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Japanese Fika

Tea with Seiko Ito and Lisa Yamai 

vol. 02

Fika is the Swedish custom of taking a break with family, friends, or work colleagues over a cup of coffee or tea and a snack. In Japanese Fika, Seiko Ito is our host and invites a guest to chat over tea, sweets, and flowers. Our guest this time is Lisa Yamai, the third-generation president of leading Japanese outdoor gear and apparel maker Snow Peak. We prepared the tea using Lisa’s favorite stove.


We had a relaxed, leisurely talk about everything.
If this were liquor, it would have gone on for much longer.

Tea is nice and quick.

ーSeiko Ito

The spirit of wabi-sabi is minimalist and cool

Seiko: You wouldn’t normally use this [Snow Peak’s BiPod Stove] on the tatami mat, would you?

Lisa: I’ve never used it indoors.

Seiko: It goes well with the setting, though. Isn’t this what the Japanese tea ceremony was originally about—doing away with excess? It’s a minimalist culture.

Lisa: Traditionally, tea masters kept all their tools in a box, which they carried around like backpackers.

Seiko: That’s right. They needed to be ready to prepare tea wherever they were. In the spirit of wabi-sabi, “wabi” is a sort of apology for having so little to offer. But the little that they do offer is minimalist and cool. I get the same feeling from Snow Peak’s stoves.

Lisa: When we developed the GigaPower Stove about 25 years ago, it was the smallest and lightest in the world and became the backpacking standard.

Seiko: It certainly emanates a distinct sense of aesthetics. The design looks almost sci-fi, but I’m guessing that wasn’t intentional. It came about naturally in the course of making a smaller product.

Lisa: That’s right. Where many trivets have three legs, ours has four for extra stability.

Seiko: The BiPod Stove we’re using now is also lightweight, but it isn’t so light as to feel insecure.

Lisa: It’s nice to gather around a fire, isn’t it? Last year, I visited the anthropologist Toshiaki Ishikura and asked him why people gather around fires. He says learning to control fire enabled humans to eat cooked foods that are easier to digest, and that helped us develop larger brains. Fire plays such an important part in our lives—for keeping warm and cooking food—and, of course, in the process of evolution.

Seiko: It certainly changed everything.

Lisa: We humans might owe our intelligence to fire, but that intelligence is also a cause of chaos today.

Humanity as a whole should pause and stay in place

Seiko: How are you liking your role as president?

Lisa: I took over from my father at the end of March. The coronavirus was in full swing by then, and business was miserable in April and May. Since I don’t have a background in business administration, I envisioned concerning myself less with numerical targets and results, and more with infusng my personal sense of right and wrong into our operations. Unfortunately, circumstances didn’t allow my style of intuitive or untamed management. From around June, though, things changed. A trend emerged of going back to the basics. People unconsciously began exploring the importance of connecting with nature. And now, camping is an enormously popular activity.

Seiko: The stay-at-home orders issued during this pandemic present a significant opportunity. If you ask me, humanity as a whole should pause and stay in place. And yet at a time when we need to be practicing the spirit of staying, some people are trying to force things back to the way they were. We’re standing at a crucial crossroads.

Lisa: Some people want to forge ahead regardless.

Seiko: To begin with, the outbreaks were caused by people traveling around and spreading the virus from place to place. The question ought to be, can we take a break from traveling and sustain the planet while staying in our respective locations. Some people are choosing to ignore this question altogether.

Lisa: Daisakkai plus atoyaku—according to two systems of age reckoning, this is supposed to be my unlucky year.

Seiko: Good for you! A literary critic I admire, Kojin Karatani, told me that yakudoshi years and the like don’t necessarily mean something bad will happen. It means something will happen that will make you appreciate that you only live once. That something may be either good or bad.

Lisa: I see. We need the courage to accept life, too.

Seiko: We tend to think it’s up to us to fix problems, that the world runs into trouble because we aren’t trying hard enough. But the world goes round no matter what we do individually. What people need to hear right now is this: Relax, it’s okay to stay. That’s my opinion. What is Snow Peak’s position?

Lisa: Knowing that we can only do so much as a manufacturer of outdoor equipment, our company’s mission from the start has been to restore humanity to today’s civilized society.

Seiko: Brilliant.

