The Love of Making Things: reinvigorating local Japanese traditional crafts in Tohoku [TOHOKU Vision]


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.

What is unique about your hometown’s traditions and culture?
If your answer is “nothing”, then think again. These days, many people are not aware of their local region’s values. But if you realize those values, then you might be able to come up with a great idea. This is how WATALIS has come up with their best-selling products.

What is WATALIS?

WATALIS is a project group established by Ms. Megumi Hikichi. The name WATALIS is a portmanteau – a combination of “Watari” borrowed from Watari-cho a small town in Miyagi prefecture, and “talisman,” a good luck charm.
At Watari-cho, farmers used to give rice as presents in a bag or“fukuro“ in Japanese pronounced “fuguro” in the local dialect. Local women made fukuro out of the scraps leftover from handmade kimonos. After learning about this story at a local museum, Ms. Megumi Hikichi decided to remake this in a modern fashion.
The FUGURO is very attractive, making it appealing to people today. It’s amazing how what used to be a bag made out of kimono scraps and used by farmers has now been recreated as a modern fashion item.

No one found any other ways to use the old “fukuro” and they went out of fashion. That’s why I decided to give it a modern design so that people would want to use them again.

This was how Hikichi came up with WATALIS.
The strawberry charm are also very popular along with Fuguro.

Passing on Tradition through Best-Sellers

WATALIS simply aims not to protect traditional culture and crafts, but to pass them on through next generations as best-selling goods.

There are many things about the region that the local residents are not aware of unless they visit the local museum, but not everyone goes. That’s why I think it’s important to have another way of telling them – through selling products.

Ms Megumi Hikichi

Reconnecting the Community

The WATALIS members are women in their 30s and 40s. All of them came together through their love of making things.

It’s great to see people connect through WATALIS, especially since the community had fallen apart since earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Now the community is growing even beyond the town. They have collaborated with other traditional craft brands, and have even made items with the famous Liberty Print from the UK. Hikichi is grateful for all the people she has met.

I got to know so many people, both within Watari-cho and beyond. I am so glad I decided to start this activity.

Perhaps you could also revisit your region’s local traditions and culture. It can be anything, even as small as a gift bag – because it might lead you to fascinating new findings and success!
[via TOHOKU MANUFACTURE STORY, written by Emiko Hida]
[English Text by Mai Iida]
[Editor: Mike Cutno, Kana Tateyama, and Kota Suzuki]


Purchase a FUGURO of your own!
WATALIS online shop