“SUSTAINABLE could be fashionable, cool and casual!”
– Yuriyan Retriever –
We visited various sustainable spots in Brooklyn with Yuriyan Retriever, a Japanese famous comedian who won the R-1 Grand Prix, earning the title of “Best Single Comedy Performer” in Japan. We went to the SUSTAINABLE JAPAN exhibition and had a great time engaging with sustainability in Brooklyn.
‐ What are your impressions of Brooklyn?
Seven years ago, I lived in Brooklyn for three months for a TV show project. When I arrived at the airport for this project and came to Brooklyn, the smell of the city felt nostalgic. Compared to the time when I was living here, I was blown away by the fact that there are so many ways to be sustainable these days.
– Have things changed since you were last in Brooklyn?
The city changed tremendously while it was out of my sight.
‐ (LOL) How is it different from Japan?
Well, I live in Tokyo but it depends on where you are in Japan. New York City… excuse me, (English pronunciation) “NEW YORK CITY” is a fashionable city and it seems to be the center of the world, so I thought that their local community is not really connected, but that’s not true. I felt that every person in the community is kind to others.
‐ You walked through the city of Brooklyn today. It’s a small borough, but did you feel that sustainable is possible there?
Brooklyn, oh excuse me… Brooklyn (English pronunciation).
Well, the various systems are amazing. For example, when you become a member of a supermarket, you work there for 2 hours and 45 minutes (every four weeks) and you can buy quality products at a discount. People in the city engage with each other to create a community. Everything is so new. It made me wonder how different it used to be in my hometown which is “NYC” (=Yoshino City in Nara Prefecture).
In the Japanese countryside, people in the neighborhood help each other out. My grandmother used to say, “Don’t let things go to waste”. They made use of (plastic) bags, they tried not to use too many tissues, they took care of things, they didn’t let food go to waste and they didn’t throw things away so easily. I thought that that mindset is fading away, but in New York, that mindset turned into something fashionable and stylish.
‐ You blended into the city right away. You were able to communicate with people, which blew me away.
Hmmm… New York …. Hmmm…I fit in perfectly (LOL)!!
‐What sustainable activities do you practice at home?
Well, I’m ashamed to admit that I have not been able to do anything to be sustainable, but these days I try to take care of things. I turn down plastic bags (at the stores) and try not to use such things. When I go shopping, I want to wear a long skirt, turn down the plastic bag and put my purchase into my skirt like this and take them home.
‐ LOL! Did you do that?
No, I haven’t done it yet.
‐ Did you discover any sustainable ideas in Brooklyn that you want to bring back to Japan?
Well, I was really amazed at the soap shop. Suppose you want to buy soap in Japan. You don’t buy the bottle, you buy the refill, which comes in a plastic (bag or) container. You put the refill (into the bottle) and throw the plastic away which I thought was eco-friendlier but it’s not. Bringing your own container and buying soap by weight is so much better. I want to buy the rights to that soap store and bring it back to Japan!
‐ That is definitely a good idea.
That’s such a great idea. Maybe there are places that do it, but I don’t know of them. It’s very sustainable.
‐ Doesn’t it make you feel bad when you have to throw away the container?
When the container is almost empty, I dilute it with water and use it until it’s completely empty. But I guess that doesn’t make a difference if we have to throw away the container.
‐ How did you feel about touching and trying sustainable products from Japan?
Before I went on today’s visit, I had the impression that “sustainable” applied only to “recycling” and “taking care of things.” At the exhibition, I discovered that “local community” and the notion of the old days, which is taking care of things, can also be “sustainable.” For example, there was soap from Toba, which was inspired from the way female pearl divers relieve stress. There was Amazake (sweet rice malt) made by a Miso shop that’s been in operation for 400 years. The Amazake was displayed in the exact form of a medical infusion. It was amazing!
‐ Please give me one product you were impressed by. Let’s start with the Toba Booth.
My family took me to Toba several times in my childhood so when I hear the name “Toba”, it brings back memories. But I guess you’re not interested in my memories? LOL.
‐ No, no, I’d like to hear your memories…LOL
Sorry to sidetrack. So socks! There were scarves made from fabric that are discarded when making socks. That was really amazing.
They left a lasting impression on me. They look pretty, they’re sturdy and fashionable. Companies would normally have to pay money to discard the fabric but they remade it into something new. In addition (about colorful scarves,) it is made with the sensitivity, styling and design of a person who is color blind. I thought that all of these unexpected ideas were great.
‐ What product impressed you the most at the Kyoto booth?
I thought the puffer jacket was very cool. I’m sorry that’s two items, isn’t it (Lol)?. The puffer jacket was luxurious with a nice Nishijin-ori pattern, and very stylish. It also has fibers from plastic bottles in it.! It was so warm when they let my try it on. Everything becomes fiber, and I thought I might become fiber too (Lol).
