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Ikigai Spotlight Series: Aya Kobayashi, Miso maker & Founder of Sumikichi Miso based in Bruton, UK.

Aya: When the pandemic halted my regular work...

Ikigai is a concept that is very much integral to Japanese culture. The word 'Ikigai' can be roughly translated to your 'reason for being', or purpose and is not confined to the ‘Venn Diagram’. More on its authentic definition can be explored here.

While Ikigai is essential to one's well-being, the true beauty is that it does not have a fixed equation and can change over time.

At Mogami, we would like to highlight this nuance with our 'Ikigai Spotlight Series'.


This month's featured guest is Aya Kobayashi, Miso maker & Founder of Sumikichi Miso based in Bruton, UK.



Tell us your story.


Born in Kamakura and raised in Tokyo, my early fascination with life abroad eventually led me to settle in Somerset with my English husband and our two children. The longing to explore beyond Japan prompted me to plead with my parents for a year of study in the UK, and London quickly became a place where I felt truly like myself. 


Upon my return, I eagerly pursued opportunities to work in the UK. Landing a job at a British film production company was a dream come true, and I involved myself in various overseas shoots as an assistant producer based in Tokyo. This journey eventually led to a transfer to the company's London headquarters, where I was able to make the city my new home.

 

Transitioning to an animation studio in East London, I delved into managing production of collaborative works between Japanese animators, film directors, and creators from around the world. However, a decade ago, I felt the pull towards a quieter life surrounded by nature in the dairy farming region of southwest England.


In 2022, I created a miso brand called Sumikichi Miso, aiming to craft miso that suits this region's climate and nature, using natural sea salt from Wales and natural water from Somerset. This season, we are making miso in a vast, nature-surrounded wild kitchen located in 42 Acres, a re-wilding land and well-being self-retreat in Somerset.



When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?

Since junior high and high school, I've been conscious of Ikigai, but I hadn't quite distinguished between 'Yarigai' (fulfilment or satisfaction from meaningful activities), and 'Ikigai'. I mistakenly thought that a fulfilling job was synonymous with Ikigai.


What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?


When my children began attending primary school, I felt ready to take on a new challenge. That's when I enrolled in an MA program at Bath School of Art and Design focusing on curatorial practice. During my studies, I discovered a passion for social practice - socially engaged art projects that extend beyond gallery spaces. This exploration also led me to reflect on my Japanese heritage and my connection to the UK community. 


As I pondered how to integrate myself into the local community with my own unique touch, I found myself drawn to Somerset's natural surroundings. It was during this time that the idea for Sumikichi Miso, a miso brand, took shape. My love for fermentation and my enjoyment of making miso and fermentation at home played a significant role in this decision.


Wild Kitchen at 42 Acres, Somerset


Interestingly, a friend once jokingly suggested that I become a miso maker after I left my film work, though I initially viewed it as a possibility only in the distant future. However, when the pandemic halted my regular work and I found myself spending more time at home with my children, I immersed myself in the art of making koji and crafting various types of miso.

As life slowly returned to normalcy, I began selling my homemade miso at the local farmers' market. To my surprise, it garnered significant interest, especially from younger generations fascinated by Japanese fermentation culture. Experiencing the simple cycle of satisfaction where what I create brings joy to others brought me immense satisfaction and reinforced my belief in the importance of these small moments of fulfilment in daily life. These experiences are what define my Ikigai.




How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?


Perhaps it's when I'm collaborating with a team to create artwork and craft, enjoying leisure moments with my family, or being inspired by the wonders of nature or art, while spending time with friends who share those sentiments.


Wild Kitchen at 42 Acres, Somerset


Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?


One of the most challenging periods in my life was during my late teens and early twenties when I was on a journey to discover myself and struggling to find my passion. I felt a sense of urgency, brimming with energy but lacking a clear direction to channel it. During moments of stagnation or despair, I found solace in visualising progress, even if it was just taking one small step forward. Activities like decluttering helped clear my mind and provide a sense of fulfilment, even if only momentarily.

 

Even now, I still have my worries, but I've learned to manage them through consistent routines. For instance, I start my day early with meditation and breathwork, followed by preparing obento (lunch boxes) for my children. These small rituals help me maintain focus and cultivate a positive mindset. I've found that by embracing these routines without overthinking them, I can preserve my sense of inner balance.



What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?


It's also important to contemplate and reflect, so don't be overwhelmed by anxiety and carry on with your comfortable pace. Maintaining a sense of curiosity and willingness to explore beyond your comfort zone will naturally lead you to your Ikigai.




Photos by Lauren Bowley, Location at Tiny Wild Kitchen, 42 Acres, Somerset


 

Saori's reflection


I truly appreciated Aya-san's thoughts on the difference between "Yarigai (やり甲斐)" and "Ikigai (生き甲斐)". At first glance, these two words may seem similar as they both contain "gai (甲斐)", which implies "worth doing". However, if we take a moment to reflect, we can see that they have significant differences. Aya-san points out that confusing one's job with Ikigai can be easy, an essential lesson for us to reflect on. This also highlights why we should be cautious of relying solely on the Ikigai Venn Diagram to define our life's purpose through our work. Doing so could prevent us from finding joy in daily moments and experiences that bring us Ikigai. Aya-san beautifully describes this for her as "experiencing the simple cycle of satisfaction where what I create brings joy to others".


I am also such a fan of miso and fermented foods! Miso and fermented foods are not only Japanese foods with excellent health benefits; they also taste delicious. Miso is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and gut-nourishing probiotics and aligns beautifully with Mogami's wellness principle of body care through nutritious whole foods.


I look forward to hopefully visiting Aya-san one day at the breathtaking 42 Acres as I can feel how Sumikichi Miso is an innovative brand that fuses Japanese fermentation culture in the UK context, using natural sea salt from Wales and natural water from Somerset.


 

Do you want to learn more?

You can follow and support Aya-san and her miso brand below.

Instagram: @sumikichi_miso


*san is an honorific suffix used in Japanese



The reflection and journey of the other pieces guide us to a life of Ikigai. Ikigai is a journey, not a destination. It is the outcome of being able to live as your authentic self in your everyday life.



What did this story bring up for you? Comment below.

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