Japanese happiness arrives in Vancouver—an interview with CEO, mastermind and gentleman, Yo Shitara.
From today until February 28th, the Fairmont Pacific Rim (see previous article) is proud to welcome an artful and beautiful exhibition, entitled Japan Unlayered. Designed to create a sensory experience, this event is intended to bring visitors in touch with the Japanese culture through taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. Taking over Giovane Café, one will find BEAMS, a Japanese lifestyle store, in its temporary pop-up location—the very first in all of North America, and a very welcomed guest in Vancouver.
Bringing together the best of modern and traditional, the pop-up shop demonstrates a special edit of products, along with the limited pre-release of the publication 'BEAMS beyond TOKYO’. Today, we have had the incredible privilege to discuss the brand, the book and the significance of forty years of collaborations (such as Levi’s, Nike and Adidas) with BEAMS CEO, Yo Shitara, with translations with script-writer and Executive Advisor, Kundo Koyama.
For many people in Vancouver who may be experiencing your brand for the very first time, can you speak on the BEAMS retail concept, and brand philosophy?
BEAMS has been around for 40 years now. All along we’ve had the concept: basic and exciting. There’s always something new in the basics, and that’s what we’ve pursued. We’re called BEAMS a select shop in Japan—meaning a multi-brand boutique. What we usually do is select pieces filter through our lens of happiness, and most importantly, what we believe will bring happiness to our customers. We bring in all of the good basic things, add a little bit of our own filter to it. When the 21st century began, we decided to become more of a culture shop, whereas before, we were considered a select shop. During our 40 years, we have always introduced the best from around the world to Japan. In doing that, we discovered that there is a lot of culture behind every good product. Having been around for 40 years now, we want to introduce Japanese culture and the best products of Japan to the world.
In what ways are you adapting the culture and retail experience of BEAMS to sit best within the Vancouver marketplace?
BEAMS has always been very good at bringing together craftsman and artisan work, with a young general of culture—namely anime culture—that Japan is so known for. We do both, and that’s the capacity of BEAMS, and we believe those to be the elements that create happiness for the next generation. BEAMS JAPAN carries a very wide range of products—from one extreme to the other. But this time, for the pop-up, we brought in a careful edit of stand-out products and we wanted to see how Vancouver would react. We, of course, don’t know the local market here. But we are looking forward to seeing how people react, and we will try to fine tune it during the period of the time.
What are some of the characteristics of the city that encouraged to you to see Vancouver as an appealing place for you to expand your global reach? And why at this particular moment?
The most significant reason is because we were invited to take part in the Japan Unlayered collaboration, and we found it to be a wonderful opportunity. Secondly, it’s been almost a year since we opened the BEAMS JAPAN shop in Tokyo. We’ve had numerous people from the international market come and see our project, and we’ve received a great deal of feedback. We were actually at a moment where we were thinking that we should probably try to take the shop beyond Japan, and see how see how other markets would react. And also, last but not least, when we were briefed about Canada and the marketplace in Vancouver, we did see great potential in that our brand and the stories we have to tell would resonate well with the rich culture here.
What is the vision for the collaboration and overall experience of Japan Unlayered?
We thought it was a great combination of participants, starting with Kengo Juma-san, who would bring so much to the city through his architecture, as well as Westbank and Peterson. The exhibition will present Japanese traditions with contemporary design. The goal is to illustrate that the defining principles of true Japanese design remain the same despite the evolution of technology.
Joining us is MUJI—another wonderful representation of Japan. And though BEAMS and Muji are contrasting in character, in that is a great balance. This is our very first time collaborating with Muji in a single event, though I have always thought that I would like to collaborate with them in one form or another.
What are your thoughts on international collaborations?
I find that international collaborations bring together very strong characters. With the Olympics fast approaching in Tokyo, we see many more collaboration happening locally. It brings together many strong brands in Japan. There’s always been a philosophy of the Japanese that there is a spirit that lies within a form even in tea, a flower, or martial arts. The shape comes first, and you have to do the shape very accurately before the spirit can reside in it, and so we think that the form—us being put together—and the right players being there certainly brings a special spirit in to the collaboration.
"There’s always been this philosophy of the Japanese that there is a spirit in a form even in tea, a flower, or martial art."
What can BEAMS enthusiasts expect from your coffee table book with Rizzoli, “Beams: Beyond Tokyo”?
The book introduces and explores 40 years of collaborations that we’ve done. But we didn’t want to just to do a history book on our 40 years. We knew that the products that we created through collaborations with great partners would best tell the story of what we’ve done. And as I had mentioned previously, we try to apply an amount of happiness to a basic item. In all of the pages, you’ll see this concept come to life, and that something really basic can really create a whole new value or a whole new world. We really want readers to go through the book carefully, and see how this concept transpires, and how something basic has transcended to something completely different.
What has been your most significant collaboration?
I am very passionate about all of the collaborations that we have had through the years, and I remember all of them very well. But if I had to name one, it would be the Levi’s collaboration, because of our beginnings, being an American life style store. That’s how we had originally taglined the company when we started back in 1976, and Levi’s was one of the first brands that we carried in our tiny shop. And the fact that we grew enough so that Levi’s would wish to collaborate with us was like a dream for me. It was a dream brand back then and now we get to work on special projects together. I was extremely happy about that one. When BEAMS was started, I could never have imagined that would happen.
BEAMS was originally founded by Yo Shitara’s father, Etsuzo Shitara, though Shitara took part in the launching of BEAMS—while still holding another job within an advertising company. It was years later that he succeeded ownership of the company from his father, and today, carries the passion of purpose for BEAMS, admirably.