🔖 3 min read

We’re excited to share with you Matt Nguyen whose brand Jolly Awesome (run alongside wife Katie) features cute prints, pins, and ceramics. We’re most in love with Jolly Awesome’s collaboration with Sanrio (Hello Kitty fangirl right here) check it out at their shop.

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“After my first 24 hours in Tokyo, I turned to Katie and told her I found my spiritual home – I really felt I did”

What is your affinity with and experience of Japan?

I was born in England but my parents are Vietnamese, so I always grew up having an interest in Asian culture as a whole.

My fascination with Japan was first rooted in gaming. Back in 1988 when I was 3, my Dad bought me a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). As I grew up I found myself enjoying the rarer Japanese import titles – My favourite game was Mystical Ninja on the N64, a 3D platformer set entirely in ancient Japan. Playing as a character named Goemon, you would explore shrines, visit old towns and travel all around the country exploring places like mt. Fuji. I became fascinated and enamoured by the mystique of the country. And who didn’t like Mario Kart or Pokemon??

I finally got to visit Japan for the first time last Summer after Katie and I (my business partner and wife) got married. We took a month off and chose to honeymoon in Japan and Hawaii. We spent 3 weeks exploring the country, visiting the main locations including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and the art Island Naoshima. After my first 24 hours in Tokyo, I turned to Katie and told her I found my spiritual home – I really felt I did.

We loved it so much that we went back again in February this year and went Skiing in Nagano and Mario Karting around Tokyo!

How has your experience of Japan and Japanese culture impacted your life (if it has)?

It’s considerably changed the way we approach things. We’re huge fans of Japanese food and love to cook it regularly at home. We enjoy experimenting and learning new recipes and basically live on a Japanese diet half the time. I particularly appreciate the care and thought Japanese people take in sourcing, preparing, and serving their food. The simplest things become a ceremony, there’s beauty in taking the time to appreciate the process. For example – I find myself taking time making my coffee in the morning now – hand grinding the beans with my Kalita grinder. Drip pouring slowly and just appreciating the aromas, the calm, and the anticipation.

Even the Japanese approach to making useful tools. No-thrills everyday design that’s functional and intended to last a long time. It’s encouraged us to only buy things that we love and add value to our homes and lives.

Has Japanese art influenced your work? If so, are there any particular artists or collections that you’d recommend other people check out?

Definitely. I love the aesthetic of Anime although it doesn’t directly influence my work. Instead, given the nature of our greetings card business, you’ll see the Kawaii style in some of our cuter kids’ collections.

My personal favourite Japanese artist is Yayoi Kusama. It was an amazing experience seeing and touching her work in the flesh on Naoshima island. We bought one of her limited editioned small resin pumpkin statues from the Benesse House hotel / Museum we stayed at just because we loved it – however, we’ve recently found out it’s gone up 7 x in value!

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Can you tell me a little more about your work, the inspiration behind it, and its connection to Japan?

My work is inspired by a variety of things that I love, including fashion, hip-hop, Americana, British pop culture. I love doing humourous anthropomorphic illustrations, highlighting the similarities between animals and humans – I just want to make people laugh with my work. I tend to use mix-media, but mainly use watercolour and Indian ink to produce the work, then would usually photograph and then do post-editing in photoshop.

Last year we were lucky enough to have Sanrio approach us. They were fans of my work and our Jolly Awesome brand and wanted us to inject some sass and humour into Hello Kitty, and as such, we launched a Hello Kitty x Jolly Awesome contemporary stationery collection at the start of the year. We also released a Gudetama x Jolly Awesome range too.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m constantly working on new designs for our products. We have just released the second drops in our Hello Kitty x Jolly Awesome and Gudetama x Jolly Awesome collections that include new cards.


About Emily Shaw

Emily is a Nakama writer based in London who enjoys writing about Japanese gardens, social issues and travelling to Japan.