Postcard: Kazuko Sato / Confectionary Store Proprietor

Time-Honored Traditions and Timeless Lessons: The Enduring Spirit

Postcard: Kazuko Sato / Confectionary Store Proprietor

During my recent travels in Niigata, I stumbled upon an article in a local Japanese travel guide that captivated my attention. It shared the story of Kazuko Sato, an elderly proprietor of a traditional Japanese confectionery shop, weaving a rich narrative of her life and dedication to her store and community. Since there is nothing in English on her shop, life, I wanted to share some of her valuable heart warming lessons to be gleaned from the interview.

The Sato Confectionery Store, a cornerstone of the community since the Taisho era (1918), originally specialized in homemade amanatto (sweet beans), a traditional Japanese delicacy.

“It's been almost 60 years since I married into this confectionery shop,” her words painting a picture of enduring commitment she adds, 

“I retired this year, but until then, we used to make sweet beans (amanatto) from autumn to spring. Winter was the busiest time. In the old days, I'd start the stove at around 5 a.m. and make sweet beans until about 8 p.m. Our sweet beans, made only from beans and sugar, were delicious. We stopped because my husband, now in his mid-80s, couldn't handle heavy things anymore. A customer told me, 'There was no sweet bean as delicious as yours,' which moved me to tears. My husband took great pride in making them. Since we stopped, I've felt a bit lonely. But, we'll continue with the shop. Now that we don't have our sweet beans, I need to research what else to offer.”

What struck me as particularly inspiring was Sato's adaptability in the face of changing times. “We used to have many sweets for older people, but recently, more young people have been visiting, and we've been changing our variety to suit them,” Sato recounted. 

Sato reminded me on the ability to embrace change and meet the evolving needs of her community and it struck a chord with me, underscoring the importance of flexibility and innovation in any endeavor. As someone who is also involved in a generational family business, I found a deep connection with her unwavering commitment.

Sato’s relationship with her mother-in-law, a guiding force in her life, offered profound insights into the power of mentorship. Her mother-in-law's advice on customer service, “never get angry” and to always remember, “we live on this work,” taught Sato the essence of gratitude and respect. These words lingered in my mind, highlighting the importance of patience and appreciation in all aspects of life.

Her decision to continue the shop, despite the challenges and the discontinuation of their famed sweet beans, spoke volumes of her resilience. 

“I have to keep the shop open,” she affirmed, reflecting her commitment to her community and the sense of purpose her work provided.

Sato adds a touching note about why she won’t close the shop:

“I never had any complaints about working, and it was enjoyable. Maybe the business suited me, or maybe it was my mother-in-law's guidance. Customers say, 'You should close the shop,' but I want to continue a little longer, putting profit aside. Every day, different people come in and out of the shop, talking about various things. It's a learning experience for me. Elderly men come to buy sweets and say, 'I haven't spoken in three or four days, I wonder if I can still speak.' When I offer them a chair, they happily sit and talk for a long time. There are many such people, so I have to keep the shop open.”

As I finished reading, Sato’s story left a profoundly sweet and lasting impact on me. Her life, encapsulated in her words and experiences, was a powerful reminder of the enduring values of adaptability, dedication, and the profound impact of human connections. It is a narrative that transcended the confines of a small confectionery shop, offering timeless lessons and a heartwarming perspective the value of work, community, the power of the small scale. Lessons to learn from elders persisting in small ways, small steps add up to long journeys and long connections. 

Visit Sato Confectionary Shop

I’ve included the original Japanese article transcribed below for those interested.












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