Kishiko Okuno and her husband runs a small shop called Little Lithuania in Hiroshima, Japan. After discovering the venture on Instagram, we couldn’t help but message the shop and ask them some questions. While they might not be the only shop in Japan selling kaunastic and Lithuanian goods, they’re definitely the ones with the cosiest name. Here’s the story of the inverted Silk Road – as told by Kishiko.
I’ve always liked sewing and used to often visit local fabric stores. One day, I discovered Lithuanian linen at one shop and fell in love with this fabric. I started learning more about linen and found out it was a special fibre with special features. Then, I came up with an idea to have a shop specialised in linen.
I visited Lithuania for the first time in April 2011. A year before, my husband and I had started our business in Hiroshima. Our very first partners were really nice people in Kaunas, so I visited them. They arranged all my business meetings in Lithuania. So, I always had special feelings about Kaunas. I've visited Lithuania five times so far; my latest visit was in September 2017.
We named our shop Little Lithuania because we thought it was a great idea to introduce the amazing linen fabrics and other Lithuanian products as well as Lithuanian culture and some information about the country. Our suppliers are Siūlas (Biržai), Linas (Panevėžys), Giedrius Šarkauskas (Vilnius), Sauths (Vilnius), Kartu (Kaunas), LinenSheep (Kaunas) and a few more.
The area where our shop is located is not really a shopping area. Anyway, we often have sales in big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and so on. Most of our customers are Japanese but we’ve had about ten Lithuanian guests to the shop so far! Our Japanese customers ask us a lot about Lithuania – they’re interested in the country very much.
Linen is appreciated in Japan. This country is not a big market for it but there are quite a few people who love linen or are interested in it. It's hard to tell the exact reasons behind it, but, personally, I love the feeling when touching the fabric, the naturalness, draping and vibes. Linen makes up only for a very small part of all the fabrics in Japan, and Lithuanian linen is even tinier here. In our shop, we only sell Lithuanian linen fabrics and products, but elsewhere in Japan there are also linen from other countries such as France, Belgium or China.
Our best-selling items are women’s linen clothes. I respect designs by Lithuanian designers – they’re very interesting and different from Japanese creations. When we sell Lithuanian clothes in Japan, I can see our customers feeling something different about the designs, also about the linen fabrics. They’re simply fascinated by them. We just need to choose designs and colours favorited by the Japanese and ask the manufacturers to modify some details for our customers when it's necessary.
I think Lithuania has many possibilities to export their products to Japan: amber, beer, cheese, chocolate – this is what I can come up with. I also know there are a lot of small manufacturers and creators in Lithuania. I think it would be interesting if they had more chances to present their products to Japan. Lithuania is a small state but it's full of surprises: beautiful nature, forests, lakes, old towns, beautiful people, the arts… We think it’s our job to share this country’s fascinating culture with our customers via business activities.