SBS: A LOCAL'S GUIDE TO TOKYO, 2015
'She might be named after a lunchbox staple, but Hello Sandwich, aka Ebony Bizys, is more concerned with hand-rolled sushi and cute Japanese crafts than loaves of bread. In this week's Fringe Foodies, we chat to the Aussie blogger about moving to Tokyo and why she loves Lithuanian breakfasts.
Five years ago, Ebony Bizys quit her role as Deputy Art Director of Vogue Living, packed up her life in Sydney and bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo. The sea-change was far from a casual whim. Bizys had spent the past decade taking one-month holidays to the Japanese culture, steadily falling in love with its people, landscape, culture, cuisine and, like it even needs mentioning, cuteness. Before saying sayonara to 'Straya, Bizys started Hello Sandwich, a blog that illustrated her synergy with the Japanese aesthetic and catapulted her kawaii craft sphere.
Fresh off the plane from Singapore (where she launched a Hello Sandwich pop-up store), we chat to Bizys about being an online creative, living in the trendy Tokyo suburb Shimokitazawa, and what makes bento boxes so special. Plus, check out the Hello Sandwich guide to Tokyo here!
Hello Sandwich! Or should we say Ebony? Hello there! Hah, since starting my blog 'Sandwich' has really become my name. Sometimes I see 'Sandwich' on a menu and I double take because the name feels so familiar to me.
Where did the moniker – and blog name – sprout from? I started Hello Sandwich in 2009 as a place to record the things that inspired me; a little place to save everything so that I wouldn’t forget. A kind of Pinterest, before Pinterest existed.
Are you a skilled sandwich maker? It's not easy to find amazing bread at my local supermarkets, so when I have a craving for a sandwich I prefer to head to Tokyo's best sandwich shop King George Deli in Daikanyama (below).
You used to live in Sydney and worked as Vogue Living’s Deputy Art Director (dream job!) before making the big move to Tokyo. What inspired your trip? Before moving to Tokyo in 2010, I had been to Japan 10 times on holidays. Once a year, for one month, for 10 years. I was obsessed with everything about this fascinating country. 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. I dearly loved my role as Deputy Art Director at Vogue Living and wanted so badly to be Art Director, so resigning from the company after 11 years there was a very difficult decision to make, but was also the best decision I've ever made.
What’s your advice for others contemplating momentous change? I had to Google “how to make big decisions”. (Try it sometime! Ha ha.) In the end, looking at two pieces of paper — one with my thoughts about if I DID move to Tokyo, and the other on my thoughts on how I would feel if I DIDN’T — the answer was crystal clear.
Have you always been a crafty creative? I grew up with incredibly creative parents — my mother a milliner, dress maker, hairdresser, and incredible business lady and my father an amazing photographer — so I was surrounded with creating and making from a very young age. While I was working at Vogue Living I studied my Masters of Fine Arts at COFA (College of Fine Arts) in Sydney, majoring in Painting and Drawing. I learnt how to use InDesign and Photoshop on the job. In fact, when I first started at Vogue I couldn’t even scan.
Did you have a ‘plan’ upon your arrival? My 'plan' was that if I couldn't find a design job within three months of moving, I would apply for an English teaching position. However, with the flexibility of the working holiday visa I was able to keep afloat for one-and-a-half years through making zines and freelancing. When I first moved to Tokyo I was freelancing for the Japanese Vogue Living. It was so surreal to be sitting in Shimokitazawa essentially doing the same role, for about triple the day rate. Working at Vogue had become such a big part of my identity and “Vogue Living, Ebony speaking”, rolled off my tongue so easily.
This June you celebrated your fifth year in Tokyo – congrats! What do you deem the loveliest things about Japanese culture? Thank you! I love everything about Tokyo; from the people, food and design, to the fashion, craft, music, landscape and culture.
It seems this attention to detail applies to Japan’s food culture, too. Yes, I love the Japanese obento (a single-potioned, boxed meal, also known as bento) rule where one should follow the five sets of five suggesting that the best, and most balanced obento should contain:
Five colours: aka (red), kiiro (yellow), midori (green), kuro (black), shiro (white)
Five cooking methods: niru (simmer), musu (steam), yaku (grill), ageru (fry), tsukuru (create)
Five flavours: shiokarai (salty), suppai (sour), amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy)
Five senses: miru (see), kiku (hear), kyukaku (smell), ajiwau (taste), fureru (touch)
Five viewpoints or outlooks: gokan no mon (a set of Buddhist principles on the appropriate state of mind when consuming food)
Is cooking a part of your daily routine? Dinner is often a home-cooked Japanese dish, such as nabe, hijiki, salmon teishoku, or ojiya. Though sometimes, I’ll pop over to local Shimokitazawa cafes to get some screen-free time.
Yeah, we’re pretty jealous about the fact you call Shimokitazawa home! For those yet to visit Tokyo, can you describe this special neck of the woods? Shimokitazawa is a buzzy little neighbourhood just a few train stops away from Shibuya. In Tokyo questionnaire surveys about where young people want to live, Shimokitazawa is always one of the top three responses.
You recently travelled to Lithuania and Amsterdam. Tell us about it. I was flown to Lithuania to present at the nowJapan festival in Vilnuis. I am 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, dill sprinkled on top of almost everything. Perfection! I also ate zepellini, a traditional Lithuanian potato and mince dumpling dish that I had regularly as a child.
And finally, which dishes and decorations would you prepare for your dream dinner party? A colourful go-to dinner party at the Hello Sandwich HQ is to host a temaki (hand roll sushi) night (recipe from Adam Liaw here!). You can prepare the toppings in advance, your table looks incredibly colourful, and guests can select their favourites eliminating any concerns about who can and can't eat which ingredient. Add a bunch of pretty flowers and some mismatched ceramic plates and you're set for a wonderful and relaxed evening.