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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2001
'Charismatic housewife' advocates happiness through homemaking
By YOKO HANI
Many Japanese women revere Harumi Kurihara, calling her the "charismatic housewife."
Yet others try to imitate her lifestyle, cooking her recipes while wearing a similar apron, or even by copying her trademark fluffy hairstyle.
With the success of her best-selling cookbooks as well as shops and restaurants operating under her name, the 53-year-old is often compared to well-known U.S. lifestyle guru Martha Stewart.
The housewife-turned-cooking-specialist, however, is not entirely comfortable with her popularity, saying she has simply offered tiny tips to make domestic chores more enjoyable and stylish.
"I think I've been lucky, but I am still an ordinary housewife," she said during an interview at her shop Yutori no Kukan (A Space for Comfortable Living) in Tokyo's fashionable Harajuku district. "I'm just trying to say life at home can be very lovely."
The two-story 515-sq.-meter shop and restaurant attracts many female shoppers who browse through aisles stocking simple and stylish household items such as tableware and home apparel designed by Kurihara.
Kurihara believes comfortable home living is the foundation of a happy life and offers suggestions to help people enjoy household work.
Many believe the foundation of her widespread appeal is that she values ordinary housewives and working women equally and believes both can find satisfaction through homemaking.
"Even when you are busy working outside the home, or indeed because you are working busily outside, you can find joy in relaxing at home by placing pretty flowers near windows or by preparing easy-to-cook food that is also your favorite dish," she said. "A self-made life, such as cooking by yourself and decorating rooms as you like, brings a satisfaction different from what we get by buying expensive things," Kurihara added.
"I am quite sure we can enjoy a comfortable life in any space, regardless of its size, if we try."
When Kurihara stepped out of her home and started working 18 years ago, more people were bound by the idea that a working woman does so at the expense of enjoying a fulfilling life at home.
"I didn't like that way of thinking," she said. "Recently, however, more women seem to want to work outside while enjoying themselves at home. My suggestions may have fit in with their desires."
Kurihara began her career as a backstage assistant of a TV cooking program and later wrote cooking pages for magazines while publishing her own books.
Interestingly, Kurihara never imagined holding a job when she married a famous TV anchorman at 26. Her life as a full-time housewife changed several years later when her husband told her he did not want her to just sit around waiting for him at home.
Kurihara now supervises and writes for a quarterly magazine on lifestyle coordination and owns three shops, which also serve as restaurants where customers can sample her recipes.
Despite her increasingly hectic schedule, Kurihara still begins her day at 6 a.m. with chores such as tending to flowers and housecleaning.
Kurihara said she inherited this approach to life from her parents, who live in Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture. Her 78-year-old mother still gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day, as she has done for nearly 60 years, to prepare a traditional Japanese-style breakfast.
"Household chores may sound boring when you are young, but I learned from living with my parents that happiness actually can be found through the culmination of small, everyday things."