A desire to help safeguard the future of Japan’s traditional industries is driving Kyoko Nagano forward.
Since 2018, Nagano has been running three companies, each centered around an aspect of Japanese culture. She founded Mypal, a Japanese culture experience provider offering classes in tea ceremony, kimono wearing, bonsai and various traditional crafts. In the same year, she co-founded Sake Lovers, which aims to spread its love of nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) with the world while supporting small breweries in Japan. And, finally, she is a director of Hakko Farm, a promoter of fermented (hakko) foods.
With two of the three businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic, Savvy Tokyo asked the entrepreneur how she is managing, what keeps her going and—perhaps most important—how she does everything.
What set you on the path to being an entrepreneur?
It all began in Bangkok where I lived for several years due to my husband’s job. I was volunteering at an international day and received so many questions about Japanese culture. I realized that I didn’t know it very well and decided that I’d like to learn more. When we came back to Tokyo in 2016, I began taking lessons in Japanese arts such as ikebana (flower arranging).
I was sad to hear from the teachers that young people were not so interested in joining those lessons and I became concerned about the future of Japanese culture. I thought of how I could help keep the culture alive. My expat friends had free time and wanted to learn some Japanese culture so I thought of connecting them with my teachers. By enjoying classes together, my teachers could also practice English through hands-on experience so it was a win-win.
When the teachers became confident in their English capability, I listed their classes on Airbnb, TripAdvisor and other websites used by tourists. It went really well and soon the classes were attracting 200 people each month, which prompted me to set it up as a business. That was the start of Mypal Inc. It was hard at first as I didn’t have a business plan, but what I did have was passion and interest.
How did you become involved in the other two businesses?
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