I felt like I was in Kyoto just by coming to the Kyoto booth! They depicted a very nice ambience. I picked up a bag that was made from film waste. It was unbelievably luxurious．The material was smooth to the touch like nothing I’ve ever touched and the colors were beautiful. I was amazed at how everything can be transformed into fiber. Plastic fibers, for example. That reminds me of the jacket! The puffer jacket.
‐ What product impressed you the most at the Kurashiki booth?
Kurashiki offered a lot of great products too. Denim also caught my eye. I wonder which one I should choose. It’s hard to decide. I was able to touch several products, but I guess it would be the “warmth removing socks.”
– The socks remove warmth?
(LOL) Oh no, they shouldn’t remove warmth, should they? I meant ”cold-removing socks.” They were nice and so warm when they let me try it on. You go through four steps to wear them. I started with the silk socks, which felt nice and smooth to the touch. When I put four layers on, they were warm, plus, I didn’t feel like I was wearing layered socks. It’s an amazing feeling because they use fibers well and it’s traditional… Once again, fiber is used everywhere. That’s mind blowing.
– And they’re lightweight even when worn in layers?
Yes, they are. They weren’t tight at all, they were wonderful.
‐ I forgot to ask this before, but you worked as a cashier at Food Coop. What did it feel like to experience working in a such an environment?
I never worked in the U.S. before, so I was very happy. Food Coop is not your usual supermarket. People not only have access to quality products, but they become members to work for a little over two hours (every four weeks). As they also shop at the same store, I felt that everyone was more meticulous about how the products were being sold. By the way, they offer high-quality local products, not your so-called high-priced premium products. I felt that everyone was so alive and energetic. You often don’t feel motivated when you have a part time job right (LOL)? It was great that there was no such emotion like that, everyone was brimming with power and energy.
‐ It really did feel like everyone was proud to work there and it was nice to have a community.
It really is important to feel that you are part of the community.
‐ And it’s not like they put on airs about it.
It was more like a sense of liberation. Supermarkets can have a brutal ambience at times (LOL) depending on the time of day.
‐ Food Coop is built on sustainability.
If I wasn’t working there, I wouldn’t care if the products remain on the shelves. But if I was a member, I would feel the difficulty of leftover items or I would feel sorry for the staff who have to clean up the messy displays. This makes me want to shop more considerately.
‐ Please give us a message to your fans, regarding your experience with Japanese products in Brooklyn.
Oh (silence). Verbally?
Hi everyone! When you hear the word “sustainable,” you may think you have to be very conscientious. You may even think you can’t do it, but “sustainable” is really simple and you can do it. “SUSTAINABLE” could be fashionable, cool and casual. Would you like to “sustainable” together? Let’s be sustainable. Let’s keep doing sustainable!!
‐ LOL! Thank you very much!
‐ I hear that your family owns a business putting customer’s names on ready-made products. When you receive a present like that, I’m sure the receiver would want to keep that item. Sustainable also applies to the concept of using an item for a long time without discarding it. Do you get that feeling from your family business?
My parents are self- employed and they make souvenirs and engrave gifts. I agree with you, just engraving a name on a wine bottle makes people think that it’s something precious. I would be happy if that became an opportunity for people to cherish things. By the way, the name of the shop is “Etching Koubo Soleil.” The engraving technique is called “etching” so that’s why we have the word in the name. The character for workshop (Kou) is not “Kou(工)” for “ arts and crafts, “but “ Kou(幸)“ for “happiness. It’s a play on words by an old man who happens to be my father.
For “Soleil”, there is a ・between “So” and “Leil.” It seems to be a French world that means “sun” or “sunflower,” but my family has nothing to do with France, but they have that name. Etching Koubo Soleil!
– (LOL) Seeing you today, I feel your English proficiency is wonderful, but most of all, I was moved by your communicator skills that just can’t help pull people your way.
After the interview： It was Yuriyan’s first visit to Brooklyn in seven years and I was really impressed by her. First of all, she has a natural aura that attracts people wherever she goes. Her family’s business incorporates the words “happy”, “sun” and “sunflower”, which doesn’t feel like a coincidence when you consider her character. What impressed me most of all was Yuriyan’s high level of communication skills. As a professional, she needs to communicate with her audience, as well as with the unseen, random audience on the other side of the screen. So naturally, she has very sharp intuition. Considering her long absence in the U.S., I was astonished by the way she communicated with others. There was absolutely no language or cultural barriers. Yuriyan says “Back to the Future” inspired her to learn English but she wasn’t even born in the 1980’s. That’s so amazing and funny. Moreover, she says she never took English lessons before, which means that she learnt English through real communication, communication with her friends. After the interview I asked whether she wants to play in another market and she said “My job enables me to go anywhere.” I think that’s great. This interview enabled me to witness a person who is free and flexible, not bound by anything, a person with endless possibilities and talent.