Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How I got to selling stickers and memo pads from Japan.

Recently one of my best friends asked me "why did you start selling stickers and memo pads?" My first reaction was " jewelry business wasn't going well and mom was pushing me to sell on etsy or ebay...." but then I realized that the road here was much more interesting.

It's 1994-I graduated with a BA in Women's studies and decided to do my masters in sociology. I decided to stay at my university because my favorite professor could be an advisor for my thesis. I was also helping run the women's studies office, was the undergrad and grad representative on Presidential committees etc etc. I was really loving my life. I also became a T.A. which was fab. But....I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I thought about becoming a prof but the politics was not something I wanted to deal with. I basically was lost. I had a dream of opening a business (no internet back then)....I could imagine a big old house room would have a bookstore...another would have aromatherapy stuff...there would be a would be great. This was my dream-to have my own business.

Fast forward to Fall 2006-I finished the courses for my degree and I was really really struggling with the thesis. I changed it 5 times-partly because my one advisor and I couldn't agree on it. I was beyond frustrated. I realized that this degree was meaningless and I quit. The question then became what to do next. The whole time I was doing the degree I was also getting more serious about the business. I had some friends who were studying business etc and they were helping me plan things out. night (it was a Thursday) in late March of 1997 I was on the phone with my friend and I blurted out that I was leaving Guelph (where my university is) and the choice was between Toronto and Vancouver. Since I wanted to really enjoy my life outside of the business too, I picked Vancouver because frankly, it is a little piece of heaven.

So...I moved there in May of 1997. When I landed I thought I had arrived to the place that I would spend the rest of my life (little did I know I would move in a year). I didn't love my main job but that was ok because I was still working with the idea of opening a business. I then got a job teaching English-I really enjoyed it. Then I met a guy-he was a chef and a sailor!! His dream was to go the British Virgin Islands and start a business-well...since my business was going no where fast, I decided "why not?" He said he needed 1 year to prepare before we could leave. At that time,I literally heard a voice in my head say "go to Japan" might as well have said "go to Mars" because I had NEVER imagined moving to a foreign country that didn't speak English. But this voice would not stop.I decided I would go for 1 year to make some money and "find myself" while my boyfriend did what he had to do to prepare for our move to the B.V.I.

I applied and got offered the job I have now. I turned it down because it wasn't near Chiba where my friend lived. Then they offered me crazy jobs which I turned down. I got offered my job again and I took it as it felt like a sign from a higher power. That was the best decision I made. I came to Japan and 6 weeks later my boyfriend and I broke up. I spent the next 4.5 years wondering what the hell I was doing here. Then I met my honey.

When I met my honey I had not only this teaching job but another job at a nursery school that paid $50 an hour to teach kids on Saturdays (plus I worked 2 other mornings there for not quite that much per hour). The money was fab but since the nursery school was almost 2 hours away I had to get up at 5am on Saturdays and I am not a morning person so this was really hurting me but there was no way I was going to quit because of the money. Well....I got laid off because they were changing things around. I cried. Then I decided to open an online jewelry business since I kept getting comments on my jewelry (I only bought online since Japan is crazy expensive and has nothing exciting to offer-not my style). honey and I started that business but it was NOT really working the way I imagined because I had to rely on my honey to do most of the work given the language barrier. So....after about 6months, I started my etsy business because I could be in control. It took off so we shut down the jewelry business as my honey found it stressful to have his job (crazy Japanese hours) and do the jewelry business and I didn't like the feeling of dividing my time between the 2 and besides, my etsy business was doing great!

So that is the long answer to a simple question. It isn't the business I thought I would own. It is in a country I NEVER thought I would move to. It is using something called the "internet" that was not around when I first had a dream of owning a business. But all of this....all the things that led me here is what makes life so exciting. I believe in having goals and dreams but keeping my heart and mind open to possibilities.....that is how I got to selling stickers and memo pads....because I had a dream to own my own business. I couldn't be happier!


val said...

Congratulations! Thanks for sharing how you got started, truly it's inspiring & mysterious how life works, the pieces fall in it's right place & when you least expect it, you turn back to look your life then & you're able to see how one thing led to another!

melissa, aka maoiliosa said...

that is a really cool story! isn't it amazing to look back at life events and realize how you got where you are today? it really seems like there was a certain path that you were bound to follow, and it lead right to where you always wanted to be. that's a very japanese way of thinking, too ;). i'm so glad everything has worked out for you, and i wish you all the success you can handle! heehee :).

sofia said...

Hey Val! is very cool to think how this all came about. Listening to my intuition has really paid off!

Melissa! Thanks for the kind words! It's weird but if someone had said to me 12 years ago " you will move to Japan and sell memo pads and stickers." I would have thought they were doing some pretty heavy drugs!! When my best friend met me in a women's studies class she thought I was a housewife with a couple of kids, going back to school (I was 23). When students see the pic taken of me my very first day in Japan they ask if it is my mother. I have transformed since I have been here...I have taken chances, changed my style, come out of my shell...moving to Japan was more than just a move to a new place it was a move to the real me! (Ok...I know that sounds corny but it's true!!) ^__^

Stampamelbie said...

I loved reading your story on how you got started. It's neat to here how people have decided to get into certain businesses. And I love hearing all your stories on your life in Japan. Good luck and Congratulations!

P and P said...

Please keep up the life in Japan stories. I was in the Kansai six and a half years and love revisiting through your blog.
I hope you don't mind that I've linked your blog to mine.
I can't seem to get a link to work here, it's

Samantha said...


I was wondering what eikaiwa do you work for? Did they include your housing? I really want to persue a career in teaching english to little kids in Japan, when I finish High school, and also for a great experience for myself.

P.S Congratulations, on your business, going strong.

sofia said...

Stampamelbie-Thanks so much!!

P and P-I will keep up the stories...I find it fun to share! As for linking my blog...go ahead! I will check your out soon!

Samantha-hi! Ok...when I came I worked for American Language School or ALS for short. They are one of the better big schools though they are mainly on Honshu. My boss was with them but then his franchise lease was up and he decided not to use their name so I'm still at the same school but a different name now. They provide housing (private apartment) but you have to pay 55,000 yen per month or about $555 plus utilities and they can be expensive. It likely will be a one room apartment-mine was (I had a loft that I couldn't stand up in but my bed was up there). It will come furnished with basic things. They will pay for your transportation and there is 5 weeks paid holiday a year and the first year pay is about 250,000 a month (around $2500) plus there might be a bonus.Oh you should have some experience teaching....if you don't then start volunteering at a local elementary school at least! If you have more questions, feel free to ask! Anyway, here is the link to the company.

A Pink Piggy said...

thanks for sharing your story and your blog in general really makes me laugh or perk up my whole day!!! love coming back to reading your posts!!!


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