We're excited to welcome YOKA founder Sachiyo Itabashi back to Tortoise for a highly anticipated encore visit to kick-start the season of giving and receiving! This extended six-day pop-up will feature a curated collection of artisanal goods from Sachiyo's hometown of Kumamoto and beyond.
Many locals may recognize Sachi as one of Tortoise's friendliest faces from our Abbot Kinney years. We hope you can come and reunite with Sachi again and explore her beautiful collection of rare, artisanal crafts, from October 24th Tuesday to October 29th, Sunday!
ET: Your last pop-up event at Tortoise was a year ago! What “good” things have you found since then for this upcoming Good Company?
SI: I'm excited to bring lots of new YOKA items to Tortoise! Starting with colorful kites from 3rd generation kite makers, the Takeuchi Family, I'll also have artisanal cedar wooden bento boxes by the Shibata Family, bamboo creations by Studio Chikufusha, indigo-dyed tenugui cloths and oversized shoulder bags from Takarajima Senkou — plus stencil-dyed noren door curtains, special potter's aprons and an array of patterned head wraps. In short, there's something for everyone! And for those who covet YOKA ceramic-ware, I'll bring the latest creations from some of my favorite ceramicists.
ET: Going home to Kumamoto for YOKA must feel like the ultimate work life balance. What was your favorite memory from your most recent buying visit?
SI: This year I returned home in the spring and summer, and went beyond Kumamoto around Kyushu Island to meet with my artisans.
While every memory is special, witnessing the kite making was truly magical! The serene atmosphere, the peaceful sounds of shaping bamboo strings and brushing food coloring on washi paper, it warmed my heart. I really enjoyed the conversations I had with the talented Takeuchi family while they worked.
My reunion with clay doll craftsman, Shinhachiro Atsuga, also felt especially meaningful. After a decade, I worried whether he would still be there, and was relieved to see him in good health, still dedicated to preserving his family's traditions through doll making.
Reuniting with craftspeople every year, sharing our life stories always brings me joy. I love showing them photos from my pop-up events in the U.S. and they're always thrilled to hear how their products are embraced by people overseas. Their warm welcome makes me feel like a part of their family, and for that, I am truly grateful.
ET: As YOKA's curator and founder, what feels most interesting to you when bringing these regional crafts back to LA?
SI: Entering my third year with YOKA, I appreciate the importance of connection between people more than ever. In Japanese, we call this connection "en," and I'm amazed by the strong bond and supportive community among the local artisans I meet. Each introduction leads me to more talented individuals, further strengthening these en connections.
I'm grateful for the connections I have here as well. My supporters have warmly spread the word about what I do, leading to their friends showing up at my events. I genuinely enjoy the sense of "en" both in Japan and beyond.
One of the most exciting parts of being a curator and buyer is bridging cultures through the products I share. The craftspeople I represent never planned on selling their creations internationally, yet they are loved and welcomed by people here.
One of the ceramic artists I work with recently asked me if they should make their products to U.S. standard sizes. I encouraged them to stay true to their artistic vision and create what they believe is beautiful, because I know and trust people here appreciate their original creations.
Showcasing these authentic, locally-made treasures to a wide audience makes the world feel a little bit closer through the art of craft.
ET: You keep a beautiful home and live the YOKA life daily. What are your Top 3 YOKA items that you can’t live without?
SI: That’s a hard question… I live with more than three items, but I'd choose YOKA tea, YOKA incense, and ceramic plates! These three items are a must-have in my daily routine.
1. Yoka tea: I grew up with this tea. It's the flavor I need every single day. Japanese people mostly drink mugicha at home. If you go to someone’s house, mugicha (barley tea) is always in the fridge. YOKA tea is like that for me. I'll brew the tea in a big pot and keep in the fridge to make it easier to drink. As I get older, I sometimes brew a single warm batch in the morning for myself. My kids drink it too, but I don’t they think know what it is [laughs]. They don’t know it has 24 ingredients and their mom grew up with it!
2. Incense: I’m not very religious, but I have a little corner where I keep my dog Choco’s picture with a little cup of ashes. I’ll light a few incense sticks, and my husband and I both love the smell. I also cook a lot so after cooking, I’ll burn incense to clear out the smoky smell in the air. Similar to our YOKA tea, I feel like I need to smell this incense everyday. I'll start to burn a few sticks around 7 pm or 8 pm before we go to bed, or after I cook dinner, and it’s a daily ritual that relaxes me.
3. Ceramic Plates: I've collected a lot of ceramics over the years, but I use a lot of Itaru Moriyama’s pieces in my home. I just like his work so much. I started buying his plates a little more than 10 years ago, even before I thought of YOKA and while I use ceramics from other kilns, I find myself repeatedly getting pieces from him.
ET: The holiday season is coming up. What are your Top 3 YOKA gift recommendations for this holiday season?
SI: Since everything we carry is special and often one of a kind… I feel like everything would be an amazing gift! But if I had to recommend three, it would be:
1. Straw Ornaments: Shimenawa kazari are traditional straw ornaments woven to express a special meaning. This is my third year carrying shimenawa kazari and I know many people are excited to get a new ornament this year. One of the most popular style of ornament is the iwaimusubi, which look like 3 circles intertwined together. The appearance is lovely, but the meaning is even more special: we're bundled together to never come apart. Another style called enishi looks like a ribbon and it celebrates connection between people. A great choice for couples and friends.
2. Clay dolls: I have a few different clay dolls, but my favorite is always the monkey doll because I love the craftsman who makes them [laughs]. It’s an omamori, or protection charm, and these monkeys will protect you from illness. The larger size protects your home from evil spirits. I think it’s a really sweet gift, and its small size makes it unobtrusive and look great in any interior.
3. All ceramic pieces: Some of the ceramics I carry are made with molds so I'm able to request the same sizes and styles from previous years. But other ceramicists don’t create the same style or size year after year, so I also gather one-of-a-kind ceramics. We have a beautiful selection of ceramic vases (crossing my fingers the wall-hanging vases arrive soon!), and ceramic tea cups and fun chapu chapu tea drippers. Both are great gift for tea lovers — especially when paired with YOKA tea! I always try to select a wide range of ceramic-ware, from the decorative to the more functional, so there's truly something for everyone.
Thank you, Sachi for sharing some of your favorite YOKA items with us! Come and explore this joyful six-day pop-up with YOKA at Tortoise, from Tuesday, October 24th until Sunday, October 29th, and get a jump on your holiday shopping!