Ebony Bizys: the artist, designer and blogger taking Tokyo by storm

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on RachelKhoo.com and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

Australian/Lithuanian artist, designer, photographer and blogger Ebony Bizys (also known as Hello Sandwich) took a chance six years ago and packed up her life in Australia – along with her glamorous job as Deputy Art Director at Vogue Living – to start afresh in Tokyo. The move has been the making of this talented creative: she’s released a number of books, hosted solo exhibitions, designed websites, collaborated with big brands on artworks, products and fashion ranges, and written and styled for a number of big magazines. Ebony shares a bit about her enviable life in Tokyo:

Hello Sandwich

A day in the life

You seem to be a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’ – tell us what projects are keeping you busy at the moment …

On any typical day I generally work on checking emails, updating my blog, posting on Instagram, working on craft projects, photographing samples of my work and spending time retouching the shots. I might have work due for a Japanese magazine, or an interview for the promotion of my book. There might be a meeting with a client, or a shop I need to visit for my next Tokyo guide. You might find me hosting craft demonstrations at a Japanese department store, or hosting a workshop.

How did you end up in Japan? And will you ever leave?

I moved to Tokyo in 2010. Before then I had been there on holiday 10 times – once a year, for one month, for ten years. I was obsessed with everything about this fascinating country. From the people, food, design, shopping, fashion, craft, music, landscape, culture – I love everything about Japan. It’s very safe and generally speaking, Japanese are ridiculously polite. Japan offered a working holiday visa for Australians under a certain age and with that cut-off age fast approaching, it was a case of now or never.

Tell us about any new or interesting projects you’re working on right now?

I’ve just finished an application for an art residency in San Francisco at the end of the year and I was lucky enough to be successful, so I’m currently planning for this trip. I’m also working on artwork for an exhibition in Sydney in May.

What do you love most about your job?

My favourite part of my job is producing Hello Sandwich books. It’s a way to combine all of the components of publishing that I love, and the skills that I learnt during my studies at the College of Fine Arts, and on the job at Vogue. This also means that I get to work in the photography studio with my photographer, Boco-chan. I feel most alive and at home when I’m on a shoot.

What’s your biggest achievement or the most exciting project you’ve worked on?

I adore my latest book ‘Hello Tokyo’, but I’m also very proud of my Japanese craft book which has been translated into five languages. This book contains 40 craft projects and ideas to make your everyday life special and cute. I can’t tell you how crazy it is to see your book in a Japanese bookstore. Something I honestly never thought could have been possible.

Where do you get your inspiration for your craft books?

Some of my favourite ways to recharge and gain inspiration are to spend time on Pinterest, look through some of my favourite blogs, take a trip to one of my favourite bookstores or stationery stores in Tokyo, or travel to clear the mind. The local design scene in Tokyo is incredible. Although it’s a mega metropolis city, the design, and expat, and niche craft community here is tight.

Hello Sandwich

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few…

Vintage homewares. I get this from my mother. I’ve collected pretty vintage tablecloths and crocheted coat hangers since I can remember.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection?

I love exploring my hometown on my tiffany-blue mamachari (bike). There is so much hidden away in Tokyo’s backstreets.

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

Know your value in the workplace and don’t be afraid to ask for a raise or a different job title.

Who’s your #khoollectcrush?

Jen Gotch. This lady is my idol.

What’s your very favourite craft creation?

Although not a craft creation, one of my favourite projects that I’ve ever worked on was a zine with photographer James Goode. He was living in Sydney at the time, while I was here in Tokyo. For 24 hours we took one photo an hour to a set theme.

Hello Sandwich

Urban Favourites
Where do you call home?

I live Shimokitazawa, which is a buzzy little neighbourhood just a few train stops away from Shibuya. In Tokyo questionnaires about where young people want to live, Shimokitazawa is always one of the top three responses.

What do you love most about it?

It’s packed with teeny tiny six-seater bars, adorable cafes, loads of cheap and cheerful restaurants, vintage and retro clothing stores, live music venues, secondhand record stores, and homewares stores. I’ve set up such a lovely community for myself here in Shimokitazawa. I’m friends with my landlord who lives on the floor below me, the grandma who lives in the house opposite to my apartment often invites me over for special dinners, the local courier waves as we pass on the street, and all of the nearby shop staff know me.

Your favourite place for coffee?

Sidewalk coffee stand. They have delicious hot sandwiches, cold brew coffee and a view of Meguro river –what more could you ask for? The standing café serves up fantastic hot Reuben sandwiches.

Little Nap Coffee stand. You’ll love Little Nap Coffee Stand. With it’s cute design, window bench seat and gelato collection, this is a lovely place to relax.

Best spots to eat?

D47 SHOKUDO. While in the Hikarie building, pop on down to d47 Shokudo on the 8th floor for a regional Japanese lunch set with the same excellent view. Here, you will also find a branch of my favourite art gallery Tomio Koyama Gallery, plus plenty of other shops.

A-Z CAFE is one of my favourite cafes in Tokyo. This café was a collaboration between design firm Graf and famous Japanese micro-pop artist Yoshitomo Nara. Sit by the window to enjoy an amazing Tokyo view or sneak up to the rooftop for one of the city’s rare and amazing rooftop experiences.

Good Meals Shop is a hidden gem that’s definitely worth the walk from Shibuya station. Not only do they serve delicious lunch plates, ice-cream and coffee, but they have over 50 types of gin on offer.

Favourite nook for writing or crafting?

I love working in my mini-me Tokyo studio apartment. My apartment has more windows than walls so is always filled with beautiful light. It’s brilliant to have everything I need to create on hand; music, reference books, endless craft materials and my iMac.

How do you spend a lazy Sunday?

Sleeping in, listening to podcasts or an audio book, playing records in the sunlight, bike riding, taking photographs, visiting museums, drawing, reading, watching films, hanging out with friends or blogging.

If you could live anywhere else, where would it be?

I’d love to live in Europe, perhaps Amsterdam. I was flown to Lithuania to present at the Now Japan festival in Vilnuis. I’m half-Lithuanian but had not been since I was 18 years old. The first meal I ate on this trip was the hotel breakfast and I almost cried! It was ALL of the flavours from my childhood neatly presented on a white linen table cloth: a million cold meats, cheeses, eggs in baskets, rye bread, sour cream on herrings, with dill sprinkled on top of almost everything. It would be nice to spend more time in Europe.

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If you want to hear more from Ebony, check out her tips on relocating to Japan.

Visit Ebony’s website Hello Sandwich or read her blog.

You can also find Ebony on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest – and Snapchat (username: Hellosandwich).

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Ebony Bizys