Wanping Aw actually launched her travel agency in the midst of the pandemic. After 13 years of living in Japan, the Project Research Associate at Keio University, who’s originally from Singapore, has found a strategy to give back to Japan and pursue her dream of developing cross-cultural understanding. She is trilingual, has experience as a travel guide and goals to advertise sustainable tourism. Aw also aspired to assist save Japan’s heritage through her agency, TokudAw, which provides a wide range of interactive tours and experiences equivalent to charity rice planting, samurai and ninja experiences and customised private tours designed for immersion into Japanese traditional culture.
To establish this company in Japan, she needed to pass the Domestic Certified Travel Supervisor Exam. The pass rate was only 30%, so she went to a cram school every Sunday for a half 12 months from April 2019. After she earned the license, the pandemic hit. Despite this, she remained focused on her dream and her company TokudAw survived, not through travel but by selling a 100% Japanese Silk Mask, made from Samurai Silk, a registered Japanese cultural heritage item, together with SWIFF spray. This product’s anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties are reported in academic journals and papers, but its popularity waned as Japanese fashion and consumerism evolved.
Metropolis spoke to Aw about how science and adaptableness played an energetic role in helping tourism and the tradition of Samurai Silk survive.
Metropolis: Are you able to tell us about your corporation?
Wanping Aw: We’re mainly a tour agency providing private tours around Japan. The mission of our company is to bridge the gap between Japanese people and other people from overseas in order that the world generally is a higher place and change into more peaceful. I hope to assist the Japanese and other people from other countries understand one another higher by utilizing the activities of my company and certainly one of the activities is tourism. We also offer other services like translation and consulting services for newcomers to begin up their lives and business in Japan. So mainly, what we do is to assist international visitors have a superb time in Japan.
You were already working at Keio University, which is taken into account a hit for most individuals. Why did you furthermore may determine to begin your corporation?
I felt like my work in Keio couldn’t cover all the pieces I desired to do. After I got here to Japan, I received plenty of help from the Japanese government and the Japanese people. I like this country. I discovered so many peaceful places that I need to share with the world. I also need to clear up the misunderstandings about Japan that Japanese persons are stereotypically difficult to work with, and that Japan is a wonderful place to travel, but not suitable for staying a protracted time. I need to construct a genuinely good relationship between Japan and overseas, and help to take care of traditional Japanese industries.
I might like to see our customers experience our tours, feel it’s a superb idea and construct similar businesses in their very own countries after they get back.
I began the corporate with my Japanese business partner. He was a bus driver serving the inbound tourism market. As I liked to travel, I used to be an assistant bus guide helping to guide tourists who speak English. We cooperated a number of times and got positive feedback from the shoppers, so we thought it will be a superb idea to begin a tourism company together. We considered it for a very long time but didn’t make this decision until we actually believed we could make it occur.
We had different reasons for starting the corporate. He thought that Japan had not improved enough within the last decade or so. He believed that Japan needed to enhance, or it will be left behind. He felt that when the local Japanese people can interact with overseas travelers, they may have the ability to learn something like foreign culture after which try to enhance themselves. In brief, we wanted to begin an organization that might help society.
It feels like a really brave decision to begin your corporation in tourism throughout the pandemic. Why did you select to do that?
To begin a travel company, we would have liked to have significant startup capital. The initial plan was to earn enough startup capital in 2019 however the pandemic got here in February 2020, and we couldn’t see any end to it. So, we decided why don’t we pick our savings first, start the corporate, after which see how far we will go?
What’s sustainable tourism?
Sustainable tourism is to advertise tourism in a specific area. You ensure that that the realm’s tradition and cultural heritage are well preserved, bring more people into that area to work, and create more jobs for the community.
For instance, we’ve a charity rice planting tour. Many farmers now use an excessive amount of fertilizer and pesticide to grow rice, which is able to harm us in the long term, since it could increase the potential of diseases like cancer. We cooperate with an organic rice farmer and her family in Nagano Prefecture, she does organic farming without using fertilizer and pesticides and does all the pieces by hand. That’s a really tough job and so they are wanting staff, but once we bring people to her farm and help her with the farming, she will be able to maintain her business and teach more people about organic farming.
When more persons are aware of the importance of organic farming and change into more conscious when selecting rice, it’s more likely that we will preserve original farming methods as an alternative of using farming machinery and pesticides. This is sustainability.
