Updated: Jul 2, 2021
THE WAY Returnees Edition introduces women who continue to shine and empower themselves even after returning to Japan by making use of their experiences abroad.
In our second edition of “Returnees”, we speak with Aki Matsumoto, nicknamed “Akiron”, who is a popular influencer. In 2016, Aki started living in Taiwan with her husband who runs a business there and spent about a year and a half in Taipei. Even after returning to Japan, she is still active in many areas like posting on social media and product planning in collaboration with apparel brands.
Aki says she has become stronger through her life abroad. Let’s hear about her experiences in Taiwan, what she gained there and how she balances work and raising a child!
Continuing from her magazine modelling days
The first time Aki appeared in a magazine was during senior high school. (Senior high school in Japan is equivalent to grades 10, 11 and 12.) Since then, while working part time in retail, she worked as a magazine model.
The blog that Aki started at the time was read by many people, mainly those who read magazines, and updating her blog became a part of her life. She currently continues to post mainly on Instagram and has about 30,000 followers. Some followers have been supporting Aki since her magazine modelling days.
Aki’s posts feature her lifestyle focusing on fashion, beauty, cooking and raising children. She also posts stories of failures and hardships like, “It’s stressful when my son won’t stop crying!” or “I’ve thrown rice!” Aki empathises with women not only from the same age group but also from a wider range of generations.
“Those who have watched me grow up say, “Akiron, who was a student has became a mum!” (laughs) I’m grateful for my followers. They’ve congratulated me on getting married and having a baby and have encouraged me during times of failure.”
Nowadays, Instagram has increased opportunities to connect people and work. There’s freedom in the job but on the other hand, in the back of her mind, she’s in work mode every day. There are moments of difficulty but there are people who support her and more than anything, Aki continues to enjoy it.
Aki’s marriage started with life in Taiwan
Aki started living in Taiwan with her husband around the same time she got married.
Originally, her husband who ran a business in Taiwan would go back and forth between Japan and Taiwan every day. It would have been nice to be based in Japan and go on business trips but they discussed that it would also be a good opportunity and decided to move to Taipei.
At that time, Aki was working at a fashion brand that her friend had founded. There was a wide range of tasks involved but the work could be done with a computer and smartphone so Aki decided to continue working in Taiwan.
In addition to her new lifestyle overseas, she was not used to working abroad. At first, she had a hard time trying to do many things at once but her parents and friends often visited Taiwan which made it feel less isolating.
While living in Taiwan, Aki also became conscious of going out and not staying at home as much as possible. In Taiwan, there are many food stalls and you can do takeaway at any restaurant which may make eating alone enjoyable.
“In Taiwan, even in a nice house, the kitchen is often built in a simple way and the culture of eating out or getting takeaway has taken root. Getting takeaway is convenient so I hope it will spread in Japan too.”
Aki moved to Taiwan without knowing Mandarin but her husband who was familiar with Taiwan introduced her to his local colleagues and friends which helped her become more comfortable and because of that she was able to spend her days feeling more relaxed.
“I’m the type of person who always plays it safe. Up until now, I think I’ve always lived my life conservatively but my husband is the complete opposite and has the personality of taking on new challenges. He took me to a new world.”
In 2016, the two major changes in my environment were marriage and moving abroad but with the support of my partner, parents and friends, I was able to spend my time more positively.
The strength needed for your first time living abroad
Her time in Taiwan was Aki’s first time living abroad. She wasn’t very good at Mandarin or English so she went to school to learn Mandarin.
For the first six months, Aki attended a well-known language school in her area. It involved exams and quizzes with classes almost every day. After learning the foundations, she took a one-on-one class.
“I had never studied abroad before, but now I can speak a foreign language and went to a language school that gave me confidence. On top of that, at school, I had the opportunity to meet people from different countries so it was a great opportunity to learn about different customs.”
When it comes to work, Aki also travels directly from Taiwan to countries like South Korea. Her job is to buy, meet with factories and check fabrics.
Unlike in Japan, when working with people from other countries, it is often necessary to give them more specific instructions. Even if you explain the design of the clothes and ask them to make samples, when she saw the finished product, it seemed that her briefs were not reflected in them.
Faced with language and cultural barriers, Aki has to continue to negotiate and persuade them to make good quality products. By having a wide range of experiences, she gradually gained her confidence.
Challenge yourself with the things you want to do
After facing the challenge of living in Taiwan for about a year and a half, Aki would take on an even bigger challenge.
