We had the good fortune of connecting with YUI KOBAYASHI and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi YUI, what principle do you value most?
What I value most in my life is “Kawaii.” Kawaii is a Japanese word for “cute.” Pokemon and Hello Kitty are well-known representations of Kawaii. Kawaii has become a part of mainstream American culture. You can see how widely Emoji (which means “picture letter” in Japanese) is being used. But, Kawaii for me, does not necessarily mean “cute.” Rather, it’s similar to “Likes” on Social Networking Services. I feel Kawaii when I encounter something that sparks something in me. It brings me joy and excitement, and it’s something I can immerse myself in. Kawaii is more instinctual than conceptual for me. I go with my “Kawaii-feeling.” If I don’t feel Kawaii in whatever decision I need to make, then that means I don’t need to proceed. If I do feel it, that’s my cue to take action. Following instincts is my principle and my way of respecting myself, which I believe ultimately leads to my successes.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I moved to New York 5 years ago because of my husband’s work. I continued with my graphic design company that I had established in Japan, so I was making a comfortable living. Even after five years of living in New York, I barely speak English, and working from home with Japanese clients didn’t give me much opportunity to improve my English language skills. Despite how much I wanted to continue living in America, I started to lose confidence in myself and questioned whether there would be a place for me here since I barely speak the language. Taking an English class didn’t do much for me – I didn’t even find it interesting. I wasn’t sure that “speaking English” was my goal, and I was constantly debating whether speaking the language would grant me a sense of belonging here. After all, I was able to make friends, like this guy who happened to sit next to me on the subway. We exchanged each other’s Facebook information without saying much. Some of my Japanese friends who live here don’t speak English either. Then two years ago I moved to Bushwick, Brooklyn, which is known as a place where many artists live. One day, I realized something important, my defining moment: words don’t exist in these artists’ work. Just colors and shapes. I can feel their passion by just looking at their work and it can even bring me to tears. I still can’t communicate fully in English, but I can exchange smiles with this guy who I see on the way to my studio every day. I came to the realization that what I want to do in America is not “speaking English.” What I really want is to live and be with people in the ways that make sense to me. It was easy after that – I chose candles as my platform to express my life principle, “kawaii,” and opened a webstore. I use Google Translate to communicate with my customers. I then started a candle delivery service to my beloved Bushwick neighbors. It was an intriguing discovery that I can actually carry out conversations with my customers. It was getting a bit too much to literally “cook up” candles in my kitchen, so I rented a studio in Bushwick. Wholesale orders and media inquiries started coming in. I now have more zoom meetings and business phone calls, but my bilingual friends support me. I’ve been getting many Likes and compliments on my Instagram posts. Customers who don’t speak either English or Japanese have purchased my candles. Going forward, my English may not improve, but my candle making skills will! Will it be inconvenient that I don’t speak English well? Maybe, but I will not use that as an excuse and I will not run away from anything because of it. I know that I will need the support of others, but my goal is to become an artist and business owner those supporters will be proud of.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My Bushwick is a super cool place! It’s unfortunate that people often think New York equals Manhattan. I urge you to come to Bushwick, Brooklyn on your next visit to New York! Here are some of my favorite spots: first, I recommend that you visit The Bushwick Collective. You will find the old factory walls covered with graffiti and street art projects of artists from all over the world. The artwork changes yearly so you always find something new. Then hop on over to Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos for lunch. It’s also a tortilla factory so their mouth-watering tacos are always very fresh and just yummy! After the satisfying lunch, move over to Shop of Soil, which is right next door to Los Hermanos. It’s a recently opened plant shop and a boutique where you can find many unique items made by Brooklyn artists. You need to check out thrift and vintage stores while in Bushwick. A must-visit is Urban Jungle, where they turned an old factory building into a massive vintage clothing store. I love Friends NYC as well – a lot of great finds. Lastly, you can pick up Yui Brooklyn candles from my studio! I would love to have you visit my studio and share Kawaii with you!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is a tough question! I gave it a lot of thought, but I couldn’t choose a specific organization or person. I can do what I do because of everyone who is involved in my life.
LINA TAKEUCHI Photography