The 50 cm square kimono patchworks are combined together, conveying a message “Never forget Tohoku.”
TEXT: Chiho IUCHI
On March 13th, a Kizuna charity concert was performed in Shinjuku, Tokyo, and there, an impressive tapestry made of kimono fabric hung at the venue.
The Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, causing an enormous loss of life, livelihoods, and property. In the case of Kameshichi Gofukuten, a long established kimono shop in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, most of its products were submerged and became unsalable after the tsunami went upstream from the mouth of the former Kitakami River.
The loss of property caused by the tsunami also included a lot of musical instruments. For students in school bands, the loss of instruments meant the loss of a crucial part of their everyday lives. The Miyagi Prefecture Instrument Bank has organized support activities for schools in need by delivering donated instruments.
Music producer Eriko Shiomi, who was working to donate instruments to schools in Ishinomaki, met Kinue Yonekura, landlady of Kameshichi Gofukuten. Yonekura gave several kimonos to Shiomi to express her gratitude for coming all the way from Tokyo, saying, “I have nothing but kimonos that were damaged by the tsunami…”
Although covered with mud and sludge, the kimonos were made by highly skilled Japanese traditional craftsmen. Shiomi was determined to never to throw them away.
Shiomi washed the kimonos again and again to eliminate odors and remade the blurry textiles into rental stage costumes. Many musicians wore them, thus delivering a message to the audience, “never forget the disasters.”
In the process of reusing the kimonos, many fabric remnants remained. Shiomi came up with the idea of making patchwork pieces. Inspired by the idea of a renowned Japanese costume designer, Shiomi asked people to patch the pieces together with their own stock textiles, forming a 50 cm square.
Each square should include pieces from a damaged kimono. Otherwise, designs were up to each person. Responding to her call, women and student volunteers made patchworks and sent them to Shiomi one after another.
In August 2012, the sound of a wind ensemble echoed throughout Suntory Hall. An unprecedented concert was held, featuring Michinoku Wind Orchestra comprised of 126 high school students from Miyagi Prefecture. On that day, 77 pieces of 50-cm square patchwork hung in the lobby as cheer flags.
Two years later, when the second concert focused on students from Fukushima Prefecture, the number of patchwork pieces increased to 1,116. The final concert in the series at Suntory Hall was performed by students from Iwate Prefecture in 2015, and was decorated with more than 1,500 patchworks.
The square pieces, which can be easily combined together, hung on the walls next to the pipe organ and shed luster as if they were stained glass windows.
Each piece is just a small scrappy patchwork. Some may regard it as junk, but each patchwork is a piece of art filled with creativity.
“Since the disasters occurred, many people have remained stumped about what they can do. Saying ‘if it’s that, I can do it,’ volunteers from Okinawa to Hokkaido, ranging in age from 3 to 95 years old, made the patchwork with sympathy for the affected people,” Shiomi said. “Now, there are 1,800 different pieces.”
As long as the tsunami damaged kimono cloth remains in her hands, the patchwork that Shiomi named 5×5 NEXT Project will continue. Shiomi and her group hope to combine the 50-cm square pieces and make them into a curtain of the new concert hall in Ishinomaki, which is scheduled to open in 2020.
Not only in Japan, but also from overseas, people from 20 countries, including Italy, Germany, Norway, Turkey, Morocco, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, have created a square patchwork. Shiomi wants to call for more people beyond Japan’s borders to join in the project.
“There are more than 190 countries around the world. Every country has beautiful traditional textiles weaved and sewed mainly by local women. If patchwork came from all of the countries, they would be able to connect the world, and deliver a message of ‘let’s be friends, rather than enemies!’” Shiomi said.
“I never thought that our unsalable, tsunami damaged kimonos could help in such a way,” said Yonekura, who was dressed in a stylish kimono, as she chauffeured us around Ishinomaki from the temporary housing units, to the remains of Okawa Elementary School, where 84 lives including schoolchildren and teachers were lost, and to the neighboring Onagawacho to Oshika Peninsula.
“Recently, visitors have asked me ‘when did the tsunami come?’ It’s true that they can hardly see any trace in my neighborhood,” Yonekura said.
However, from the Hiyoriyama hilltop that has a bird’s-eye view of the city, visitors will see that houses are still being built, while there are no buildings yet on the developed land near the coast.
Along with the reconstruction, the extraordinary social art project that brings together small individual square pieces is happening.