Working in the City: I Go Tokyo

From Tokyo With Love

Traveling to distant countries for a living would be a dream for many people. When Margaret Armour opened I Go Tokyo in 2018, it became her reality.

By Catherine Smith | Photography by Emily Pérez Long

Etsuko Lammon and  Margaret Armour, business partners at I Go Tokyo

Etsuko Lammon and Margaret Armour

 

When Margaret Armour returned from a trip to Japan in 2016, she had an idea to bring the Land of the Rising Sun to the Scenic City. I Go Tokyo was born from her dream of opening a store to share unique finds from her travels.

“I experienced a culture so unlike my own with a beautiful history and so many old traditions,” Armour recalls. “Japan has a unique culture and cuisine, yet they are also a culture of ingenuity and attention to detail.”

The goal for her store was to offer an authentic representation of Japanese culture and showcase traditional Japanese craftsmanship. But to set up her shop, Armour needed to connect with Japanese artisans, which would normally be a significant challenge given cultural differences and language barriers. Luckily, she was able to connect with Etsuko Lammon,
a Japanese native who has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years.

Lammon became not only a close friend to Armour, but an integral part of I Go Tokyo, bridging the gap between the store and the artisans who create their unique offerings. As brand manager, Lammon handles international sales as well as translation for the store. “Japanese business culture is very different than Western and has many formalities with which she is familiar,” explains Armour.

The result of this partnership is a charming storefront in Northshore that is filled with a curated selection of home goods, stationery, and kawaii (cute) items. This self-described “unique boutique” is exactly that, carrying a number of exclusive products that are not sold anywhere else in the United States.

Shopping at I Go Tokyo is like having a direct line to Japan. The store’s offerings reflect both the modern and customary aspects of Japanese culture, from handcrafted pottery and traditional wall hangings to unique handbags and fun accessories. They also carry an assortment of merchandise from anime series that are wildly popular in both the United States and Japan.

The quality and variety of their inventory reflect the close bonds they have formed with Japanese vendors over the years. Under normal circumstances, Armour and Lammon travel to Japan several times a year to meet with artisans and purchase items for the store. “One of my favorite things to buy would be earrings from Schaf, or my friend Mari,” says Armour. “She grows flowers to use in her earrings and recently moved out of Tokyo for a bit of land to grow even more varieties.”

For members of the Japanese community here in Chattanooga, however, I Go Tokyo is more than a boutique. “We connect the Japanese community by offering a safe space during the pandemic and help newcomers acclimate into the Chattanooga Japanese community,” Armour shares. 

The store also boasts the largest independent Japanese library in the Southeast, with over 250 titles donated by the local Japanese community. “Anyone who can read them or would like to try is welcome to check them out,” Armour says of their collection.

In addition to offering beautiful Japanese items, I Go Tokyo promotes a deeper understanding and appreciation for Japanese culture through educational classes and fun events that anyone can participate in. They offer monthly classes to teach Japanese traditions like gyotaku, the art of Japanese fish printing, and furoshiki, the Japanese tradition of wrapping gifts and goods in cloth. Other classes have included origami, calligraphy, and a traditional tea ceremony.

They also celebrate seasonal events like Natsumatsuri (summer festival) and Hanami (cherry blossom festival) in the store. “Cherry blossom season is such a happy time in Japan, and we love to incorporate that feeling into the store. We have a cherry blossom tree in the store year-round!” says Armour. No matter what time of year you visit, you are sure to enjoy this little slice of Japan in Chattanooga.

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