Bringing ‘Whitespace’ to Modern People! Healing People’s Hearts Through Tea Ceremony

In today’s digital age, a vast amount of information is created daily, and it seems we are constantly showering in this deluge of information. While this has its conveniences, it also undeniably causes stress. In this interview, we spoke with Mr. Ikemizu of KEFU LLC, who aims to provide healing through the art of tea ceremony to those burdened by such stress. Please feel the passion of Mr. Ikemizu’s intentions!

About KEFU LLC’s Business

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Could you tell us about your company’s business first?

We operate an e-commerce site called soui that sells tea ceremony utensils. Soui was launched in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread. It started as a side business while working a regular job, and now we handle tea bowls from pottery artists and kilns that I have selected. We select products under the concept of “tea ceremony utensils that fit the modern living environment.”

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Are the products handled at soui personally selected by you?

Basically, yes. While I do choose what I personally like, in modern times, homes have become westernized, and although traditional utensils are lovely, they can seem out of place in a living room. I also felt this incongruity, so I select utensils that fit well even with Western-style dining sets.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Tea ceremony has a formal image, but I think it’s wonderful to have the idea of making it easily integrated into daily life.

Yes, that’s right. Kiyomizu ware with colored paintings looks beautiful in a tea room, but it can look completely different in a living room. I had a hard time finding tools I wanted to use for making matcha at home, so I selected these items hoping to help others facing the same difficulties.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

I see, so you’ve imbued the site with your wish for people to enjoy tea ceremony not just during practice, but in their daily lives as well. Has the number of products offered increased since starting the EC site?

They have been increasing gradually. Since July of this year (2022), I have changed the balance of my work, keeping the same job content but switching from full-time to part-time to have more time for the store. I definitely want to increase the variety of products.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

How do you source the products?

We reach out to artists. However, since everything is handmade, it’s difficult to have products ready immediately upon request. The process of getting products finished, delivered, and displayed takes a bit of time.

About the reason for starting the business

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Could you tell us what inspired you to start your current business?

To start with, my initial interest in Japanese culture led me to learn Japanese dance. Through that, I was invited to a tea ceremony but knew nothing about the etiquette, which made me think, “This won’t do.” So I decided to at least learn how to properly receive tea, which led me to tea ceremony classes. The class let us experience making tea from the start, which I found enjoyable and became quite engrossed in. I planned to quit soon after starting, but I got deeply involved instead.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Could you share what specifically about the tea ceremony you became so absorbed in?

The very first time, during the experience, I was allowed to prepare matcha tea. I was only tasked with the simple parts, like putting matcha in the bowl and mixing it with hot water, but even that made me incredibly relaxed. It was my first time sitting in front of the kettle, and I felt a sense of security as if I knew it from before, like being in my childhood futon. There was a sense of nostalgia and a feeling that everything just clicked. That’s when I thought, “There’s something special here,” and I dove in deeper.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

I see. I, Takahashi, have also practiced tea ceremony before. The changing tea bowls according to the season and the seasonal sweets were always a highlight of each practice. I found it very comforting to feel the seasons through tea ceremony.

Absolutely. I think tea ceremony condenses all of Japanese culture. If you want to experience a piece of Japanese tradition, tea ceremony gives you the most bang for your buck with its various elements. Kimono, flowers, calligraphy—it’s a comprehensive art that allows you to taste various aspects of Japanese culture all at once. I’m also drawn to its spirituality.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

By spirituality, do you mean the emotional aspect?

Yes. Being a ‘Way’, as in ‘Chado’, it’s not just a hobby but involves spiritual discipline, at least for me. Whether it’s tea ceremony or any other practice, you repeatedly face things you can’t do, get scolded, and confront yourself. It’s nerve-wracking to perform in front of others, and the tension escalates on the “front stage” like a tea gathering. Battling through these feelings, I believe, gradually strengthens one’s spirit. Through tea ceremony, I feel my core self being forged, which is a part of its charm to me.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

When I practiced tea ceremony, I also found it challenging, but in retrospect, it was a precious experience.

As adults, we rarely get scolded, so it’s a valuable environment in that sense. You’re faced with your inabilities, the body doesn’t cooperate even though you know what to do, and you can’t do it as the teacher does despite trying. With practice, you can get complacent, and that also becomes a teaching point. It never ends, no matter the age.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

It’s a world where perfection is unattainable…

That’s why I think it’s enjoyable even as you get older.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

You chose to get involved in the world of tea ceremony and wanted to start with an e-commerce site. Was there a reason for starting there?

I genuinely love the world of tea ceremony and wanted to share the benefits of the ceremony and the relaxing effects of preparing tea with more people. Thinking about what I could do right now, an e-commerce site seemed the most approachable. I’m not fully versed in all aspects of tea ceremony and can’t become a teacher immediately, so I started with what I could do first.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

The world of tea ceremony is indeed vast and deep.

It’s a world so vast that a lifetime isn’t enough to learn it all. Being at the entrance to this world, I believe I can convey things casually. So, I started the e-commerce site with what I could do right away.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

It’s admirable that you didn’t stop there. Many people wait until everything is ready. Tea ceremony tends to be seen as having a high barrier to entry. Once someone becomes a teacher, their knowledge can be too deep, making it difficult to relate to those just starting…

That’s why I believe there are things I can do precisely because I’m still inexperienced with just a foot in the world of tea ceremony. If you become too immersed in the industry, it becomes hard to convey what you want to beginners.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Tea must be a certain way, one might think.

That’s very important. But not everything has to be that way. I hope everyone can adopt making matcha at home and enjoying sweets. It doesn’t all have to be so strict.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

It’s great to learn about the lovely intentions behind your start!

