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Meet the couple who have brought a 'microcosm of Japan' to Norwich

PUBLISHED: 14:57 14 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:10 14 January 2020

Hiroko Aono-Billson and Nigel Aono-Billson, owners of KOBO A-B in Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Hiroko Aono-Billson and Nigel Aono-Billson, owners of KOBO A-B in Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

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From a pop-up market stall to a two-floor shop in the heart of the Norwich Lanes, east meets the west in KOBO A-B which sells Japanese crafts and clothing.

Japanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaJapanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

The store opened at 10-12 Bridewell Alley in November after moving from Magdalen Street, where they had been for a year, to bigger premises so they could also have space upstairs to hold workshops and events.

KOBO translates to studio and the A-B are the initials of couple's surname that own it who are Hiroko and Nigel Aono-Billson and they have called Norwich home for the last six years.

The concept had been a decade in the making, as whilst living in their previous home in Kent the couple had started to write a book on Japanese culture and craft.

Whilst it wasn't published in the end, the shop ended up being "manifestation of what was said in the book" and they first began as a pop-up stall in Whitstable.

Hiroko Aono-Billson and Nigel Aono-Billson, owners of KOBO A-B. Picture: Victoria PertusaHiroko Aono-Billson and Nigel Aono-Billson, owners of KOBO A-B. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

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Their new store sells lifestyle goods from Japan, including mugs, scarves and traditional kimonos, and it also features trousers made by Mrs Aono-Billson's sister Kaori and local designers such as Norfolk-based Jane Sedgwick who creates wooden jewellery.

Hiroko first moved to London from Shikoku island in Japan 30 years ago to study textiles at Central Saint Martins and she met graphic designer Nigel, originally from Derby, through a mutual friend when they were both working in the capital.

The pair got married 20 years ago, and now have a 19-year-old daughter called India together, and they eventually ended up in Norwich after Mr Aono-Billson got a job teaching at Norwich University of the Arts.

Japanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaJapanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

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Mr Aono-Billson, who now works as a freelance designer, said: "Japanese culture has been growing in popularity the last couple of years, partly because people have been on holiday there and also because of the food interest in sushi and culture with things like manga, the Rugby World Cup and Olympics in Tokyo this year.

"The shop is a microcosm of Japanese culture and Norwich is a fantastic place to be with a great independent shop community."

Mrs Aono-Billson said: "Everything considered is our motto and that is the way Japanese culture is in the way they live and also make things."

Japanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria PertusaJapanese lifestyle shop KOBO A-B opens in Norwich. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

KOBO A-B is open Tuesday to Saturday 10.30am to 5pm.

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