SHREWSBURY, England — This country town of Shropshire in the British Midlands is characterized by its crowding, crooked, black-and-white 16th century houses, clustered within a horseshoe loop of the River Severn. Narrow passages known as shuts link winding streets that keep distinctive names acquired in the 11th century. One steep street bears the name of Wyle Cop, which may have come from Welsh words meaning “a road up a hillside” and “top.” On Wyle Cop is a long, narrow shop that has a name perhaps unique in Britain, one that comes from Japan: Seto-nai-kai. This shop has floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with items of Japanese food, dishes and giftware. A staircase is hung with fabrics. Its leaflet proclaims “a taste of the Orient . . . with pride.”
An enterprising young Englishman and his Japanese wife, Mark and Misako Fedorowicz, are the proprietors of Seto-nai-kai. Misako comes from Hokkaido. “I come from the countryside, so I prefer the countryside here in England too,” she said.
The daughter of a doctor, as a girl Misako always enjoyed reading. She wanted to read books in their original English, and went to Kyoto to study. “I love Hokkaido and always wanted to go back, but I was willing to see somewhere different,” she said. “After Kyoto I wanted to continue learning. I asked my father, ‘How about my going to England for a year?’ ” Somewhat to her surprise, he agreed.
With the help of the British Council, Misako found “a tiny school in a tiny Shropshire village, surrounded by fields with sheep and cows. I loved the location, and the teachers. There were only 10 students, so we were having almost private lessons.” As the year wore on, Misako’s teacher advised her to widen her experience, and move to stay with a family. “That was really nice. One of the family happened to work for a Japanese company established in Telford. Through him I met Mark.”
Mark’s parents ran a delicatessen in Telford. As the Japanese business presence in Telford grew, they began finding out about Japanese food items they could import, and developed a Japanese corner. In time Mark took charge of stocking Japanese goods in the delicatessen. He made friends with his Japanese customers and eventually, before he met Misako, made his first trip to Japan. He traveled to Hiroshima and around the Inland Sea.
At the end of her year in England, Misako went back to Hokkaido, but not to stay. Instead she announced her marriage plans. Her parents came to England to attend her British wedding.
As a couple, Mark and Misako ran their own store in Telford. “We used to come to Shrewsbury sometimes, and liked it very much,” Misako said. “We thought it would be nice to have a change. By chance this shop became available, and we took it.” It was Mark who chose the name Seto-nai-kai for their specialty store in Wyle Cop.
Misako says she has little time for anything outside the shop. She has not yet been to the famed Shrewsbury Flower Show, which attracts 100,000 visitors to its annual, two-day August events. In keeping with this medieval town’s love of continuity, the flower show has been held for more than a century in Quarry Park. Fruits, vegetables, floral art and 3 million flowers are displayed. Arena entertainments give top billing to the musical ride of the Household Cavalry, when 25 horses and riders in ceremonial uniforms go through drill movements. Fireworks close the show on both days.
Misako approves the strict preservation controls imposed in Britain. She says that although the controls seem restrictive when people want to make changes, without them Shrewsbury would go the way of Kyoto. As it is, ancient buildings and natural features are protected. Shrewsbury’s monuments include The Castle and The Abbey, a great Benedictine monastery. Both were founded in the 11th century.
Misako’s one year in England has stretched into 11. She says she has always been interested in food, so to sell Japanese ingredients in Seto-nai-kai suits her. She writes about English food and gives recipes in a news sheet published for the Japanese community in the Midlands. Sometimes, she says, she and her husband dream about opening an English-type shop in Sapporo. She said: “One of the best decisions of my life was to that little school in Shropshire. I am proud I made that choice.”