Halfway between Monzen-nakacho—bustling and lively with an old-town feel—and Kiyosumi-shirakawa—set to become the trendiest neighbourhood for serial café-hoppers—stands a boutique très charmante. Located on a quiet side-street with a French flag billowing proudly by its storefront, Masa Chic is a jumble of colourful wares and signs advertising everything from handmade pastries to souvenirs from France.
(What kind of store is this?)
Stepping inside, the tables, shelves and walls are lined with many bright and cheerful goods—all enticing, but at first glance curiously unrelated to one another.
Ms. Masami Nomura-Vauguet, owner of Masa Chic, is a warm and personable lady who is bilingual in Japanese and French. She spent 22 years in France, first learning to be a pâtissière before trying her hand at a variety of jobs.
“I made these preserved flower arrangements myself,” she says, noticing my line of sight. “That way, I can offer them at a more reasonable price than other establishments.”
“Here. Let me show you around,” she continues enthusiastically.
Nearby, hanging from a wallboard, are a variety of accessories made by crafters Ms. Masami has befriended over the years.
There’s an artist who hand-embroiders tatted lace into adorable lightweight, tangle-free lanyards for glasses, as well as rings and earbobs…
And a glassware maker who creates alluring beads, some of which are available as aromatherapy necklaces.
“You soak a bit of cotton with essential oil and poke it into the opening here. The smell won’t spread and inconvenience others, or get onto your hair and clothes. Plus, you can easily change the cotton when you would prefer a different fragrance!” The delight is clear from the tone of Ms. Masami’s explanation (*^^*)
Fashionable and functional, the necklaces have been selling quickly, with customers asking to reserve certain colours should Masa Chic restock them.
Another favourite of Ms. Masami’s are these skin care products, made with sake. Japanese sake is not only delicious; it’s also extremely nutritious and a favoured ingredient in cosmetics.
“I trust this, and not much else,” Ms. Masami laughs. “It’s shipped to me from the maker. I love it because it’s fragrance-free. You might smell a whisper of sake when you open the container, but once it’s on the skin it doesn’t leave a scent.”
Because she knows and trusts these makers and creators personally, part of the charm in shopping at Masa Chic is hearing a little bit about the people behind the works. It brings you closer to the products you buy, and really grounds you down with a sense of connection.
The shop is full of other hidden treasures too, such as hand-painted ceramics, bronze pots and pans from France, crystal glasses, teapots, old CDs, books, pet accessories… Everywhere you look there’s something interesting to discover!
I for one have never seen pasta made with grape leaves or shiso herbs before, but I’m certainly intrigued! They’re from Shizuoka, where Ms. Masami lived for a while.
Finally, before you leave, be sure to pick up a few freshly baked goodies for later. They’re made by Monsieur Claude, Ms. Masami’s husband, who used to be a top patisserie professor at a school in France. Visiting the store would be well-worth the trip just for one of these♪
So what kind of store is Masa Chic? Readers, you may recall our little cultural discussion about “zakka” stores and their importance in Japan from a few posts back. Masa Chic does indeed fit the description of a zakka store, stocked as it is with a variety of items gathered from the many paths and people in Ms. Masami’s life. But according to Ms. Masami herself, it’s nothing fancy like that at all—
“It’s just a humble shop of many things!”
Story and Photos by Xianru Shen （Koto City Office Coordinator for International Relations）