In 2007, our co-founder James met Masahiro Sasaki (Masa) in New York City. Little did he know then that ten years later Masa would become his future husband and the inspiration behind his indie beauty hair care brand.
Masa was born in Otsuchi, a small fishing village in Japan in the Prefecture Iwate on the shore of the Northeast Pacific. The record of his family tree starts in 1858, making him the 5th generation to grow up in his hometown. His father Masashi passed away when Masa was 21, but his mother Tsuyako and his two younger brothers Yoshihiro and Hiroki and their families still live in the area.
Follow along as Masa shares his interesting stories about growing up in a fishing community, moving to America, his wedding celebration with James and his gift for Ikebana.
Tell us about your family life.
I grew up in a very unique family. Each member was an individual and not really team players. We never ate at the same table; everybody ate whenever they wanted. No family conversations because everyone was doing their own thing at different times. My parents owned the busiest hair salon in town so they both didn’t come home until after 10 pm every night. However, my mother cooked many varieties of traditional food for us and left them on the table so we could eat whenever we felt hungry.
My father was an Aikido player, which is a modern Japanese martial art. He was extremely strict and to me, a very big and scary existence all of the time. However, on the other hand, he was also sensitive and played Shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. My mother’s mother was a radio singer, so we had music all of the time in the house instead of conversation.
I think I learned Japanese traditional culture from my Grandfather on my father's side. My Grandfather was a traditional Japanese dancer and was very modern in fashion. He started wearing traditional Japanese outfits and adding western style. He was a gentleman whose hobbies were tap dance and billiards.
I was very weak when I was a child and always in the hospital alone. So, I learned to be very independent from a young age.
Do you have a favorite childhood memory about growing up in a small fishing village?
Actually, I hated the town I grew up in. I always felt I was different. Everyone knows you because Otsuchi is a very small town. Whatever I wanted to do, it wasn’t in my town. That is why I live in NYC now (hahaha). However, I didn’t recognize until now that I grew up surrounded by nature and that it created me. I could play around in the ocean, rivers and mountains. Get each season’s bountiful foods from nature. Feel the breeze, appreciate the sun, rain and the wind, the smell of the earth, trees, woods, snow, crisp cold air, etc. Nature gave me many opportunities to gain in many ways spiritually. Those experiences are still at the base of my mind.
Spectacular nature surrounding the Sanriku region
Is your family heritage a part of the fishing community?
Not directly, but again it is a small fishing village, so the fishermen would share when they got tons of fish. Isn’t that wonderful? The entire community would benefit from their success and enjoy it all together.
Japan observes 16 national and cultural holidays throughout the year. Which one was your favorite to celebrate with your family?
I think New Year's Eve is my favorite holiday in the Japanese calendar. As I mentioned my parents were busy, but they would close their salon early in the day. We would start the final cleaning of the year altogether and decorate the house, garden, pond and well. Put traditional goodwill paper ornaments in each tree in our garden and other kinds of goodwill in and on the house. Then, eat together at the same table with many kinds of dishes which my mother made.
Your English is very good. How did you learn to speak it fluently?
Starting at age 12, English Class was part of our compulsory education in junior high and high school. My English teacher was an American from Boston, so we had opportunities to learn from a native English speaker. Sometimes you may get a British English teacher or maybe an Australian one. No one knows what kind of English accent your teacher will have until she or he comes into the class. Also, I have nice people around me and everybody helps me to build up my English. Thank you everyone!
Masa, at age 6, and his mother outside his elementary school
What prompted you to move to the United States?
I think the main key was my father. He had a friend who married an American man who visited our home every year. So, I had an opportunity to touch America from a young age. Plus, my father gave me an opportunity to study abroad in England for a short period. He told me that no matter what I think, you are going to America in the future so I will send you to England to see other cultures.
After college, I joined one of the major relocation companies in Japan. Then I started moving around the world with the company carrier working as an overseas department member and quickly climbed up to the GM of Hotel Industries at the New York branch. I received another opportunity to go back to headquarters in Japan but, liked living in New York City so decided to toss the carrier job and be reborn here.
You and James were married on September 23, 2017. Tell a favorite story about your wedding. Any surprises?
About the wedding, I didn’t do anything except for food tasting. James did everything else. Hahaha. He had the space beautifully decorated with many kinds of flowers. It was a completely out of your mind kind of space that no one expected in NYC.
Surprise, um... my mother didn’t know until the day before the wedding that I was marrying a man. After I told her at the restaurant that tomorrow is the day for James and my wedding, we walked at a 20 M distance separately back to the hotel. But at the same time, I had my two brothers' support for this wedding and in the end, my mother accepted. Thank god!
James and Masa at their wedding ceremony with his mother Tsuyako and brothers Hiroki and Yoshihiro
Speaking of flowers, your Instagram feed is filled with your beautiful Japanese floral arrangements. When did you discover this talent?
On my mother’s recommendation, I learned Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement, when I was a child. Don’t think I am strange. But I simply like to talk with flowers, to find their face, style or movement. I would like to show flowers in a beautiful way. It's the same as a fashion designer to cut and show how the fabric is to be used. My house had a big Japanese garden with a plum tree, pine tree, southern sky tree, maple tree, etc. We also had a Koi pond swimming with many different colors of Koi fish. My grandfather didn’t hire a gardener, so he and I were pruning those trees together. So, I learned “how to” from him. That is why I like those kinds of things and have them in my base.
Ikebana, a colorful Japanese flower arrangement created by Masa
Next week, we'll share Part Two of Masa's story about how he was the inspiration for the hydrating ocean botanical in MASAMI, the Japanese approach to beauty, the nutritional aspect of Mekabu seaweed and more!