The Otsuchi Recovery Sashiko Project

Stitching the stress of natural disaster onto a fabric







After Japan was struck by the earthquake on 11th March 2011, residents in the affected area had spent a long time living in makeshift shelters. With homes destroyed and facing a seemingly grim future, it was of utmost importance to rebuild the primary infrastructure to restore people’s basic needs of life. What is equally crucial is also to restore the victims’ faith in the future and their connection with the area. The Otsuchi Recovery Sashiko Project was born under this background, aimed to bring back smiles to the affected people.

Sashiko stitching is a culturally prominent handicraft in the Northeast region of Japan. Back in the days when fabric was a very precious material, people would employ this skill to reinforce points of wear or to repair worn places or tears with patches. By forming various patterns with the use of white stitches, the overlaying of colors and fabrics make winter clothes to resist the harsh winter. This technique also echoes Sooetsu Yanagi’s advocated philosophy of the “beauty of utility”.

The Otsuchi Recovery Sashiko Project was founded in the Kamihei District of Iwate Prefecture. Participants are mostly women who were staying at the earthquake shelters. During that time, most physically strong male have thrown themselves to the reconstruction works in town. With homes destroyed, the women who would have otherwise been keeping the house suddenly lost their focus and felt getting nowhere. They hoped to do something to contribute to the affected area. So three months after the earthquake, the Otsuchi Recovery Sashiko Project was unfolded and gathered up the women in the shelter homes. By stitching products like pencil cases and handbags thread by thread, they felt empowered again and became a great support for each other to overcome the pain suffered in the disaster. Through this traditional handicraft, they founded a reliable valve to release their stress.

Now the living condition in the affected area is slowly recovering, but the campaign is still ongoing and has allowed more people to get to know the tradition of Sashiko embroidery. The community has recently introduced a “Miyabi Tool Kit”, which includes a Sashiko design pattern printed on a piece of cloth, threads used by Sashiko and a user manual. Whereas the design of the box, which is shaped like a shell with a pattern of sea waves, is themed around the scenery of the coastal area in Otsuchi. This is like a miniature of Otsuchi’s terroir, that can be held in your hands.