• Hamamatsu Intercultural Center
  • Hamamatsu Foreign Resident Study Support Center
  • Hamamatsu Foundation for International Communication and Exchange
Hamamatsu Intercultural Center Hamamatsu Foreign Resident Study Support Center Hamamatsu Foundation for International Communication and Exchange

Interview of Local Foreign Residents 【Mr. Roberto Jun Yuasa】

Wooden Cutlery Noticed by a First Class Restaurant

 One day, Mr. Roberto Jun Yuasa received an email out of the blue from a stranger.
“Do you want to take part in a project that will rock the world?” read the title line.
Roberto was in the business of woodwork and carpentry, specifically using natural wood to create various household items, such as bowls, plates and cutlery. He had never studied under anyone else, and he fell into designing and creating wooden items using his own tastes and from trial and error. He uploaded all of his creations on social media, and they were widely loved online.

 The mail that Mr. Yuasa received had come from a noma.dk. So he naturally decided to search Noma online. When he did, the first search result showed a restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. He found that the restaurant in question was actually extremely famous. It had even been talked about in a restaurant magazine. Not only that but it had been ranked number 1 in in 2010 in “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”.

 “Well there’s no way it’s this place…” he thought to himself, as he continued searching for clues about mysterious sender online. It was only when he also searched the name of the person who had sent him the email, alongside the word “Noma” that he believed it. He found an article, including the person who sent the email. They worked at Noma in Copenhagen. It was indeed the world class restaurant after all! “I got goosebumps right there and then!”

 In 2018, Noma was planning to open a sister store in Tokyo, and they wanted Mr. Yuasa to provide them with cutlery for their new store. Half a year after they placed the order, the restaurant opened; with his hand crafted wooden cutlery sat atop the tables – a first class dining experience. It was a moment of bliss that Roberto will never be able to forget!

Japanese at Home – A Japanese Boy in the Melting Pot

 Mr. Yuasa was born and raised in São Paolo, Brazil. His parents were both descendants of Japanese immigrants, who made a living as sign-makers. They lived together with their three children, Roberto, his older brother and sister. At home, it was most common for them to speak Japanese. If his parents spoke Japanese to Roberto, he would reply in Portuguese to them.

 São Paolo is not only the largest capital city in South America, but the largest capital city in the entire Southern Hemisphere. The street where his house was growing up was smack-bang in the middle of a melting pot. Living alongside this family who had Japanese roots, were also families of people with French, Spanish, and German ancestry, amongst others. Many people, who lived there, had foreign roots.
“People of Japanese Ancestry are often called ‘Japa’ in Brazil. It doesn’t have a negative meaning or any ill intent though, and I never felt any ill-will from anyone when I get called ‘Japa’.”

 When he started elementary school, Roberto started taking the subway to commute to school, like all the children in the city did. When he got home, he liked playing outside the most. He played on bikes and on skateboards. Sometimes his parents asked him to come and help out at the shop, and while he was helping to making signs, he sometimes also made some small toys out of the leftover wood.

The Bubble Breaks, Coming to Japan at 17 – Every Day is Like a Dream

 Mr. Yuasa’s life completely took a turn when he was 17. In 1990 he moved to Japan.
“Both my brother and cousin had already moved to Japan. They told me it was a great place, so that’s why I decided to come basically!” He has wanted to experience an adventure abroad. He came on a whim, wanting to try independence and living apart from his parents for “at least a year”.

 His final destination was to be Iwata, Shizuoka. He went from Narita to Tokyo, outside his window he could feel the scenery going further and further into the countryside. Honestly, it made him a little worried. At that time, it was during the bubble economy, and there was a lot of support for foreign residents in Japan.

 “I had an interpreter with me to find lodgings and to do daily things like going shopping. So I never felt like anything was a hassle at all. I started work at a car parts production factory. Also I was able to pick up Japanese pretty well, and my instructors very kindly taught me what I needed to know. There was really nothing at all for me to complain about. More so than that, I was 17 years old living alone in Japan, earning more than 30,000 yen a month, all without the supervision of my parents. It was the absolute time of my life!” he laughs.

Setting Up a Workshop in the Recession – Growing Up Surrounded by Extremes

 While Mr. Yuasa was preparing to renew his visa, he was made a ‘full time employee’ at the company. However following this, came the next turnaround in his life, the global recession. The company he was working at at the time, decided to let go of half of the people they had working for them. Mr. Yuasa was ordered to spend one year waiting at home.

 Luckily, his paycheck was secured, but his return to work was but on an indefinite hold. On somewhat of a whim, he decided that he would start making his wooden products at home, he made things like stools out of driftwood. Mr. Yuasa was already married to a Japanese woman by this time, so he decided to consult with her about what he should do. He decided that he would work on the wooden products at least until he got a definite result, and thus he started his road towards becoming carpenter.

 “From that time onwards, I started making dishware and cutlery and sold the things I made at craft-fairs. I got a lot of praise and reactions from customers who came to buy my products, so I felt proud of what I created.” While Roberto gained valuable and precious experiences from selling his products at the craft-fairs and meeting other creators and customers there, the reality was it was instable as a business model. Naturally depending on the selling venue, the types of customers, and their needs varied greatly. On days where it rained, fewer customers would come and he wouldn’t be able to sell as much as he expected. After five years of going to craft-fairs all over Japan to sell his wares, he began to get regular and stable orders, so that he could spend days in his workshop creating items.

 These days, Mr. Yuasa has rented a home far into the mountains of Tenryu, which he has made into his own dedicated workshop.
“My life in Brazil has been the foundation for my life now. The differences in wealth between people in São Paolo are jarring so, to live there you have to broaden your vision and come up with good solutions to enjoy your life.
 For example, let’s take something simple, going to play volleyball. If I was born and raised in Japan, I would probably just go to the gym and rent a court there. But when I was a kid in São Paolo, we would make our own court in the streets. We would hang a net from trees lining the streets and play. I don’t know if I can say whether this was a good solution or not, but that was what we did. It was natural for us. These days, I’ve been renovating my workshop by myself. I’ve been doing it by myself because so far I’ve been able to live my own way. I have my own free thinking, and I’m proud of that.”

Roberto Jun Yuasa
Born and raised in São Paulo, Federative Republic of Brazil.
Moved to Japan in 1990, first found work in a car parts manufacturing company.
Following this, he lost his job due to the global recession, and started working as a carpenter.
In 2018, he produced cutlery for a world class, Danish restaurant Noma’s sister branch – Inua in Tokyo.
Currently has his workshop in Tenryu-ku, Hamamatsu, and is creating wooden products there.