On a recent to visit to Japan, I was fortunate to have my good friend Mieko meet me there. Seeing Japan through the eyes of a local is a unique and incredible experience, because you get off the beaten path and go places you wouldn’t normally go (and as a result, see things you wouldn’t normally see). During my last trip, Mieko took me to meet her friend, Takako Saito (Saito-san). Saito-san is well-known for her beautiful handcrafted pearl jewelry, which she designs and creates in a little shop just outside her home near Yokohama (about an hour outside of Tokyo).
Saito-san’s store, Mallein, opened in Kamakura City, Japan in 2005 and since that time, she has been busy creating new designs and filling custom orders. To craft her beautiful pieces, Saito-san personally selects each pearl from a pearl Master and Distributor in Mie Prefecture (who was also her mentor), and then she decides on a setting that will bring out the best features of the pearl. (Interestingly, while there are plenty of female jewelry designers in Japan, Saito-san is one of the only women in the business who selects her own pearls, as it is very much a male-dominated profession.)
When I visited Saito-san’s shop, I selected 3 pendants (one of which is made to look like a cat – how cool is that?!), a pair of earrings and a necklace. Choosing between a huge selection of handmade jewelry is always tough (because well, I want it all), but when you get to meet the designer, you can see her/his personality in every piece, making it a very special and personal experience.
Saito-san’s work is very popular, and as a result, she is busy throughout the year. Some of her busiest times are in March, when Japanese mothers wear pearls to their children’s graduations and then again in April during students’ admission ceremonies. And similar to many other parts of the world, Mother’s Day and Christmas are popular times to buy jewelry in Japan.
So if you want to experience a part of Japan that few foreigners even know about, I highly recommend Saito-san’s little shop in Kamakura City (located at 4-37-13 Tebiro, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0036). She does accept visitors (by appointment only), but if you just can’t make it for a personal tour of her shop, she also accepts orders online. Check out her website: firstname.lastname@example.org (and if you decide to order or make a custom design request, please allow extra time for translation of your email).
Going to Saito-san’s shop was one of the best experiences I have ever had in Japan because it was an intimate look into Japanese culture that few travelers get to see. And while I love all things Japan, having an authentic, locally-crafted keepsake is far better than a commercially-made souvenir any day.