News / Asia

Q&A: Bringing Gourmet Chocolate to Kyoto, Japan

FILE - An employee takes out chocolate truffles at a shop.
FILE - An employee takes out chocolate truffles at a shop.
Frances Alonzo
Valentine's Day in the United States is a day that is set aside where mainly men lavish the ladies in their lives with romantic dinners, flowers and chocolate.  But in Japan, it's women who give chocolates to men.  Now, Japanese women can chose a chocolate import that uses Ecuadorian cacao by way of a Honduran chocolate boutique owner in New York’s famed SoHo neighborhood. Mariebelle Japan, in Kyoto, showcases artfully crafted chocolates with art imprinted in ganaches and hot chocolate drinks. VOA’s Frances Alonzo talked to the owner of Mariebelle Kyoto, Maribel Lieberman, about her leap from lower Manhattan to taking her passion for chocolate to Kyoto, Japan. So how does a business woman make the jump from importing chocolate from Ecuador to her New York City chocolate boutique to opening up a chocolate boutique in Kyoto? The idea seemed like huge continental leaps that just begged to be explored.  
 
ALONZO: Coffee seems to be the big drink of choice, and yet you choose chocolate, tell us why.
 

LIEBERMAN:  I’m not a coffee drinker. You know you always do your passion. Chocolate has always been one of my favorite things to eat, but it’s also, it has been for generations, our ancestors were using cacao as money. So, it’s always been an intrigue for me, you know since I’m not a coffee drinker, chocolate was for me the way of going because I could not only do a drink but I could also do confections. 
 
ALONZO:  How does this come about? I mean you had been already established in New York, to Japan.  How did that happen?
 
LIEBERMAN: In New York, I remember a Japanese newspaper coming to my store. They wanted to feature my chocolates in the newspaper. And you know they feature me on the cover. So then, I started getting a lot of Japanese and started my brand to be getting known among the Japanese community here. And one of the jobs that I did, when I had a catering [service], was a Japanese man who owned an advertising company. He actually was the one that introduced me to my partner. He’s the one who came along and said there’s this company that is looking for a good brand to come to Japan.
 
ALONZO:  And here you are, you go to visit, and you check out the place. What is the store like in Japan?
 
LIEBERMAN: Kyoto is a city where you can find all the way Japan used to be, with these old Japanese buildings. They have the patio in the front and you go to the back for the store. So you have to go through little hallways to go in to the store.  They have kept all the traditions and the aesthetics of food, companies there have lasted a hundred, two hundred years old. We want my brand to last a hundred years, two hundred years, if possible.  And we wanted to partner with a city that has that tradition.
 
ALONZO:  How did being a woman help you in opening a business in a foreign country?
 
LIEBERMAN:  My approach to problem solving is different, for example. But being a woman has never something that I think would hold me back to open a business in a foreign country. In Japan, there are a lot of women-owned businesses. So I didn’t really feel that would be a problem. You know, my partner in Japan is a woman, too.  And we almost daily, we talk. Of course, we talk about the business, but we have developed a friendship and we are really partners because we are focused, both of us, to bring “Maribel” worldwide. 
 
ALONZO: Tell us about the chocolate itself.  What makes it special?
 
LIEBERMAN: After doing research, I found that Latin America has some of the best qualities in cacao. What I wanted to introduce also to the people that they were not really familiar with single origin, different origins and different flavors of cacao. That’s when I started concentrating on introducing also to the people different origins and have people taste the different tastes of cacao.  You know when I started my hot chocolate, I’m still bringing my cacao from Latin America, from Ecuador.
 
Maribel Lieberman said she plans to open stores all over Asia, beginning with Japan. The company is poised to add a cold chocolate drink to their menu and have it available in supermarkets.  Japanese men aren’t off the hook; they are expected to return the favor on March 14, known as “White Day.”

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs