The story began in 1996 when Jez Willard, who was then working for a large multinational company, accepted an opportunity to take part in a senior management exchange programme which required him to live and work in Osaka.
“I immediately fell in love with Japan. I was fascinated by its history, the stunning architecture, the neon-lit night life, the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, the beauty of the mountains, the quality of the food and most of all, the warmth of the Japanese people"recalls Jez
Whilst in Japan, Jez met Hiromi, which was great fun because he couldn't speak Japanese and Hiromi couldn't speak English! But once Jez completed his assignment (after receiving a special award from the Chairman) they travelled to Canada and got engaged in The Rockies before returning to the UK to get married in 1997.
The couple returned with gifts for friends and family which included beautiful silk kimono, cute kokeshi dolls, stylish Japanese tableware and delicate organic incense which were so well received that it gave them the idea to start their own business. Determined to share their passion for Japanese culture with European customers, the couple then founded The Japanese Shop in 1998 and opened their first shop in their hometown of Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Between 1998 and 2008 they went on to open new shops in York and Chester, launched an online shop and won contracts to supply corporate accounts which included Sony, Hitachi, Nissan, Procter and Gamble and Toyota. For ten years The Japanese Shop grew every year and they were particularly thrilled when their team (which by now numbered 25) went on to win several regional business awards including the York Press Overall Business of the Year in November 2004.
In mid-2008 the financial markets collapsed, sterling crashed by over 50% versus the Japanese yen and very regrettably Jez and Hiromi were forced to close their shops and concentrate their resources on the online shop. But now, in the midst of challenging economic times, The Japanese Shop is once again enjoying another period of growth. They opened a new showroom in March 2012 and Jez and Hiromi are now delighted to have regular customers all over the world.
“In the last few years we have shipped orders to private, wholesale and corporate customers in over 50 different countries, including Japan"explains Hiromi
Jez and Hiromi now regularly travel to Japan to meet up (usually over a superb Japanese meal!) with a range of extremely talented craftspeople who have become friends as well as suppliers. They continue to seek out high quality, interesting and unusual authentic Japanese arts and crafts; after all, not many places stock furoshiki, mizuhiki and tenugui! Recent additions also include Japanese kitchen knives, contemporary art, lacquerware, folding fans and large parasols.
In Japan you will also experience a level of customer service which will unquestionably rank amongst the best in the world. Whether you are shopping in one of the many high class brand stores or enjoying a delicious snack in a small family run cafe, the level of service provided by immaculately presented and warm welcoming staff is almost always efficient, polite and friendly. This, together with their love of Japan has inspired them in their mission to offer you; The most beautiful Japanese gifts, the most stylish presentation and a first class level of service.
“We really hope you enjoy the experience of buying Japanese gifts online with The Japanese Shop, if you live near or are visiting Harrogate, feel free to come and see us at our showroom or just send us an email if you would just like to give us some feedback."Jez and Hiromi Willard