Building Trust with Japanese Tea Producers — An Interview with Joëlle and Also from Ikkyu

Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media
Published in
12 min readDec 28, 2023

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Aldo and Joëlle arrived in Japan more than ten years ago. Attached to good terroir, they wanted to import Italian products. However, unpredictable events made them move to Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu. There, they fell in love with the local green tea and, with some friends, they ended up founding Ikkyu, an online tea shop that supports Kyushu tea producers.

Read on to learn what makes Kyushu tea different, the keys to building a lasting trust relationship with the local producers, and the challenges of entrepreneurship in Japan.

Falling in Love with Japan

Originally, why did you come to Japan?

Aldo: I have always had a fascination with Japan because my father was a big fan of Kurosawa, and we would watch his movies together. Later, I witnessed the manga boom in Europe and the Japanese animation on TV at the time. Then, in 2002, we decided to go to Japan for our honeymoon. It was an adventure: there was less information about Japan at the time, iPhones did not exist yet, and we had to make hotel reservations by fax [laughs].

Still, it was love at first sight with the country. We traveled for five weeks during the summer. Although we were unprepared for the Japanese summer heat, something in the atmosphere touched us. The matsuri [Japanese summer festivals], the people–it all felt kind of magical. After that, we went to Japan almost every year.

Joëlle: At the time, we were living in Geneva, Switzerland. Aldo was working in the banking industry, and I was working in Law, so we had the means and the European-style holidays that allowed us to travel easily. We decided we wanted to do something in Japan, and after two or three years of preparation, in 2009, we moved to Tokyo with our three-month-old son.

We were far from thinking we would stay more than a year or two and create Ikkyu one day. I was a researcher at Tokyo University, and I also taught some classes at Temple University.

Aldo: I arrived in Japan as part of my family’s company, and we wanted to import Italian products to Japan. We already had that love for terroir, producers, and good products. However, it was very hard…

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Amélie Geeraert
Kokoro Media

Living in Japan since 2011. I love interviewing inspiring people.