asking for trouble

Kaiwa Japan: Rachael Griffiths of Hannah Zakari

kaiwa japan

It’s taken a while to get around to doing another one of these, but they’re always worth the wait. This time I’m chatting to Rachael of Hannah Zakari – the shop is one of my oldest stockists and I always enjoy visiting in Edinburgh to see what’s new. I don’t think I have ever had a conversation with Rachael in all the years I’ve known her where one of us didn’t bring up Japan! She’s one of the few other people who totally understands the need to keep going back.

Rachael in Japan

Who are you and what do you do?

My name’s Rachael and I’m the owner of an online boutique and real life shop in Edinburgh called Hannah Zakari that stocks the work of independent designers from all over the world. The name Hannah Zakari comes from the Japanese word   花盛り  [hanazakari], which translates as ‘blossoming’ or ‘blooming’. I LOVE Japan!

How did you become interested in Japan, and how did your first trip there come about?

I think my love of Japan spills over from my love of clothes/fashion and can probably be traced to when I first came across ‘Fruits’ which is a magazine documenting Japanese fashion, specifically in Harajuku. I was smitten!

In 2000, my dad was speaking at a conference in Nagoya and I made him take me with him! We were there for 10 days, most of which was spent in Nagoya but we also took trips to Kyoto and Tokyo. As part of the conference we got to experience a variety of stuff that had been put on for the people attending such as a visit to a tea plantation, amazing banquets with tables of colourful and beautifully presented sushi and a Taiko drum concert.

My dad’s colleague took us to visit his family and his sister (who was trained in Japanese arts) performed tea ceremony and showed me flower arranging and dressed me in a traditional kimono from her collection– it was really special.

building in Kyoto
Building in Kyoto

Tell us a little about each of your trips to Japan

I’ve visited Japan several times since then, I’d happily never holiday anywhere else.

From main bases in bigger cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima I’ve done smaller journeys to Mt Koya, Okayama, Miyajima, Nara, Nikko and others for day trips or overnight stays.

My last trip was over xmas and new year last year when I went on my own for the first time. Although they don’t officially celebrate xmas in Japan they do like to shop and give gifts so they kind of have xmas without the time off work and take holidays at New Year.

It’s hard to remember which memories go with which holiday. One of the more unusual things I’ve done in Japan include staying in a Buddhist Temple on Mt Koya. The journey to Koya is stunning and Koya itself is so beautiful and peaceful. It’s a really interesting experience and a great place to get away from the craziness of the city.

journey up to koya
Journey up to Mt Koya

Miyajima is another magical place to visit. I was lucky enough to stay in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) and experience the island at night when there are very few people around – you can just wander about in your Yukata and wooden clogs, it’s so chilled out! The place is covered in deer and there are monkeys at the top of the mountain which was amazing.

I love going to Roppongi to the Mori Arts Centre, every exhibition I’ve seen there has been brilliant and you get a great view of Tokyo from the top floor. There are so many great places just to hang out in Tokyo – Ueno Park has a great zoo, is next to the National Museum, has a great pond with swan pedalos, and is the place to hang out during cherry blossom season. Shimokitazawa is a maze of thrift stores and fantastic cafes and bars. Harajuku is fun for people watching and a visit to Kiddyland of course! Kichijoji has some lovely indie shops and if you like steak then I highly recommend a visit to Steak House Satou, steak will never be the same again, and it’s on the way back from the Studio Ghibli Museum. There’s just so much to see and do, I could go on forever!

Mt Fuji by Rachael Griffiths
Mt Fuji from Mori Tower

How much Japanese do you speak?

I don’t speak very much Japanese at all. It’s something I’ve been trying to learn on Memrise but so far it’s not going very well. I find the only difficulty with not speaking the language is in Japanese restaurants if you’re not sure what you’re ordering. Otherwise I find it fairly easy to navigate getting around but make sure to check directions online in the morning if I have a plan for the day to try and avoid getting lost.

Who are your favourite Japanese makers? Have you visited any design events or found any cute products to stock in the shop while you’ve been in Japan?

I visited Tokyo Designers Week which was brilliant, and Japanese department stores are really good at supporting indie design and often have mini markets in store.

At Hannah Zakari we stock work by Japanese Sunai (sand) artist Naoshi and we met up with her for a class a few years ago which was amazing!

We also held a poetry and art exhibition in the shop with a reading by poet Go Uchida earlier this year. I visited Go in Matsumoto over xmas last year and had a fantastic day seeing the town and visiting small shops and cafes owned by his friends. It was a great train journey up there through the Japanese Alps too.

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

If I could teleport you instantly to Japan for one hour, where would you want to be dropped off and what would you do?

This is such a difficult question, it’s really hard to pinpoint one special place or moment from my time there! I think it’s between taking a stroll along the Philosophers Walk in Kyoto during cherry blossom season, or monkey spotting at the top of Mt Misen on Miyajima. Or spend an hour at the Mori Arts Centre in Roppongi which always has brilliant exhibitions on. Or I could go to mega fabric shop Tomato and spend my holiday budget in a oner. As you can see, it’s a difficult choice!

Shimokitazawa shop fronts and shuttersShimokitazawa shop fronts and shutters

What do you bring back from Japan and what do you miss?

Japan is a shopping mecca, shopping is amazingly good fun there, even for people who say they don’t enjoy shopping. I bring back all kinds of kawaii stationery, lots and lots of fabric, beads, craft and baking supplies, and about a million photos.

I’d love to be able to split my time equally between Scotland and Japan, I miss it so much when I’m not there. Silly things I miss include: accidentally drinking alcohol at 9 am after mistaking an alcopop for orange juice in a vending machine, the way the baristas in Starbucks say ‘cappuccino’ (it’s so sing-songy and cute), that the trains are always on time, that there are tortoises in ponds/rivers.

Do you have plans to go back to Japan? What would be on your dream itinerary for your next visit?

I really want to go back soon, but it’s not that long since I my last visit so I’m trying to be patient. I’d really like to visit Sapporo Snow Festival or Fuji Rock Festival so hopefully I can fit them into my itinerary some time.

swan boat ueno park
Swan boats in Ueno Park

What’s your favourite Japan-related website, book and/or film?

I love the street photos on the Tokyo Fashion website and can browse them for hours.

I’m a big fan of Japanese fiction, particularly crime fiction – it’s so dark and bleak and rarely has a happy ending (this says terrible things about me I’m sure!). Some of my favourites are the books Out by Natsuo Kirino and Confessions by Kanae Minato which is also an excellent film (probably better than the book).

Anything else you want to add?

Don’t be put off by the stories of Japan being prohibitively expensive, it is possible to do things on a budget. If you can be flexible when you travel there are plenty of good deals out there.

Thank you Rachael! Look out for more interviews in this series soon.

All photos by Rachael Griffiths.


Hello! I’m Marceline Smith, the designer and owner of Asking For Trouble. I create illustrated stationery, accessories and gifts using my cute characters inspired by Japanese kawaii. This is my business and personal blog where I write about my creative doings, inspirations, travels, Japan trips and daily life. Read more »

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