A Visit Gone Wrong Brought Her Peace
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