Words by Katrina Swee | Photography by Carmen del Prado
It’s a pleasant day in Sydney from photos shared by Mari Jasmine. Wood piled in the corner of her garden with white and purple flowers in full bloom. She’s out on the grass today, barefoot and all, soaking in the sun. The content creator and co-founder of SORA flew back home in April, leaving her friends and belongings behind.
Following Mari on Instagram is where you’ll find the perfect mix of fashion, beauty, travel, personal stances, and good reads. However, these snippets of her life only give us a small glimpse into who she is and how she’s been doing this year.
From exploring the world and gathering unforgettable experiences to going back to her roots, Mari sheds light on her 2020.
There isn’t really much on your past in terms of your childhood and how you ended up in the Philippines so I’d like to learn more about that.
My mum is Japanese and my father is British. I was born in Japan along with my two siblings and when I was five, my parents decided to move to Australia. I feel most Australian above anything else because my schooling was done here and my formative years were spent here but I ended up leaving home quite quickly. I had an incredible childhood but I always had this urge to explore.
I was 18 when I went to live abroad. At that time, I was living in France and England. Then I came back to attend university, but I was always traveling in between when I had school breaks. I also took an extra year in between my studies as well to explore. I was working as a model and was able to travel to a lot of countries, particularly in Asia, as part of my job. I got to understand the culture by living there for an extended amount of time and worked with local people. I was in Hong Kong, Japan, India, Taiwan, Thailand, and then on the tail end of that, I had the opportunity to go to the Philippines. I was thinking of stopping modeling at that point. I thought I had a good run, it’s been fun and an incredible way to travel but I’m ready for something else. Then, this opportunity presented itself, and I didn’t really know anything about the Philippines. I didn’t have Filipino friends growing up. I didn’t even know what language people spoke. It was this big question mark.
Prior to this, I genuinely thought that you were half Filipina, so I was really surprised when I found out you were Japanese.
Yeah, I think I’m an honorary Filipino now after seven years of living in the country. I thought that visiting Manila would be my last hurrah and I would spend a couple of months there. As it does to many foreigners, you end up making friends easily in Manila. People were willing to share their friends and introduce you to people. I found it easy to feel at home and not feel alone. Work was going well for me and then I started transitioning into hosting live events and television programs. At the same time, social media started picking up.
At the beginning of my stay in the Philippines, I had a lot of free time. I tried finding as much work as I could but I had a lot of downtime and ended up posting my vegan recipes on my blog. I liked plant-based food and photography so I took photos of what I made, did some food styling, and uploaded that online which became this whole new era of blogging and being very active on social media. After that, being a content creator became my job as well as being a host.
And by this point, were you thinking this was where you were going to be for a while?
No, I’ve never thought that! The thing is, until I would say two years ago? I had never thought more than a month ahead in my life.
It just didn’t make sense to me. Some people are afraid of not having a plan and not having that security in knowing where they’re going or what they want to do, but I almost felt the opposite of that. I didn’t want to restrict myself, make any promises and commitments to being in a certain place in case this new, exciting opportunity arrives. I really took each day for what it was and I just never ended up moving. I ended up making new friends, building a life and before you know it, it’s like, wow, I’ve been here for seven years.
Because of that, do you now consider Manila your other home?
I think I have so many homes all over the world for many reasons. I was born in another country, my father is from another, and I have lived in many different countries. I don’t like picking favorites with anything.
Of course, Sydney is my home because my parents and siblings live here and I was raised here, but the Philippines feels very much like my home because I’ve built some of the best friendships that I have to date there. My life has transformed in so many ways, and I have learned so many things. Japan is also my home since my mother is from there, I was born there, and have a real connection with that place so I think the most accurate answer would be that it is one of many homes.
You were mentioning when you moved to Manila that you started blogging. I tried looking for your blog and couldn’t find it!
*Laughs* I hid it!
Are you going to be starting it up again or is it now something of the past?
It’s definitely a thing of the past. I’m just too busy. I run a business now with my friend and simply don’t have the time to do it. I’m in the process of revamping my website and turning it into a portfolio that is more representative of who I am today. I feel like I’ve been on this journey and at the point where I am now, it’s less about uploading my recipes online and more of my creative ventures and photography.
Work-wise, what have you been up to?
95% of my time has been spent working on SORA. I work Monday to Friday and structured it as my full-time job because that is what’s required of me. That’s the output needed to be able to make this something that I want it to be. From time to time, I still work with clients to create content, and I am still active on my social media platforms, but they’ve definitely taken a backseat in the past two years because I’m limited with time and bandwidth.
