Symerna Blake – Artist/Owner of ANTILLEAN CHARM

 Symerna Blake - Artiste/Owner of ANTILLEAN CHARM

1) When, how long and where were you in Japan?

I lived in Japan for two years; 2007-2009. I was an Assistant Language Teacher in Tamamura-machi, Gunma prefecture; the belly button of Japan.

2) How was your time in Japan? What were some highlights/things you wish had done differently?

Not just visiting, but living in Japan, was a childhood dream of mine. I had been fascinated with Japanese culture and customs; ever since I watched the TV series “Shogun”. I went to Japan with an idea of what to expect and it did not disappoint. The biggest impression on me was the Japanese sense of aesthetic and design. Japan taught me how to wait well and to enjoy silence. I think it also made me more emotionally intelligent, more sensitive to subtle expressions, more gentle and more considerate.

I would have loved to learn the language. That did not happen.

3) Tell us about the business you started.

Antillean Charm is an art business that serves the diplomatic, corporate and premium gift markets. The collections feature ceramic flora and fauna sculptures mounted in shadow boxes.

Gifts by Symerna BLake

4) How did the idea come about?

Antillean Charm was partly inspired by the practice of Omiyage in Japan (the custom of giving gifts). My pictures from Japan can attest to the fact that I have always been interested in handicraft, art and design; even though I did not have any ambitions for them at the time. Antillean Charm really started to take shape when I returned to Jamaica and joined a Corporate Marketing and Public Relations Team. Through that job, I identified a need that I had ideas on how to fill. Antillean Charm started officially in 2017.

Gifts by Symerna Blake

5) Has your experience in Japan influenced how you operate your business?

I used to get omiyage in Japan that were so beautiful, I didn’t want to open the packages. During my time in Japan, I was immersed in fine craftsmanship, thoughtful packaging and attention to detail. I noted best-practices in these areas and others that shape Antillean Charm quality standards. From a design standpoint, Japanese aesthetic stirs an appreciation for simplicity; which is evident in Antillean Charm pieces.

6) Do you often have Japanese customers?

There are Antillean Charm pieces in Japan that have been gifted by my local clients. I definitely have plans to grow international direct sales.

7) What are your goals (if any) for expansion?

The response to the art locally has been wonderful. I have identified international market segments that I believe would appreciate the art; such as orchid growers and bird watchers. As I prepare to pursue those markets, I’m focused on improving the product and production process to meet increased demand.

8) What advice would you give to someone who is interested in going to Japan on the JET programme?

If you are interested in going to Japan on the JET programme – GO. Japan is one the few places left on earth where authentic, ancient cultures thrive along-side the most advanced modernity. It challenges you in good ways and prompts a lot of useful self-reflection.

9) What advice would you give to someone about to return or who has recently returned to Jamaica from Japan?

Try to prepare as best as you can financially for the return, but don’t fret if you don’t know what your next step or source of livelihood will be fresh off the plane. There are opportunities in Jamaica. These opportunities might not be sitting on a shelf waiting but might be tailor-made just for you. Exercise your faith.

10) Would you return to live in Japan? Why or why not?

I would definitely return to Japan to visit. There are so many places that I still want to see…things I want to buy…things I want to eat again.


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