The day the earthquake struck the Tohoku region, I was in Kyoto. Immediately after the nuclear accident, I began to be contacted by German friends who had seen the news. They all told me that it was dangerous to be in Japan and that I should come home. I began to think it might be better to return to Germany from the perspective of the future of my children, and I discussed it with my children. My son was opposed to it and felt that while we might be safer if we went to Germany, we wouldn't be happy if we went and left our friends behind. At that point, I realised that the place I needed to be was Japan.
After deciding to stay in Japan, I was unable to sit still every time I saw news reports regarding the situation in Tohoku. What could I do to help? What were the victims hoping for? I became obsessed by the questions. Were I to live in a shelter, what would be the thing I would want the most? Knitting wool.
ー The joy of working with your hands ー
I am truly happy when I'm knitting and my mind is free from obstructive thoughts. In periods of difficulty or when I have no energy to do anything, I improve my mood through knitting. I was sure there were people who also felt that way amongst those living in the emergency shelters. I thought, "This is what I can do to help those in Tohoku!"
I put my plan into action immediately and made a request to an NPO with which I was acquainted that was assisting those in the damaged areas. We delivered sets comprised of two balls of knitting wool, circular knitting needles and a leaflet explaining how to make a Haramaki-Boshi to several emergency shelters. There were some people who were opposed to what we were doing, as they thought that the shelters were more in need of water, food supplies and basic daily necessities. Certainly, there was no time for activities such as knitting in many of them.
However, after a little while, we received a phone call from the shelter at Koharagi Middle School in Karakuwa-cho in Kesennuma saying that they were very happy and requesting more wool. I was so moved that I cried. It was just over a month after the earthquake, on the Saturday before Golden Week.
Initially I sent more wool, satisfied if people living in the emergency shelter could just take pleasure in knitting. However, after receiving telephone calls and photos from people in the shelter of them knitting, I came to feel strongly that I wanted to meet these people and knit with them. I determined to visit the area, and first went to the emergency shelter at Koharagi Middle School in Kesennuma together with my family on the 11th of June, 2011.
We talked while we knitted, and spoke of making a symbol of the revival of the area from our wool. And so, when I visited Kesennuma for the second time a month later in July, the ‘Koharagi Takochan’ (a woolen octopus doll) was born. We felt that a creature with eight legs would be able to grab a lot of happiness.
Whilst people were able to find peace of mind through knitting, there was the serious problem of those living in temporary accommodation having nowhere to work. So we began to think that it would be a good idea to found a company in Kesennuma that produced and sold knitted garments. But how should we create a company? We really had no idea where to start, but through the Koharagi Takochan project we were able to build a connection with a small business in Kesennuma named Saishin and word of the founding of our company rapidly gathered pace. In March 2012, a year after the earthquake, the Umemura Martina Kesennuma FS Atelier Co., Ltd. was born. As a result of this, I moved my certificate of residence from Kyoto to Kesennuma.
Gradually the number of staff increased from the three with which we had started the company, and little by little we became able to turn out finished products knitted from German wool. With the intention of creating only long-lasting, high quality products, all of the staff at Kesennuma are putting their heart into knitting.
I think that it was in 2002, when I was staying at my parents' home in Southern Germany, that my mother said, "They have some interesting yarn," and handed me some colourful wool. By knitting with just one ball of wool and a simple stocking stitch, it creates a beautiful pattern. I thought it was magical.
It's exciting to guess what kind of pattern will emerge whilst you're knitting. I think this is the reason that so many people are attracted by Opal wool. Tutto, the company that makes this high quality wool, is a neighbour of my parents. So it came to be that every time I returned to my parents' house, I bought a large quantity of it.
As a result of encountering this wool, I rediscovered my passion for knitting that I had almost forgotten. From then on, during breaks at work and on the train, anytime and anywhere, I became unable to put my knitting needles down.
I enjoyed knitting socks most of all. In 2006, I began a project to sell socks at the Chionji Handicraft market in Kyoto and send the profits to Afghanistan (the project was suspended as of March 2011). At the time I gave them the name "Friedenssocken," (peace socks) in the hope they would contribute to peace in Afghanistan and the wider world.
The name in German is "Friedenssocken" ("FS" stands for " Friedenssocken ")
Everything was topped by Tutto cooperating with us to launch the ‘Martina Original Colors’ representing Kesennuma through wool names (e.g. Kesennuma forest (wool of green shades) and Kesennuma Sea (wool with blue patterns))
After the Tohoku earthquake, I made friends in Kesennuma and when we decided to found a company together, we had a lot of difficulty choosing a name. After a struggle, we finally arrived at the idea of wanting to make "socks of peace" that made people in Kesennuma happy. In this way, the name "Kesennuma FS Atelier" was born. Through the KFS, we hope to convey the joy of knitting from Kesennuma to the rest of Japan and beyond. We want to share the joy of knitting with everyone. This is our hope.
We hope everyone can become a part of this circle that creates happiness through wool.