Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Fabrics of Our Lives

"Stories From Tohoku" Documentary Begins Airing on PBS Nationwide in May. Check your local listings. It's excellent!. KQED 9: Tue, May 20, 2014 - 11:00 pm

Quote du Jour
Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire fabric. 
                                                                                  ~ Richard P. Feynman
Fabric from an epic disaster becomes
A Japanese O'hime Doll
Watching a screening of the film documentary, Stories from Tohoku, I was enchanted by the O'hime dolls made by Japanese tsunami survivor, Setsuko Abe.

This sweet little O'hime doll tells a story of 
culture and survival.
Among many other things, Kimonos, a beautiful part of the fabric of Japanese culture, were mixed in the rubble from the March 2011 tsunami. Searching through miles of devastation, Setsuko found and salvaged many kimonos. 

She washed those that could be cleaned, and somehow a few families were reunited with their kimonos. With the remaining kimonos, she started to make little O'hime dolls. O-hime means "princess" in Japanese.

In the documentary, Setsuko Abe says each doll takes 50 minutes to make, all completely sewn by hand.

A third of a million people became homeless from the tsunami, many are still living in temporary housing. Thirty of Setsuko's O'hime dolls were available for purchase at the film's screening, with proceeds benefiting the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund, supported by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.

The beautiful hand-painted silk fabric has a history I can only imagine. Who sewed the kimono from this fabric? What girl wore the kimono? Was this an antique kimono? Where did they live?
A very simplified sketch of how this special doll is made.

A close look at the construction of this doll yields another Japanese art form, Origami. Simply a lined fabric square, folded into a sort of envelope - just like paper Origami - the dolls' head is tucked into place, then finished with silk thread.

The Tag
A friend asked her Japanese mother-in-law to try and translate the tag. Roughly, here's what it says:
The back of the O'hime doll. The 
painted silk is truly beautiful.
● the date: "heisei" 23 (the current period in Japan) 3/11 
● omamori: which is a keepsake/charm 
it was a pleasure for her to sew this 
● she hopes that we carry it when we go to church/pray

Such a project seems to make the world a smaller place - we're members of a global community. Her keepsake is a treasure, and her hopes, honored.

To Learn More About Stories from Tohoku
Setsuko's story is only one of many in this documentary. To air on PBS this fall - stay tuned - I'll post the day, time and station when this information is available. 

● Watch
The Film's Website and Trailer
The documentary has numerous stories about people affected by the March 2011 earthquake and epic tsunami. 

● Read
Here's a link to a San Francisco Chronicle article:
Film Explores Aftermath of the Japanese Tsunami

Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California

The Film's Website and Trailer

It's remarkable that kimono fabric could survive the tumult of the tsunami. But what's more remarkable to me is that a survivor creates these lovely dolls from a fabric synonymous with her country - fabric that also survived the tsunami - and sends us a message of resilience, acceptance, patience and hope. 
Piggy is proud to give these O'hime dolls - made by 
tsunami survivor, Setsuko Abe - the closing of this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Where may I donate in order to receive one of these dolls?
    please email me at with info.