Many Westerners hope to travel to Japan, and a few dream of making a life for themselves there. But apart from teaching English, there are few jobs in Japan for Westerners who have not mastered the language. However, for the few truly brave and adventurous like Kyle Sexton, a little ingenuity and determination can make dreams come true.
Kyle is a native of York, Pennsylvania and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Photography. He never cooked or baked and certainly never thought he would find a career in food, nor a life abroad. His dream was born the day in 1978 that he ate at a Japanese restaurant in New York. The next day he awoke hungry to learn everything he could about Japan - language, culture, everything he could find. Every day he would have lunch in a restaurant called Shogun (where he was regularly served by Spike Lee’s sister, he recalls) and every weekend he’d go to a little cafe in the Village in Manhattan where they would show Japanese TV shows with English subtitles. He surrounded himself with all things Japanese and set his sights on making his way to the country.
In 1984, with his dream in his heart but no real plan in his head, he headed for Japan with $300 in his pocket. He found a job teaching English, met his wife, fell in love, got married, and had his first two children. Meanwhile, he began baking American baked goods from their apartment and giving them to his friends. Never having baked before, he learned to bake from books, baking in his tiny apartment and delivering his confections all over the city.
The turning point came when three different friends gave him a handshake loan of 3 million yen to start his own business. Of course, being Japanese, his friends refused to accept interest on their loans - they considered their loans to be a gift to their friend. With the help of another friend, he opened his bakery in 1991 in Nakano, on the outskirts of Shibuya. Coincidentally, the U.S. TV show “Twin Peaks” was a hit in Japan, at the time, and people flocked to Kyle to find a delicious cherry pie, just like Special Agent Dale Cooper. By 1994, “Kyle’s Good Finds” was turning a profit of almost $100,000 U.S. per year.
Today, Kyle’s bakery typically only produces a few items per day: Carrot cake, brownies, cheesecake, banana bread, applesauce spice cake and pumpkin apple bread are regular sellers.
Kyle also runs a soul-food catering company serving beans and rice, chicken, potato and macaroni salads, muffins, corn bread, and delivers large orders of baked goods around Tokyo as well.
With his wife, Shimizu, they are raising their 4 children, Kyle, Elena, Safia and Xavier - three of whom are at University at the same time! He met his wife in 1985 at the Japan African-American Friendship Association. It hasn’t been an easy life, to be sure. Kyle is African-American and has not only experienced racism himself, but watched as his children experienced prejudice as well. Shimizu’s family opposed their marriage and for years refused to see any of their children. When Shimizu’s father became ill with stomach cancer, he told her not to bring her children when she visited him; she brought them anyway.
Today, Kyle is fluent in Japanese, conducting all his business in Japanese and navigating the sometimes-complicated world of Japanese regulations and business relationships. His children attend school in Japanese and speak Japanese with their mother and English with their father. His customers are loyal and enthusiastic - both because of the delicious food and also because of Kyle’s friendly and generous personality. Maybe if you are in Nakano, Tokyo, one day you can visit his bakery!
The Japan Times