When we visited one of the islands in Hawaii, we came across a “general store”.
It was very local and community-based, which we rarely saw in Los Angeles. Nowadays with big chain stores spread in the cities, you can get decent variety of products with decent service anywhere you go.
But when we walked into the small “general store” we felt a very friendly, established presence in its local community.
In the “general store”, their products were what was minimum required in daily life. Less variety of what big chain stores carried. But we felt that was just enough.
At “TGS / Tortoise General Store”, based on Tortoise’ basic philosophy, we would like to introduce wider, more “general” service, not just products.
We like to create a “General Store” that may not be “cool” but a place where it feels familiar, or be unique in its own way.
Wife and husband team, Keiko and Taku Shinimoto, who moved to Los Angeles via Tokyo in June, opened Tortoise in October 2003 and Tortoise has been dedicated to introducing and exhibiting works by Japanese artists, or artists using traditional Japanese techniques.
While the human life span increases year after year, the life span of man-made products seems to decrease. What are we to make of this irony? Many a wise men have been pursuing an answer to this puzzle, as have we. Growing up in the midst of the Japanese Bubble age as students, we consumed life of capitalism without much thought, as if it were the way things should be. Then one day, we became eerily aware of the unnaturalness of our surroundings. It hit us like a ton of bricks, so we quit our stable jobs; Taku left the company he had been working for for 13 years as an in-house furniture designer, without any future plans in mind. This allowed us to think about ‘things’ around us, ‘life’ around us, and the ‘work’ we were doing. At that point, we decided to put everything oh hold, until we could see some sort of path ahead of us. Fortunately, the recession and deflation at the time were kind to the unemployed. We were poor but managed to travel to many places, and meet generous people who helped us throughout our journey. We went about our business, without settling in a home, living each day as they came, like a tortoise. But very slowly, our path started to show itself, which was to live a ‘tortoise-life’, to have our feet on the ground and live an enriching life.
In today’s Japan, the term ‘slow food’ is often used to counter ‘fast food.’ ‘Slow food’ doesn’t refer to a six-course-dinner, or to spend hours eating, but to be more conscious of our meals ~ re-observe, and re-discover what we are actually consuming. In doing so, we become much more cognizant of the ingredients we use, and cook meals that bring out those ingredients. We are also more likely to enjoy and appreciate the company we share our meals with, and the conversations that accompany. Life becomes better. We realized this idea could very well apply to ‘things.’ ’Things’ that have been around for a long time, ‘techniques’ that have been fostered throughout history, ‘shapes’ that are universal and eternal, ‘designs’ that were born today but must be handed down to generations to come. And of course ‘things’ that were not only made by hand but with spirit. Without the constraints of labeling or categorizing these items as folk-craft, traditional-craft, or modern design, we embrace them all as ‘tortoise products’ with genuine care.
We are not here to deny today’s modern lifestyle, but to achieve balance, and to proceed toward a truly affluent life. We believe that speed and quantity do not always equal beauty or wealth. We think it’s safe to assume that ‘tortoise’ symbolizes the ‘slow and steady’ in the States, as it does in Japan, which is why we named our company ‘tortoise’. Sea tortoises live across the Pacific Ocean, and we heard that there is a certain type of tortoise that eats jellyfish off the California coast, and then swims across to Japan to lays eggs. We, ‘Tortoise,’ too, would like to connect the two countries across the Pacific, and lay some new eggs in the process.
We hope our thoughts and vision touch your life.
Taku and Keiko Shinomoto – Tortoise General Store owners