BE AFRAID. Be very afraid. Jez Willard has once again thrown his boushi into the ring for The Press Business Awards 2007.

Jez is the proprietor of the award-winning Japanese Shop, a boushi is a Japanese hat, and he is prepared to eat it he doesn't replicate the success he had in the competition in 2004.

At the time, he scooped Retailer Of The Year, Small Business Of The Year and the overall title. The following year, The Japanese Shop was a finalist in the Retailer Of The Year.

Last year, the fascinating gift shop - which now has branches in Coppergate, York, in Harrogate and Chester - did not take part.

The shop came in the top five northern Best Independent Retailers Of The Year, a competition sponsored by Progressive Gifts magazine, and was voted Best Shop in York Tourism Bureau's contest.

In spite of pressures faced by retailers, Jez and his Japanese wife, Hiromi, have forged ahead, using inspiration from a trip to Tokyo to restock the shop with new products.

Of these, 75 per cent are exclusive to the shop.

Jez says friendliness is key to the shop's success, with hot or cold drinks offered to customers. And niceness works: in a recent survey, 99 per cent of customers them said they would recommend the shop to a friend.