The first thing you notice when you enter Simply Native’s new Surry Hills store is the aroma: a whiff of tatami mats, the scent of hinoki wood and whatever incense is burning that day. There’s an atmosphere that makes you want to linger, and it’s dangerously easy to pop in with no intention of buying anything, only to find yourself leaving half an hour later with a bag of things you had no idea you wanted.

It was a similar story at Simply Native’s original Cleveland Street store, which owner Yukino Matsumoto left for a more central location in May.

The sequel – which is just around the corner from Paramount House – has a table loaded with gift-ready items: chopsticks and their holders; incense and burners; imported condiments, candies and rice crackers. The shelves behind, which display a variety of miso, soy sauces and sake, provide additional temptation. But the focal point of the compact space is a raised tatami mat section. Once you’ve taken your shoes off, step up and browse shelves laden with traditional cookware, ceramic homewares, chef’s knives and hinoki products. Cabinets and baskets throughout hold stationery, hand creams, and chunky knitted Japan-made socks.

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Upstairs is an area for traditional tea ceremonies, incense-making courses and other workshops. Plus, specialty items including rare ceramic tiles geared towards interior designers and architects. There’s also tableware, which Simply Native supplies to some of Sydney’s top Japanese diners, including the revered Yoshii’s Omakase at Nobu.

Matsumoto’s mission to preserve Japanese artisanship is deeply personal. She grew up on the island of Amami Oshima, in a family of kimono-makers. Not long ago, the island’s kimonos were everyday wear. These days they’re the domain of luxury – fetching high prices and bought by few.

“After the bubble economy finished, it was really tough for my family,” Matsumoto says. “So my dad decided to close the production, but he’s still in the industry, repairing kimonos. I’m proud of him, he’s the only artisan in the island still repairing kimonos.”

Seeking more stable work than the family business, Matsumoto joined Japan’s ministry for economy and tourism, working to connect small Japanese artisans with buyers in the international market. She quickly learned that her family’s story wasn’t unique: makers across the country were struggling to keep their traditions alive, in the face of rising costs and dwindling domestic demand.

“My passion is empowering artisans. I wanted to do something about it,” she says.

So, following a move to Sydney with her husband, Matsumoto started Simply Native in 2016 to showcase the people she’s worked with throughout her career. You would be hard-pressed to find the products of any of the shop’s 100 or so brands anywhere else in Sydney. And it’s thanks to Matsumoto’s personal relationships that Simply Native is the only Australian stockist of several storied Japanese brands. You’ll find incense from the country’s oldest incense manufacturer, Kungyokudo (1594); various teas by artisan tea-maker Ryuouen (1875); and somen noodle sets from Kyoto’s oldest soba restaurant, Honke Owariya (1702).

“Most of our artisans can’t produce a lot, but what they’re looking for is long-term relationships, so that they can keep going,” Matsumoto says. “This is my dream and vision.”

Simply Native
1/148 Goulburn St, Surry Hills
(02) 8208 5939

Mon to Sat: 10am–6pm
Sun: 10am–4pm