“Little Lithuania” in Hiroshima
If you ever get a chance to visit the city of Hiroshima, you might be surprised to find a curious shop called “Little Lithuania”. The first thought that would come to your mind might be wonder – Japan and Lithuania are literally half the world away. Yet there it is – a store that sells Lithuanian merchandise.
This shop is owned by Mrs. Kishiko Okuno and her family. This active and hardworking woman found out about Lithuania a few years ago, when she became acquainted with the traditional Lithuanian fabric. Mrs. Okuno was always keen to try new fabrics and find out about their characteristics.
Thus, it started as a hobby and soon became much more. After visiting Lithuania, Mrs. Okuno decided to sell linen in her own country, Japan. In the beginning, it was only via the Internet, but after a few years she and her husband opened “Little Lithuania”. Now it sells linen and various Lithuanian handmade goods.
How did you discover Lithuania and linen?
First of all, I didn’t even know where Lithuania was and Lithuanian linen was not very popular in Japan when we decided to start this business 4 years ago. I found linen because I like to sew for my son and others. I felt that this fabric was somehow close to me.
Why did linen make such a good impression on you?
Actually, cotton is much more popular and well-known in Japan, because it is much cheaper. Linen is rarely mass-produced – I know that linen occupies only several percents of all fabric market. However, linen has a lot of very good characteristics – it is perfect to wear on hot days since it keeps you cool; it is very light, soft and durable at the same time! When you see and touch linen, you will know it is absolutely different from other fabrics. It is firm, but smooth and drapes differently from other fabrics. It is a little shiny as it is sometimes called “woven moonlight”.
How did your family react when they found out about the idea to sell linen in Japan?
It was quite easy – my husband agreed with my idea and we together decided to do this business. Actually, Lithuanian linen has been getting more and more popular in Japan year by year and I believe it will become much more popular in the near future.
What do you know about linen and its use in Lithuania?
Linen is very expensive in Japan. But I know that even in Lithuania it is expensive, too – people don’t wear linen clothes so often. It is also used for making Lithuanian traditional clothes and they differ in different regions. What is sad, I know that recently linen fields in Lithuania lessened because of the governments’ changes in agricultural policy.
What kind of other Lithuanian goods does the “Little Lithuania” shop sell?
Our shop mainly sells linen fabrics and garments made with linen, wool or other fabrics. Also, we sell towels, bath goods, kitchen goods and wooden products, etc., and we are interested in other Lithuanian goods, especially hand-crafted ones.
Do you think about opening another “Little Lithuania” shop somewhere in Japan?
At the moment no. Although, in the future, it would be great. It is just a dream at this moment, but it would be great if we could have other stores with different concepts based on “Little Lithuania”, such as: “Little Lithuania for men”, “Little Lithuania for kids” or “Little Lithuania cafe”.
Is it easy to cooperate with Lithuanian businessmen? How would you describe business relations and the atmosphere in Lithuania?
Yes, I am quite satisfied to work with Lithuanian partners. At first, I never imagined how it could work, but they are really good at what they do, and respond to our requests as much and as soon as possible. I really think that our partners are wonderful.
What challenges did you have to overcome when you started the business? Were you concerned about this business’ risks as not many Japanese people know about Lithuania?
Nowadays in Japan, there is an almost infinite number of kinds of businesses and the market is full of various products. I always felt that people were tired of mass-produced things. The products made in Lithuania are not familiar to us, but I thought that it is important for a new business. People are always looking for something new and something good. I thought that Lithuanian products are such.
What would be your tips to other Japanese businessmen, who seek to invest in Lithuania’s business and its products?
I think Lithuania is a very attractive country and not only for business. The country is still mysterious to us, Japanese, so it is advantageous for visiting. When in business, we always try not only to sell products but also something behind them. Something you cannot describe easily, something which makes Lithuania feel very near. In our blog or other SNS tools, we share information about the Lithuanian culture, food, and other customs, besides the products we sell. I think it is important for businesses to add value to products by giving customers inspiration to live. It would be great if we could give our customers a little bit of happiness and a taste of Lithuania.
Interviewed by: Ineza Stankovskytė
Edited by: Monika Dvirnaitė
- Author’s personal archive.