I thought it would be enriching to directly feel the reactions of customers.
●Where did you meet Mr. Amano of Yard Works?
I worked for a middleman wholesaler for about five and a half years after I turned 30. I met Mr. Amano of Yard Works when I was working there. He was a frequent customer and was very friendly. One day, I told him that I was planning to quit and start my own business, and so he asked me if I wanted to maintain the plants at K5.
●Did Mr. Amano’s plant selections stand out?
Yes, it was outstanding! Some plants were neatly arranged to have the same shape and other plants were full of individuality, plants that would make you think, “What a strange shape!”. Amano tended to snatch up plants like that! I got the impression that he was looking for plants that would resonate with people who like art or have a sensitivity that values fun. Plants are not something that people create from scratch, and I think it is important to provide the beauty and strength that is already there in any given situation. The selection is vital, and the color of the brand changes depending on how the plants are chosen. The plants created by Yard Works are recognizable as Yard Works plants, even if they don’t say they are Yard Works plants. I think it’s great because the “typical” coolness of the brand never wavers.
●What did you feel when you first saw the space and plants at K5?
The first time I visited K5 was just before it opened, in the middle of interior construction and plant delivery. I remember being nervous about working in such a stylish place and wondering if I would be able to handle it! I visit once a week for maintenance, and even though I am used to the space, it still takes me four to five hours. I think that plants respond well to being loved. Plants that are in places where no one pays attention to them are like ornaments, and they lose their vitality. The communication through the plants makes me feel that the people at K5 are kind and that K5 is a warm place where you can rest and relax.
●Is there anything you keep in mind when checking K5 plants?
They naturally need a certain amount of sunlight, and in fact, K5 is not the best environment in terms of sunlight. So I am moving them to as bright a place as possible and exploring their growing environment, such as how much water they absorb. The plants in the hallway in front of the guest rooms are cute and healthy as they try their best to grow their leaves toward the sun. However, there are inevitably some plants that go bad, and others that get used to their environment and grow and grow and grow. It would be nice if they could say, “I want water,” or “I don’t need it right now,” but the plants don’t speak up, they just stay still and silent. There are times when I don’t notice such silent appeals from plants, and I often think that I am not ready yet, but I think that I have no choice but to continue to explore why this is happening.
●What is your impression of Kabutocho and the plants in this city?
My first impression was that it was interesting to see so many historic buildings mixed in with the newer ones. I had the impression of a business district mixed with a highway. I thought it was an interesting gap to have a hotel with a lot of greenery in such a city. Nature is something you would normally go outside to see, but at K5, you can enjoy the plants inside the hotel. I think it would be interesting if the opposite phenomenon happens in Kabutocho in the future.
●What other work do you do now that you are independent?
I also visit KABEAT in Kabutocho once every two weeks for plant maintenance, which I do in conjunction with K5. Other than that, I mainly take care of gardens in private homes and maintain plants in beauty salons and other stores. Since two years ago, I’ve also been allowed to take care of the garden at Gotokuji Temple, famous for its display of cat statues. Actually, my mother has also been taking care of the flowers and plants for several years now, and as her age has been getting harder on her body, I have started to help out. I mainly work on the smaller plants, but my mother and I are trying daily to create a flower bed that does not ruin the landscape and that will always have flowers to be seen regardless of the season. We are amazed and grateful to the priest, who is always open and willing to hear our suggestions. My mother’s plant selection and layout ideas are such that they casually coexist with the space, and I am studying to inherit her sense of style while trying to create a garden with an awareness of the scenery found in nature.
●What do you feel is the difference between caring for indoor and outdoor plants?
Houseplants that are grown indoors are also plants that originally grew outdoors in warmer climates. However, our selfish desires have led us to recognize them as indoor plants. In addition, they are sometimes treated as an extension of the interior design, which sometimes makes me feel sad. I like houseplants, but I would like to be more in touch with plants that are in their natural habitat and can experience the four seasons.
●What do you think are the similarities among seemingly diverse careers in lighting, apparel, and plants?
I think we have something in common in that we “create something” that makes the viewer feel good and comfortable. I landed my current job because I wanted to be in touch with the cool plants that Yard Works selects and that matched my sense of style. From now on, I would like to enrich my work with more of my own sensibilities.
●Is there anything you would like to do or are thinking about doing in the future?
Most flower pots are made by a certain manufacturer, and all stores often carry the same ones. I think that is a little boring. I like antiques and vessels and collect them as a hobby, so I would like to make pots out of them and combine them with plants. I have a friend who is a potter who is interested in working with me, and we are now starting to move forward, little by little.
●Is there anything you wish you had in Kabutocho?
There are not many benches in Kabutocho. I once bought a sandwich because I wanted to eat somewhere outside, but there was nowhere to sit, so I ate it sitting on the curb of a small green space! With all the cool buildings and spacious streets, it would be nice to have a place to sit and relax and look at the city.
Born in Tokyo in 1985. As a student, she played drums in a band and went on to fashion college. Attracted to the stage, she worked for a stage-lighting company upon graduation, going on to work in product management for an apparel company. Before turning 30, she made her way into the greenery business and is now self-employed. She is in charge of plant maintenance for K5 and KABEAT through her connection with Yard Works. She also cares for and maintains plants for a beauty salon, and private homes, and also takes care of the flowers and plants at Gotokuji Temple.
Text : Momoko Suzuki
Photo : Naoto Date
Interview : Momoko Suzuki
K5/KABEAT Plant Maintenance, Asa Shokubutsu
Interesting people in Kabutocho
Mr. Kohei Okura, who is in charge of Kabutocho’s PR including K5, approached me at K5 and greeted me, but I never had a chance to talk to him at length. But from the beginning, I got the impression that he was soft-spoken and kind to everyone. I don’t think there are many people who can give such a natural impression. I think working in PR suits him, as it involves communicating with all different kinds of people. I would love to know about his roots and his life experiences.