Name: Maho Kato
Occupation: Jewelry designer, artist
Likes: Animals, cooking, places with great views
Dislikes: Tight clothes, noisy places
1. Where does the name of your jewelry brand/shop Sipilica come from? It’s an Ainu word which means “very beautiful.” A sense of beauty is an essential and precious part of us.
2. Why Ainu? “American casual,” or “amekaji,” fashion was all the rage when I was an art student and I was drawn to Native American culture, including its silver jewelry. When I picked up a book about the Ainu people, their culture similarly seemed cool — a tenuous interest, really. But that interest continued and when starting my business, I looked up the Ainu word for beautiful. The “pilica” of Sipilica apparently means both beautiful and right, probably because when something is beautiful, it makes sense.
3. What’s the story behind nature as your inspiration and as a source of materials? I want people to feel that we are inseparable from nature. Some people say they don’t like Tokyo because there’s no nature here, but I prefer to see ourselves as part of nature. I wonder why concrete and asphalt, for example, are considered artificial, though they are made from the Earth’s riches, as are metals — which are often viewed as cold — while wood represents warmth and nature. Maybe we can be a little more humble by seeing all artifacts as Earth’s products.
4. Did your upbringing affect your views about nature? Possibly. I was born and bred in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, right next to the sea. My parents didn’t buy me toys and I played with rocks, twigs and shells I collected — pretty much what I do now.
5. How would you define jewelry? Something that provides comfort and reassurance. For me, it’s the best means of communication.
6. Before founding Sipilica in 2005, you were selling organic vegetables; why? I never aspired to be a jewelry designer. I studied metal at university and made jewelry for myself. In my 20s, I was taking orders from people who liked my work, but at one point I felt like doing something completely different, something more physical. So I started working at a whole foods store and did everything from placing orders to designing displays. The experience taught me the principles of nature and the ropes of sales. After three years, I returned to making and selling jewelry.
7. Do you think it’s true that only the wealthy can really enjoy natural or organic living? I think it’s a matter of how you allot your time and money, and the choices you make.
8. Are there any new challenges you would like to take on? I want to explore other forms of expression, like painting and writing. My personal brand, Maho Kato, is for that.
9. How do you make a career out of doing what you enjoy? Don’t be too stubborn in setting that as your goal. Just keep doing what you enjoy and see where it takes you. It took me several years before I realized this was my career.
10. If you could pick any tool from Doraemon’s pocket, which would you choose? The “take-copter” (bamboo copter). I love wide open spaces: the sea, the desert, the sky. It would be great to experience a bird’s eye view.
11. What do you do to relax? I go to wide open natural spaces like the sea and zone out.
12. Do you travel much? I go to Tucson, Arizona, every year to buy stones at the world’s biggest stone and gem show, so I like to stop by and visit other places around that time. This year I’m planning to stop in San Francisco.
13. What does the world need more of? A sense of sufficiency. Desires are endless, but eternally seeking for more can’t be a very happy state of being.
14. What does your life need more of?Age-appropriate composure. I’m quite impatient and careless.
15. What would you be doing if you were not a jewelry designer/artist? I love food and creating spaces, so something related to food or interiors.
16. What’s great about living in Japan? The abundance of water. The safety of being able to walk alone at night.
17. Can you tell us a Japanese phrase you live by? “Jinji wo tsukushite tenmei wo matsu” — “Do things to the best of your ability and leave the rest to fate.”
18. What is the one thing you would take to a desert island? Stationery. I could probably find some peace of mind by drawing or writing.
19. Who do you really admire and respect? I admire the late American artist Georgia O’Keeffe for possessing what I think are qualities of female beauty. She has inner strength and exudes beauty from within.
20. What’s your advice for young people? Don’t fear failure. Rather than seek correct answers, become a person capable of learning from failure to broaden possibilities.