A Visit Gone Wrong Brought Her Peace

Inc. (USA) - - LAUNCH -

In 2009, Vicky Tsai had quit an un­ful­fill­ing job, her bank ac­count was dwin­dling, she was newly preg­nant— and she’d just run out of the Ja­panese blot­ting pa­pers that helped her per­sis­tent der­mati­tis, a skin dis­ease. When

Tsai started look­ing for more of these pa­pers, she learned about their ori­gins as “beat­ing pa­pers,” ma­te­rial used to shield gold as it’s ham­mered into hair-thin gold leaf. The beat­ing process changes the pa­pers’ prop­er­ties and makes them uniquely ab­sorbent. Cu­ri­ous, Tsai went look­ing for their source—and came back in­spired to start her cos­met­ics com­pany, which had about $50 mil­lion in re­tail sales in 2016.

I WAS LOST, AND I knew the an­swer wasn’t go­ing to be in my apart­ment in San Fran­cisco. I had never spent time in Ja­pan in a mean­ing­ful way, so I just thought “Why not?” You get to a cer­tain point where you have noth­ing to lose.

I spent my first day in Ky­oto. The ho­tel as­signed me a driver, named Toide-san. He took me around to all these dif­fer­ent tem­ples— but I kept throw­ing up, be­cause I was preg­nant. Half­way through the day, I asked him to drop me back at my ho­tel, where I went to sleep.

When I woke up that evening, there was a pack­age wait­ing for me from Toide-san. In­stead of pick­ing up an­other ride, he had spent the af­ter­noon burn­ing CDs of ev­ery pic­ture he had ever taken of Ky­oto, be­fore bring­ing them back to my ho­tel. He’d left a note: “Since you couldn’t see Ky­oto, I brought Ky­oto to you.” That was the day I fell in love with Ja­pan.

The Ja­panese have a say­ing: Ichi-go, ichi-e. It means “Just this one mo­ment, once in a life­time.” You’re never go­ing to be able to recre­ate this mo­ment—so how would you treat the peo­ple you meet, or your work, right now, if you put your whole heart and mind into some­thing?

At that time, I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily see the beat­ing pa­pers as a busi­ness. But I knew I needed this—these pa­pers, this beauty, this phi­los­o­phy—in my life. If it made a dif­fer­ence to me, maybe it would make a dif­fer­ence to other peo­ple as well.

I called my hus­band and told him I thought we had some­thing here. But we had no money. I told him that if I sold my en­gage­ment ring, I could buy the min­i­mum or­der for those beat­ing pa­pers from the gold leaf ar­ti­sans who cre­ated them. I came home, sold the ring, bought my first batch of beat­ing pa­pers, and set up a sim­ple web­site. That was the beginning of Tatcha.

When Vicky Tsai got sick while vis­it­ing the streets and tem­ples of Ky­oto, Ja­pan, above, her driver brought them to her. Post­cards De­liv­ered

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