How did you provide you with the concept of the Samurai Silk Mask?
If you happen to start an organization that mainly does tourism throughout the pandemic, you can find it very difficult to get any business. I made a decision to try exporting high-quality Japanese items throughout the pandemic. I desired to search for something top quality, something interesting, related to Japanese history, and connected with an area that I need to bring tourists to. Meanwhile, I hoped to make a product that might protect people throughout the pandemic.
After researching many products, I selected this Samurai Silk because, throughout the pandemic, everybody needs a mask. I hope that when people buy a product or learn more in regards to the story behind the product, they’ll be involved in knowing more about where it comes from.
Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, around 3,000 former samurai and roughly 500,000 other staff of the Shonai Clan contributed to the modernization of Japan by cultivating present-day Yamagata Prefecture. In doing so, they developed Japan’s largest silkworm breeding business in the realm now referred to as Tsuruoka, which has since change into a National Historic Site of Japan.
That is the one place in Japan where all stages of silk production from the breeding of silkworms, to the gathering of silk, weaving, refining and printing happen in the identical area. The entire process is completely handmade using techniques which have been passed down over 150 years, making Samurai Silk and its production techniques a Japan Heritage Cultural Property.
We didn’t need to simply sell this product. We wish to preserve the industry by letting more people learn about Samurai Silk and be involved in its roots. That’s why we specially added the sign of Samurai Silk on the masks and the hometown contained in the masks. We wish more people to go to this place and make purchases there. Some luxury brands like Luis Vuitton and Burberry also buy the silk fabric from the corporate that I buy the silk from, but the ultimate products of those brands don’t show where the silk comes from.
How is your research related to the corporate?
Many individuals feel like reusable masks should not sanitary enough and can’t be anti-bacterial. So my research partner, Dr. Joseph J. Richardson from the University of Tokyo, and I cut the silk into small pieces and used it to do experiments, testing the anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of the Samurai Silk.
Silk is a sort of protein, and my partner was developing a technology related to protein. He desired to sell his technology, and I desired to sell the silk, so we decided to cooperate in doing this research to see what was happening. Within the paper, yow will discover that this silk had higher anti-bacterial properties than the opposite reusable materials without using the sanitizing spray. Then we see that with this silk, when used with the SWIFF spray, just about all bacteria may be prevented.
What challenges did you face in constructing this business?
The largest challenge for us was finding customers. There have been no tourists, we could only have some foreigners who were already in Japan to experience the tours. We even contacted some international schools, telling them we had some activities that were suitable for college students, asking them in the event that they had interests. We’ve got many activities that we hope younger generations can take part in in order that after they change into older, they’ll be more open-minded and fewer biased about different cultures.
To create the tours, I searched online to search out something or someone special and called them to ask for cooperation. Sometimes they’d be overwhelmed. For instance, on the charity rice planting Tour, they were afraid that they couldn’t handle 40 or 50 foreigners at one time because they’d limited experience with overseas guests. So, I explained to them that we only provide private tours, which could be only 5-10 people in a gaggle at one time, which they found manageable. By holding the tour, we’ve donated 50kg of rice to the refugees in Japan through the United Will Association.
What’s your future plan after the pandemic?
Selling the masks and protecting Japanese culture and history by connecting them with tangible products and intangible experiences were just ways to get by throughout the pandemic. After the pandemic, we may bring our customers to the silk factory and allow them to learn the right way to color the silk or press the pattern.
Now that foreigners can come to Japan, we are going to physically bring our customers to the places we’re captivated with, letting them actually experience the local culture. Recently, we’ve contacted some artisans who maintain traditional techniques from the Edo Period. We’re cooperating with an armor artisan, Kato Icchu the Second, certainly one of the ten armor makers in Japan and the one artisan capable of create real, real armor and helmets, backed by Japanese historical evidence and artifacts. He learned the techniques from his father, Kato Icchu the First, who repaired lots of the armor and helmets designated as Japanese national treasures or cultural properties. We hope to bring our customers to him to learn the right way to make some pretty armor after the pandemic.
Now, as Japan’s border measures are being relaxed and tourists are starting to return, I hope my customers cannot only find out about Japanese culture but additionally receive happiness and friendship with the suppliers of those activities by joining the journey.
Learn more about TokudAw‘s experiences via their website.