Yancha: Shuko Akune's Story
“My mother and aunts had always taught me to ‘never have idle hands,’” says Shuko Akune, maker of Yancha’s humorous—and handmade—handbags featuring images of kokeshi dolls and sushi.
It’s an old Japanese lesson, but one Akune has taken to heart.
A busy stage and screen actress (her numerous credits include the TV shows Seinfeld, Murphy Brown, the Norman Lear sitcom E/R, and the Velina Hasu Houston plays Tea and Kokoro), the multitalented Akune has often been known to find time for knitting while waiting on the set.
While acknowledging that her acting has often brought her into the public eye, Akune has been pleasantly surprised by her popularity as a handbag designer.
“I started making these bags just for myself,” Akune says. “And pretty soon, everyone who saw them wanted one! My husband is in the clothing business, so it seemed a natural thing to pursue.”
Akune and her husband formed a small company and named it Yancha; one the word’s interpretations means “little rascal” in Japanese and it was also the name of Akune’s favorite cat.
Guided by the Japanese American National Museum’s Maria Kwong, Akune developed her prototypes for the bags until they were just right.
“I wanted to create an item with a sense of humor, and that was attractive and different,” she explains. “I was six years old when I took my first trip to Japan with my mother, and I was given kokeshi dolls. I thought they were beautiful and very expressive.”
“These are not made on an assembly line,” she explains. “They’re individually sewn and cut by hand.”
The response has been strong, and Akune couldn’t be more delighted.
“I’m so flattered, and it’s great to be associated with such a beautiful Museum,” she says, noting that she was a longtime fan of—and visitor to—the institution before becoming involved as an artist. “I treasure the friendships I’ve made and can’t express my gratitude enough.”