While on a trip to Singapore with her husband, they discovered an accessory brand at a select store and decided to visit the brand’s atelier. At the time the brand had not landed in Japan yet. They bought a bracelet and left the atelier.
The following year when Aki and her husband went to Singapore and returned to the atelier. They were fortunate enough to have been able to meet the designer on the day and despite it being their first meeting, the three of them hit it off. They then decided that four couples would have dinner together that night.
“I heard a lot of stories from the designers and as I talked about my thoughts on the brand, they told me they wanted to spread the brand in Japan. I was then entrusted with developing the brand in Japan.”
The apparel brand Aki had worked hard on with her friends had settled down during her life in Taiwan and her husband said, “Isn’t okay to try something new by making use of your experience so far?”
It was her first time to start something herself so she was worried but in the end she got a push from her husband which made her go for it. With that feeling, Aki took on her challenge with the confidence she gained in Taiwan and the encouragement from her husband.
After returning to Japan, she enthusiastically planned the launch of the brand’s website and limited edition-coloured products associated with the opening. The designs that combine elegant and casual styles received a popular response in Japan and continued to be sold out.
Every day went by quickly but in 2018, Aki would be blessed with good news. In October of that year, she gave birth to her first child, a son and became a mother.
Aki decided to take a break from bringing in new accessories after giving birth. In the meantime, when the brand shifted to a high jewellery brand and tried to continue, the line it was developing in Japan was shrinking. This made it difficult to expand in Japan like they did previously and is currently closed for sales and new arrivals.
Every day is a whirlwind even after returning to Japan. Becoming a mother and boosting her power.
After becoming a mother, Aki spends her days becoming busier.
“Up until now I’ve always been able to move conveniently but after having a child, I’m not able to anymore. However, I want to continue posting on Instagram like I always have. I’ll move efficiently in that way.”
When I’m with my son, I want to focus on playing and talking with him as much as I can. This makes posting on Instagram difficult during these times. For that reason, I use the time when my son is sleeping to draft posts and edit photos. After that, I just upload and make better use of my time.
I also schedule tasks like meetings and photography to be done when my son is in the garden. I often run through tasks from morning till night and end up falling asleep with him together. On a good day, sometimes I continue to work after putting him to sleep and each day goes by in a blink of an eye.
"I had never thought about pursuing a career, but after having my son, I think I'll do my best to do what I can for him. I definitely don't want to catch a cold! After becoming a mum, my heart and body have become stronger.”
From now on, I want to give a lot back
We feel that one of the reasons for her popularity with 30,000 followers on Instagram is her honesty.
“Recently, the number of PR jobs has thankfully increased. However, because I don’t want my followers to feel unpleasant about my recommendations, I only try to show the ones I really like.”
Aki is currently in the middle of a collaboration with the apparel brands Re.Verofonna and Donoban. Taking on the challenge of making clothes and accessories, a dress released this fall has become so popular that it sold out immediately.
The reason why she decided to collaborate with these two brands is that Aki had been wearing their clothes for a long time and had a trusting relationship with the staff. She’s working hard to meet people’s expectations and make them think, “I’m glad I did it with Akiron” or “I want to work with Akiron again.” During the production process, there was an interesting case when an original sample was given from an overseas factory and was not part of the brief!
Since Aki herself has experienced interactions with overseas factories, she is able to understand well that it is a challenge to communicate orders and that brand staff struggle to meet deadlines. It’s said that you can empathise with others by experiencing everything yourself.
Even though she wasn’t used to the Taiwanese lifestyle and it was something she hadn’t experienced before, Aki is gradually expanding her activities and is working hard on what’s in front of her.
After seeing Aki who was still able to post and gain support from her followers on Instagram during her time in Taiwan, we’ve realised that you can plant the seeds for opportunities abroad regardless of location.
If she ever has the chance to live abroad she would definitely like to live in Taiwan again. She can’t make it happen during COVID-19 but one day wants to take her son to the Taiwan that she loves and do things like show him the city where his parents spent time in and eat yummy food together.
Looking at Aki’s Instagram, you can get a glimpse of the side of her who is a mother struggling to raise her child, feel her love for products she collaborates with, laugh at the funny stories from Osaka and somehow feel energised by it all. Please take a look!
Follow Aki on Instagram: @m_akiron
Thank you for reading this, and We are always here for you!
Women can fly.
Much love, xxx
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