The most moving event

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Could you tell us about a recent event that moved you?

Last month, for my birthday, my husband surprised me by reserving a meal at a lovely Japanese restaurant. He didn’t reveal the name of the place and just took me there by taxi, laughing. The restaurant was gorgeous, and I was so happy that my usually shy husband prepared such a surprise. It was a place that matched my taste perfectly, so I’m very grateful.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Your husband knows your preferences well!

It made me realize again how well he knows what makes me happiest!

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

That’s wonderful! Often the quiet ones are the most observant.

Oh, it was indeed a surprise.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Do you also enjoy tea ceremony together with your husband?

We don’t prepare tea together. On New Year’s, I host a tea ceremony in our home’s Japanese-style room and make him attend. But he only critiques it, saying it’s bitter or that I stepped on the hem… I think it’s his way of being coy. I offer him matcha from time to time, but he seems to prefer alcohol, so he doesn’t drink it much.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

What was your husband’s reaction when you said you wanted to start your current business?

At first, he didn’t seem thrilled. I negotiated the startup costs with him and somehow got his permission. However, the amount I told him was not nearly enough to do anything in reality. For the first two years, I built up the shop’s inventory with my own allowance. This July, I took over a company from my parents and turned it into a corporation. His reaction was like, “You’d do it anyway, right?” While he didn’t fully agree, he did lend me books on management, so he’s been supportive.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Is your husband a business owner too?

No, he’s a regular company employee. But he works close to management, so he has some knowledge. He gives me advice on the e-commerce business, especially from a marketing perspective.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

It seems like he acknowledges your work, despite what he says!

We’re not exactly working hand in hand… It’s more like a parental relationship. He lets me do my thing and offers guidance when he thinks it’s necessary.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Do you often discuss the business situation with him?

We don’t talk about it that frequently.
But I make sure to consult him when it’s important.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Starting a business really requires the cooperation and understanding of your partner.

It’s tough to do it alone.
Anyone who can is truly superhuman!

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

So, in that sense, you’re currently doing business in a good environment!

I’m really grateful that I’m not completely alone in this!

About the most challenging episode

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Could you share the most challenging episode you’ve faced?

When I worked at a real estate venture preparing for its IPO, I joined as a member of the IPO preparation office and was later responsible for Investor Relations after we went public. I was appointed as the person in charge of our very first annual shareholders’ meeting, which was a challenge since it was the company’s first, and we had no one with experience. We had to navigate company laws and meet specific requirements by certain deadlines to hold a recognized meeting. I had to coordinate with the venue, securities companies, security firms, and internal team members. I spent nights studying and days tirelessly working. Personally, I found the shareholders’ meeting more challenging than the IPO itself.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

The annual shareholders’ meeting is one of the most nerve-wracking events for a CEO.

Indeed. You’re directly interacting with shareholders, and there’s a lot of preparation for anticipated questions. I was also responsible for minor details like how to manage the monitors on hand. There was a lot to do; it felt like a whirlwind.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Did you manage to stay healthy with all that hard work?

I did fall ill… But these experiences are invaluable; what I learned in my twenties has become the bedrock of my life today, and I’m grateful for it. Although, I must admit, I wouldn’t want to do it again.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

You did an excellent job as the person in charge of the company’s first shareholders’ meeting. May I ask who offered you this role?

It was offered by my boss at the time. I was shocked, thinking, “Me, in charge of the first shareholders’ meeting?” But my boss encouraged me, telling me to give it a try.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Your boss must have had a lot of faith in you to entrust you with such a crucial task.

It’s an honor. People from the securities company said similar things, like “Normally, this is a job for the general affairs manager, especially for a woman. You’re doing great.” Those words meant a lot to me.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

That truly shows you were highly regarded.

I’m grateful, but it was exhausting.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

It seems that your experience has led to your current endeavor to share more about tea ceremony.

That’s right. I started tea ceremony and experienced true relaxation myself. I sometimes think if I had known about tea ceremony back when I was overwhelmed, things might have been different. It could have been a source of solace.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

People are indeed very tired these days…

With the pandemic, and even before that, there’s been a labor shortage due to the declining population. People are busier than ever. In the Showa era, work seemed more leisurely. Now, the volume of work we must handle has increased due to technological conveniences. We’re constantly processing information on computers and smartphones, which tires both the brain and body. It might be the most mentally demanding era in human history. While there have been physically harder times, it feels like there are more mental challenges now. Remote work has also made it hard to balance life and work. Despite all this, I want to provide opportunities for people to take a breather.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Your compelling story certainly comes from those tough experiences!

I want to share what I can because of my experiences. Like saying, “You should rest more! Take a break” . I believe in consciously creating downtime without my phone. We all have different thresholds for stress, but it’s not limitless. It’s important to take care of ourselves at times. Tea and tea ceremony can be one of those tools.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Your first step in realizing your goals is the e-commerce site. Setting up an e-commerce site is difficult, with challenges like attracting customers and managing inventory. Could you tell us the most challenging aspect of setting it up?

Creating the world view was tough. It took over half a year, and we’re still figuring it out. Unlike physical stores where you can convey atmosphere through face-to-face service, e-commerce relies on photos, which we put a lot of effort into.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

Do you take the photographs yourself?

Yes, I do.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

I’ve heard from professional photographers that capturing objects is challenging. What’s your take on that?

It’s truly difficult. Even photographing food is hard. I struggle with the photos I post on Instagram.

コントリ編集部
コントリ編集部

I saw your Instagram.
You post very beautiful photos!

I was just struggling to capture steam earlier, and it̵