“TOHOKU Vision” is a series by our writer intern, Mai Iida.
Every region has its unique traditions and resources. How have such values helped revitalize the Tohoku region after the earthquake and tsunami in March 11, 2011? This series may help you rediscover the potential of your local region – through the eyes of Tohoku.
Back in the days, the Tohoku residents developed a weaving technique to keep themselves warm during the harsh winter. This technique called “sashiko” was originally used to strengthen clothes with thread, so that they would be warmer and sturdier for one to wear. Even today, the sashiko technique lives on, and is used to weave patterns onto textiles.
One project, the Otsuchi Sashiko Project, based in Otsuchi town of Iwate Prefecture, has taken this sashiko technique as an essential part of their products’ design. Their products range from clothes to daily items such as tea coasters.
But there’s more to this project than the products themselves. These products are all made by the hands of local residents in Otsuchi – who have lost their homes from the tsunami in 2011.
Feeling at Home with a Needle and a Thread
The Otsuchi people had no access to income at the evacuation centers. In particular, the elderly had no other choice but to stay, unable to find work outside. What job could these elderly do, given the limited space at these evacuation centers?
The idea of making sashiko products seemed perfect for the environment – marking the beginning of the Otsuchi Sashiko Project. Kazuya Yoshino and his members began making the first sashiko goods, and also created an e-commerce website. The prototypes immediately sold out – a great start to their project.
When a weaver received her first pay, 300 yen for a tea coaster she had made, she thanked me and said, “I can now buy juice for my grandchild”. Her response made me very happy, and her smile was simply priceless.
Now the sashiko weavers work together like a family, and even looks after the staff like Yoshino as if they are their children.
Turning the “Otsuchi Sashiko Project” into the “Otsuchi Sashiko Brand”
There are many other types of sashiko in Tohoku, such as the Kogin-sashi and Shounai Sashiko. Unlike these, however, the sashiko at Otsuchi is not known to be a “traditional craft”.
That is why Yoshino and his team have always held a desire to establish the “Otsuchi Sashiko” as the region’s traditional brand. Once people begin to associate Otsuchi to its sashiko through the Otsuchi Sashiko Project, they could provide more jobs for the local residents.
Local Solutions for Local Challenges by the Local People
The Otsuchi Sashiko Project is now run under the Non-Profit Organization Terra Renaissance, which encourages local residents to become capable of solving their regional challenges on their own. The Sashiko Project also aims to pass on their organization to local residents by 2021.
Yoshino hopes the project eventually grows into an established industry that is well-rooted in the Otsuchi community.
Once the Otsuchi Sashiko Project takes flight, I hope to help other communities fight their challenges elsewhere. There are many regions that carry similar issues, and similar approaches can be applied to solve them. The future of Otsuchi is the future of Japan.
Just like the Otsuchi Sashiko, the region’s traditional values can be critical to its recovery and success. But most importantly, the thoughts of the people are what support the community.
Three years have passed since the March 11 disaster, but Yoshino continues to strongly believe in Otsuchi. Yoshino’s passion is truly driving Otsuchi forward – and is bound to encourage other communities to as well!
[via TOHOKU MANUFACTURE STORY, greenz.jp written by Shin Sakurai + Emiko Hida]
[English Text by Mai Iida]