Lisa: Through the tools that we make, we are sharing with our customers the intrinsic value of spending a rewarding time in nature. Camping involves making your bed, starting your fire and cooking your food, and inviting your family and sharing your meal. It mimics a primitive and fundamental way of life. When you’re at home in the city, it might feel awkward to help your neighbors or ask for help. But when you’re camping, it’s natural to make too much curry and then share it with your neighbors. Our mission is to equip people for camping and deliver the experience of that original form of communication.

Seiko: When I say hello to kids in the city, they don’t say hello back because they’ve been told not to talk to strangers. I’ve always wondered what lies in store for these children twenty years down the line. Thanks to you, I found a solution. Take them camping. It’s okay to say hello at a campsite. Children need to know what it’s like to feel safe greeting people. You just need to give them the right setting.

Lisa: Greeting people used to be the norm. Now, the familiar neighborhood and the strange campsite have switched places.

Making a real-life version of Animal Crossing

Seiko: Do you have any special plans coming up?

Lisa: I’m thinking of making a village.

Seiko: Nice!

Lisa: You mentioned the importance of staying. My idea is similar. The coronavirus has made it clear that we’ve pushed too far ahead, so I want to take a step back. I want to form a sort of theme park of professions, or a community where the residents can make a living.

Seiko: You mean a real-life version of Animal Crossing? You plant the rice, he plants the vegetables, and we all organize the festivals—something like that?

Lisa: Exactly. A village where the farmers, the carpenters, and the doctors can play their respective roles and earn their daily bread.

Seiko: Lately, villages up and down Japan are rediscovering their own attractions. I’m trying to get them to connect with one another through a barter system. Let’s say one village produces mikan oranges and another village practices sardine fishing. They could swap product for product. If I could get five or six of these villages to do swaps, would your village like to join in? Self-sufficiency isn’t always practical. It’s okay to divide your responsibilities.

Lisa: A competitive society naturally wants to protect confidential information, but the I think the way for humanity to best move forward is to be friendly and cooperative.

Seiko: The Marx researcher Kohei Saito says we need to stop striving for economic growth and start embracing common ownership. What a great suggestion. If there’s a woodland, share it as a common woodland; and an ocean, a common ocean. This is close to your idea.

Lisa: Coexistence is the only way forward, isn’t it?

Seiko: The grower of our tea today, Oto, moved from Tokyo to the mountains of Kumamoto. He wanted to personally address the climate crisis by choosing a life and work with minimal impact, so he choose to grow organic tea. He’s an amazing guitarist, but he says this is more important than playing the guitar. He’s also always angry and his anger seems to give him energy.

Lisa: Being able to express your feelings is wonderfully human.

Japanese Fika Table

Tea | Black Tea and Organic Green Tea (Annapurna Farm)
The tea is produced following chemical-free practices on a farm run by the family of guitarist Oto, Seiko Ito’s mentor in music. The green tea has a gentle flavor with no harshness and is ideal even for tea novices.

A collaboration between stationery maker Hightide and Fukuoka Prefecture-based traditional Japanese confectioner Tokinose, this monaka—sweet filling sandwiched between thin crisp wafers—comes in a mini size convenient for eating on the go. Includes three fillings: the standard tsubuan (whole bean paste) plus lemon mint and mocha.

Flower | Inspired by Lisa Yamai’s inner energy
Eucalyptus fruit, aka gumnut, is paired with subdued shades of cymbidium to express vigor and earthiness. Vase by ceramic artist Keiichi Tanaka.

Lisa Yamai, President of Snow Peak
Born 1987 in Niigata Prefecture, Lisa Yamai is the granddaughter of Snow Peak founder Yukio Yamai and the daughter of Chairman and CEO Tohru Yamai. Lisa majored in fashion culture at Bunka Fashion Graduate University, and after graduation, worked at a domestic brand for a year. She joined Snow Peak in 2012 and launched the apparel business, then served as head of the apparel business division, head of the planning and development division, vice president, and then represented from March 2020 to September 2022. She published a book called Fieldwork.

Seiko Ito
Born 1961 in Tokyo, Seiko Ito is an author and creator who works in a spectrum of expressive genres including literature, film, stage, music, and online platforms. His latest publication is the book The Medicine called ‘LOVE’.

text | Bunshu photography | Atsushi Yamahira