Less than an hour’s drive northeast from Kochi City leads to a town nestled in the mountains called Kahoku-cho, Kami City, where an over 150-year-old Japanese-style house has been renovated into an outdoor oriented café and shop called Ocho. The outfit reopened in March 2021 featuring a unique layout where half of the space is a café and the other half is an outdoor shop offering select camping gear. The owner, Kiichi Nishioku, showed me a wall-mounted object resembling a faux deer head. Each piece is made by hand and sells out as soon as it hits the shelves.
“During the two months or so last year when we voluntarily closed the store for business due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, we asked ourselves what we could do as a camping brand and came up with this product. Camping gear is designed to be used outdoors, but our idea was to do the opposite and bring nature back into the house. The deer head is made with holes for inserting branches as antlers, so the customer can collect branches in the forest or the park, and bring them home and complete the object any way they like. We can’t make a whole lot of products between just the two of us, but this was our bestseller amid the pandemic.”
Kiichi and his wife, Eriko, were born in Kyoto Prefecture and relocated here in 2008. While searching for a plot for running a café in Ibaraki Prefecture, they happened to visit a friend in Kochi Prefecture, discovered the current piece of property by chance, and fell in love at first sight. They renovated the old Japanese-style house, built a henhouse out of timber from the mountain a short way from home, and launched Ocho, a café serving dishes made with homegrown eggs.
The couple branched out into original camping gear in 2015. Having lived in Mexico for three years during his twenties, Kiichi designed camping stools with seats made from Mexican hand-woven tapete rugs, and sold them in physical and online stores along with Mexican home wares he purchased from local sources, like tables, blankets, and coasters made of sheep’s wool. Meanwhile, the business gradually earned a reputation as a manufacturer of camping gear.
And in spring 2021, they carried out major remodeling to create an interior space combining a select shop of camping gear with a café. They minimized their opening days and steered both their work and life to a new direction.
“Nothing in this world is stable or absolute. You never know what is going to happen. No matter how narrow or small, having many pillars of business acts as a risk hedge, and above all, it means that much more fun for us. That’s why we like branching out within the extent that feels comfortable. Take our camping gear as an example. We offer both select items and original products, the latter both made by outside partners and made by just us two. The pandemic has also reminded us that we live in a fantastic location. Why let it go to waste? We should spend more time for our own leisure! With our children no longer a handful, my wife took up solo camping, and I plan to delve deeper into the world of packrafting and river adventures. After all, Kochi is home to the wonderful Niyodo River and Shimanto River. Our goal right now is to lead a life that puts our own pleasures first.”
Kiichi says his latest plans are to repair the storehouse behind the shop and conduct DIY workshops in welding metals and making tools. The pillars that support the couple are flexibly changing and ever diversifying.