Ito City, Shizuoka - ©Mio Yamada
We are moving!
If you subscribed to our newsletters, you’ll know that NiMi Projects is in the midst of moving its bricks and mortar location from The Black Barn in Seal to 4 Bank Street in Sevenoaks.
It’s an exciting time for us, and has left us incredibly busy this summer as we renovate our three-storey building. Yes! Three floors!
Our new location is central to Sevenoaks, walking distance from the station and we have exciting plans for our top floor initiative — an event space and studio. Plus, to celebrate, we will be launching new products we are sure you’ll love.
More details to come, but while we finish preparing our new home, here’s a personal post from Japan, which is in the middle of its firework festival season.
We hope to start our new adventure with a just as impressive bang.
The Tokaikan, former city hall of Ito is now a museum of the city's history. - ©Mio Yamada
A Flashback to Japan
Though NiMi Project founders Nicole and Mio met and worked in Tokyo, the Shizuoka coastal city of Ito holds a special place in Mio's heart as her birthplace. Home to koi-filled rivers, traditional architecture, retro hotels, lush mountainsides and dark, sandy beaches, it was once a bustling vacation gem of Japan. Today, it's sleepier, more akin to an old-school seaside resort that maintains the same charm it did for decades.
We think it deserves a little more love than it's getting.
The retro-charm of Ito's Sun Hatoya hotel - ©Mio Yamada
Like any other city in Japan, Ito celebrates its own festivals — usually small affairs involving temple floats and perhaps a few local bon odori dance events. Yet every August, this tiny city also celebrates something close to both our hearts. It honors one of Japan’s first cultural exchanges with England, a chance encounter with a man from Gillingham, Kent. And it does this with a bang, by holding one of the biggest firework displays in Japan.
The Obon Lantern Festival in Ito - ©Mio Yamada
Every August, the city comes alive with its Obon lantern ceremony to welcome ancestor spirits to visit the earthly realm. Locals and visitors write the names of dearly departed loved ones on colourful candle-lit paper lanterns, which are set adrift on rivers to bob and sway towards the sea. It's not a sombre affair, but one of celebration that traditionally takes place in Ito before Anjinsai, the most popular festival of Ito.
Anjnsai on August 10th marks the landing of Willam Adams, a Gillingham-born naval officer and the first Briton to settle in Japan. He's perhaps better known in the west as the inspiration behind John Blackthorne, the protagonist of James Clavell’s famous best-selling novel Shogun. Or, for those of a certain generation, Richard Chamberlain's character in the 1980s TV adaptation.
The Anjinsai Firework festival of Ito - ©Mio Yamada
A naval navigator aboard a 17th-century Dutch expedition ship that accidentally landed on the shores of Shizuoka, Adams was imprisoned in Osaka after Portuguese missionaries accused him of being a pirate. Yet the Briton was freed by Ieyasu Tokugawa who was impressed by Adams’ knowledge of western shipbuilding, weaponry, geography, mathematics and more. He was forced to stay in Japan until 1613, but in that time, Adams learned Japanese and earned the trust and friendship of the Shogun, who not only appointed him as foreign affairs adviser but also gave him a fiefdom and name worthy of a samurai — Miura Anjin.
Summer foods during Anjinsai in Ito - ©Mio Yamada
Ito knows Adams as the romantically named Blue-eyed Samurai. Statues and portraits of him and his ship can be found in local parks and buildings. When the city was a thriving vacation destination during the 1950s and ‘60s, a parade through town honoring Adams would draw visitors from afar, ending with a huge fireworks display over the sea.
Sadly, today, as holidayers choose flashier and overseas destinations, only the fireworks festival in Ito remains. But it’s still one of the best displays in the Japan. The city fills with locals and visitors; street stalls along the river sell retro snacks and desserts and the sky lights up with over 10,000 fireworks.