Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Photography - HIRO
Text - MINA
Keiko Matsushita, founder
Photography - HIRO
Interview - MINA
"When I thought about how I could connect and convey our ‘Japanese and Japan-ness’ to Canadian society, I thought the easiest way would be to have products. I hope Ogojo Canada will serve as a bridge for Japanese immigrant women living in Canada to Canadian society."
Ogojo is a Kagoshima dialect word for "women". It also means a woman with a gentle soul and strong heart. Keiko fits this image perfectly and is also an Ogojo from Kagoshima. Her Ogojo Jan Chili Sauce has a mission: to tell the story of a struggle and unseen barrier Japanese immigrant woman face in Canadian society.
In 2003, Keiko was a busy career woman working for an organization that offered high school study abroad programs in the United States. She had always wanted to work overseas herself someday. When her boyfriend-then-husband at the time, returned to Canada, Keiko decided to go with him on a working holiday visa and give it a try. She was perplexed by the fact that her career and educational background in Japan was no longer relevant; her life needed to start from scratch in a new place. Three years after immigrating, she started an administrative job at the University of British Columbia (UBC). There she saw that the upper management was all Caucasian and Native Speakers, and she felt limited by the invisible wall of language and racial barriers. Rather than continuing to work in the system, she decided to start her own business. After giving birth to her second child, she quit her job and started her own translation company. Working while raising a child was more difficult than she had imagined. That was when she began to seek emotional support from her Japanese mum's friends in Canada.
Through their friendship, Keiko learned that many talented immigrant women like herself feel frustrated for their inability to show their true talents due to the language barrier. They often feel disconnected in the country where they come to seek a new life. She felt the need to support such women. By working together and supporting each other, it would be easier for them to connect to Canadian society, and shine their true colors.
She then founded Ogojo Canada in 2017. Initially founded as a support hub that rented the space of Tonari Gumi, a non-profit organization helping Japanese and Japanese-Canadian people living in the area. Ogojo Canada provides a place for families to drop in and socialize. Ogojo Canada connects people, holds workshops, invites people to talk shows, and hosts many fun family-oriented events. In the wake of the Covid pandemic, she started interview series of "Japanese Women in Canada". Their stories were on the website to encourage local Japanese women through this challenging time. Then she thought, 'Wouldn't it be better to have a product together to bring their stories to the eyes of the local community?' After a year of trial and error, she came up with Ogojo Jan Chili Sauce and officially launched it in 2022.
Ogojo Jan Chili Sauce is vegan and gluten-free. It is less spicy than regular chili sauce, and anyone, from children to adults, regardless of dietary restriction can enjoy it. The QR code on the package lid allows you to jump to the interview with Japanese Women in Canada. The product hopes to show what life in Canada is like for Japanese women, how much they love Canada, and how they make a living in Canadian society while satisfying everyone's palette.
VOICE(V): Why did you choose Chili Sauce to represent "Japanese-ness"?
Keiko(K): "At the time, chili sauce was so popular in Japan, yet it was not available in Vancouver. There are places like Okazu in Ontario and Dori Rāyu, but in 2019 it was still a rare thing. We had a lot of feedback from the trial run that they've always wanted to try it."
V: What is unique about Ogojo Jan chili sauce?
K: "We focus on Umami, more than heat or saltiness. I am very grateful to Tonami, the owner of Vankoji, who has been very generous and shared business tips since the beginning of our business. We also insist on using miso and soy sauce from Amano Foods, which has been a respected Japanese food business in Richmond for over 40 years."
V: Can you also tell us about the package design?
K: "The logo on the package is the "Gods of Wind and Thunder" with the traditional Japanese colors of red, silver, and gold. The red color reminds me of a shrine, and the silver and gold remind me of the famous Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji temples in Kyoto. We wanted to make it easy for anyone to recognize it as a Japanese product."
V: What are some of your favorite recipes using Ogojo Jan chili sauce?
K: "Mild Miso Chili Sauce is delicious over salmon or rice. Try it Canadian style over popcorn, too! Hot Chili Sauce is the most popular, but personally, I like Mild Chili Sauce the best. It is easy to use in cooking arrangements. Cooking leftover rice with Mild Chili Sauce makes a bowl of delicious fried rice easy and fast. Another favorite is to have it on top of mashed potatoes or eggs on toast for a change. I hope you will use it in a variety of dishes."
V: Where can we purchase your products?
K: "You can always find us at farmers' markets in Vancouver or our online shop. We also stock at City Avenue Market on Commercial, in New Westminster and Poco, Pomme Natural Market, Stong's on Dunbar, Storm City Coffee in Kitsilano, Yama Cafe, Le Marche St. George and Branch on Bowen. I am very grateful for the way they support local businesses. This year, we participated in the Make It Vancouver at PNE for the holiday event."
V: Do you like making products?
K: "I love the process of making products. Researching, making labels, designing, and inventing recipes. Being a crafter makes me realize the consumers and producers at both ends of the process. It also motivates me to create a better circular economy."
V: What are your plans for 2023?
K: I have been making and perfecting chili sauce for the past year by trial and error, so in 2023 I would like to participate in Expo, research new retailers, and do other things I couldn't do in 2022. I would also like to continue meeting people who are creating interesting businesses and products. Meeting all these great entrepreneurs is an added bonus I didn’t consider when I started the business.