The Kokoro Files

The Kokoro Files: Erin Niimi Longhurst

The Kokoro Files tells the story of everyday people and their connection to Japan. No matter how far away some travel, they will always feel a sense of identity within the Land of the Rising Sun. For Erin Niimi Longhurst, this connection is something she’s felt throughout her entire life.

An author, blogger and cook, Erin has built up a reputation for her Japan-centric content. I had the pleasure of chatting to her about the inspiration behind her lifestyle book, Japonisme. Read on to learn about how Erin’s relationship with her grandfather helped her create the book and why Japanese philosophy can be good for mental health.

Thanks for taking the time to talk Erin. It was great discovering your work through reading Japonisme. For people who are unfamiliar with the term, what does it mean and how would you describe the book itself?

Thank you so much! My book touches on so many different philosophies and practices, that the title Japonisme is one that I chose to encapsulate them all. The reason I wrote the book was to share beautiful aspects and traditions of Japanese culture in a simple, easily digestible way.

My hope is that Japonisme encourages people to discover these, and that it inspires them to find out more about Japan and Japanese culture.

In Japonisme, you talk about Japanese concepts such as ikigai, wabi-sabi and kintsugi. Can you describe some of the ways in which you apply these concepts to your everyday life?

The first part of my book covers these overarching philosophies, and in the second section I talk about different practices like flower arranging, calligraphy, tea ceremony, and also forest bathing. Through these different practices, I think that it encourages you to take time and reflect, be mindful.

I wouldn’t say I am an expert in any of these, but I have dabbled in them, and have found them incredibly useful in better understanding and embodying these concepts.

Japonisme book

Of all the themes in the book, I found myself relating most to kintsugi and the idea of seeing the beauty in flaws. I think that’s very powerful from a mental health perspective. What tips would you recommend for people who would like to use kintsugi for their own personal routines?

I think so, too! Kintsugi, which is the art of repairing ceramic with gold, is something that happens organically – it can’t be forced or planned.

This is also the same with Ikebana, the art of flower arranging – the benefits come through the act of putting the arrangement together and is a very mindful practice. I think the most important thing is to allow yourself to take the time and make the space you need for reflection – overthinking it defeats the purpose somewhat.

A large part of Japonisme is dedicated to the relationship you had with your grandfather Haruyuki. How has he inspired you throughout your life?

I was really inspired by his work ethic, and it’s something that I’ve carried with me throughout my life. I’ve also been incredibly inspired by the practices he used to do to unwind and reflect after a hectic week.

I find myself relaxing in the same ways – through cooking and forest bathing in particular. Sharing his story was incredibly personal to me, and I’m incredibly happy that his influence in my life came through so strongly in the book.

Erin Niimi Longhurst

Another part of the book that stood out to me was the inclusion of the dai-kichi that your grandfather left you. Can you describe how you felt when you first received it and did you always plan to include it in Japonisme?

After the loss of a loved one, the thing you want the most is to be able to speak to them again – there is really nothing else that you want more. So, in the process of helping my grandmother clear out his things, to find a box with my name on it, and a fortune inside (and a good one, too!) is perhaps the most comforting thing that has ever happened.

I had always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know what it would be about, so it was never a plan of mine to do so. But at the very end of that process, and the fact that my book is very much dedicated to him and our relationship, it seemed wrong not to.

In addition to being an author, you’ve also made a name for yourself in the blogging world with the lifestyle site Island Bell. How did you get into blogging?

My blog is actually how my editor found me – I started Island Bell as a way to let my family (who were living in Japan and America, far away from me) – know what I was getting up to. I shared recipes, my random thoughts, restaurants I liked on there – I didn’t expect anyone else to read it, so I was very happy to have people reach out to me there.

You’ve also developed a reputation in the culinary food for your supperclubs. What kind of recipes are involved, and do you have any plans to create a cookbook?

I usually cook Japanese inspired food! The food section of Japonisme was by far the longest (my editor had to cut it down quite a bit!). I would love to write a cookbook, but it’s a very competitive space!

If you could only eat one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

I LOVE this question! Japanese cuisine for sure, and probably sushi or sashimi – toro is my weakness. That, or natto, which is a fermented soy bean dish.

The popularity of Japanese culture seems to be at any all-time high in the west. What do you think it is about Japan that fascinates people so much?

I think it was the fact that, as a result of various historical factors, Japanese culture really developed its own identity, and is so unique. I also think that the next couple of years, with the Rugby World Cup at the moment and the Olympics, that there is a surge of travel and interest in the region, too.

Kokoro

Taking pride in family heritage is an excellent way to form a sense of identity. What are you most proud of about your Japanese heritage?

I’m incredibly close to my Japanese family. I’m very grateful that my mother worked so hard to keep me connected to my roots through speaking Japanese to me, and the fact that I have been able to spend so much time there.

I think the different philosophies and the respect for nature in particular, and because Japan is so beautiful. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that I’m proud of, but I am very proud to be Japanese.

Do you have any other Japan-related creative projects lined up in the near future?

A couple that I can’t really talk about yet, but now I’m based in New York I’m looking forward to doing a few supperclubs here in the coming months!

What would your best advice be for people who would like to publish their own lifestyle book?

Mine would be to experiment with sharing your work through something like a blog, or through a platform like Medium. My book would never have happened if I wasn’t already creating and sharing work publicly, and my editor found me through my blog – it’s a great way to share your work with others.

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