Moving on, you’ve been quoted by Wonder.ph saying, “I’ve always been someone that values my privacy. I share so much of what I do on a public level [that] the things I really care about, I like to keep to myself.” I’ve realized you’re quite an elusive character when it comes to your life and I do want to learn more about you on a deeper level.
It depends on what you want to know. I don’t share much about my family online, maybe from time to time. I’ve also been in some public relationships, and I’m currently in a relationship now. My relationships, whether it be with my friends, family, or loved ones are very sacred to me that I don’t want to necessarily put it out there to be consumed as entertainment. I don’t care for other people’s opinions about it. That’s why I draw boundaries when it comes to things that are really important to me.
How have your past public relationships changed you to who you are today?
I don’t know if the public nature of the relationship shaped me. I didn’t share details unless they were important or inevitable but it didn’t go much deeper than that. I learned and evolved as a person from the relationships I had with others though. It has helped me contextualize my experiences and understand why I am the way I am, that everyone’s experiences are diverse, and the way I see the world is unique to me.
What have been your experiences this year with all the uncertainty and being in Australia?
Most of all, I feel really grateful because I have spent the majority of my adult life being away from home and am always lured by the next adventure. I wouldn’t change it for anything but there was definitely a conflict inside of me where one part wanted to spend more time here with my family while the other wanted to see new places and keep pushing boundaries. It’s when something as severe as the pandemic happens, you quickly realize what the right thing to do is in that moment. That was to be at home with my parents. I can’t imagine another situation where I’d wake up and see them every day for eight months straight. It was a strange experience because despite coming home, I didn’t really have things I felt were mine. I came back to my childhood bedroom and it was bare. I didn’t feel settled right away. I felt like I was in between spaces.
Then, there are my friends scattered around the world. I’ve had a friend who gave birth in March and I haven’t seen her baby yet. She’s now nine months old! I also started dating someone a few months before the pandemic hit and now it's been eight months since I've seen my boyfriend.
That's the majority of your relationship.
My uncle also passed away a couple of weeks ago which was a shock and difficult to deal with, but my family is also scattered around the world so we experienced a Zoom funeral service. With work, I’ve been very lucky to continue with SORA. I feel like I’m in another long-distance relationship with my business partner, Tini, who is based in Hong Kong. Other work I was doing before has taken a backseat even more. It’s difficult to talk about the challenges you’ve faced this year in the wider context because I’m clearly very lucky. I know we're still entitled to our feelings but we also need to put them in a wider context and understand what we are grateful for.
“I’m lucky that I feel so overwhelmingly grateful that it carries through to everything else.”
I agree, this year has been hard for everyone but we must always be conscious of our position and be thankful for that. How have you tried to stay positive?
I’m lucky that I feel so overwhelmingly grateful that it carries through to everything else. Sure, I’m away from my work, friends, and partner, but at the same time, I’m with my family, I have a nice space, and get to go for walks. I am also still running my business. I can’t not feel positive if I’m so grateful for all those things. A part of me had missed this so much even before the pandemic and I just couldn’t figure out how to spend more time here. It’s stopped me from thinking that I’m missing out.
You seem to have adjusted really well in Australia despite the circumstances. With content creation taking a backseat, how have you stayed creative?
My role within SORA is quite creative—I handle branding and the creative side of the business so I have an outlet where I’m constantly having to think about what our next collection will look like or creativity in problem-solving. I’ve also been going for walks without my phone which really helps. My creativity has definitely stifled when I’m overstimulated. I think most of us can relate to that these days. Setting up my space here was another creative effort because I didn’t know how long I was going to be in Sydney. I’d ask myself, how do I make this space feel like me without spending a lot of money and without purchasing items that are difficult to move? I sourced old, unused picture frames that were lying around the house and framed images I’ve taken. I bought a few plants too. My mum is currently obsessed with plants and gardening right now so that’s been fun. We’ve been propagating plants from the garden to put in my room.
I’m guessing you’ll be with your parents for Christmas this year as well. Will you be spending it in Sydney?
Yes, we are. Christmas in my family is a bit unconventional because we don’t have relatives with us so we normally celebrate the holiday with friends. That’s how my family has been doing it for the past twenty-five years. Even though I haven’t always spent my Christmases here, when I come back, we see family friends, have a good meal and go to the beach in the morning.
That sounds awesome.
Yeah, it’s going to be a very relaxed Christmas.