Japan 2011

“Quilts for Japan” :

Verena and I have wonderful memories of our trip to Japan in spring 2009. We visited the country at it’s best time, at the peak of the cherry blossom . We were fascinated by the country and it’s people. After coming back home, we visited cultural events about Japan and continued to learn Japanese. Soon enough we made new plans and booked another trip in the fall of 2011. When the Tohoku disaster happened in March 2011, we were devastated and suffered with the Japanese people.

Our trip seemed in danger, but we could not just sit around and do nothing, so we decided to start a project to help the victims of the Tsunami.

Thanks to the large and generous quilter’s community we soon knew what to do. We organized a collection project “Quilts for Japan” and were very happy to receive hundreds of quilts and to sew some warm covers ourselves. We packed them in containers and looked for shipping possibilities. After many e-mails and thanks to wonderful sponsors, we were able to send the quilts to Japan, the last bunch going on a ship in July 2011.

After two months of deep sadness and concern, life in Japan went back to almost normal again, despite all the difficulties that the people were facing. We knew that, after all, we could start preparing for our trip.

In October, the time came, and we first made a two-week round trip through the Northern part of Japan with a small British group and visited many interesting places .

After touring Tokyo, we took the train to Nikko, admired the famous Toshogu Shrine from the Edo period and the beautiful foliage of maple trees in Chuzenji National Park. After a night in a typical Ryokan (Japanese style hotel) with a hot spring bath on the roof and a delicious dinner buffet, our trip continued North to Sendai, Matsushima, Hiraizumi, where we visited temples, the Golden Hall, shrines, islands and fantastic gardens.

Then, towards the West, away from the coast, we took a boat trip in a gorge where colorful huge koi carps were swimming along our boat. We saw active geysers, a huge dam lake, the house of famous Haiku writer Bashô and a museum with wood-carved Kokeshi dolls. We climbed 2000 steps to a temple in the middle of colorful landscapes, rice fields, yellow ginkgo, red maple and countless cherry trees in their red-yellow-orange dress. From the pulsating port city of Niigata at the Japanese Sea, we took a ferry to Sado Island, home of the famous Kodo drummers. Our trip ended with the visit of a Bunraku puppet theater, a sake brewery, a gold mine and a shaky boat ride in a wash tub.

During our trip, we could not help feeling that the Earthquake had really caused a lot of damage to tourism. Most of the time, we were the only foreigners and were welcomed warmly. We saw some of the remains of the damage in Matsushima, but the waterfront shops were already rebuilt and what remained were shocking photographs of the days after the Tsunami.
After our trip we started our three-week workshop tour which BERNINA JAPAN Inc. had organized. This trip took us 2000 kilometers to the North, to Sendai, Morioka, Aomori and back to Tokyo. Then Southwest to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Fukuoka on Kyushu Island, and finally back to Yokohama near Tokyo.

The workshops were a unique experience – and sometimes pretty exhausting! Especially when we taught three days in a row in different cities. This meant that we set up the workshop room in the morning, among others in a department store with rather narrow spaces, small tables, improvised screen, etc., but we never heard any complaints. The Japanese women handled the situation admiringly, they were sometimes even cutting their fabrics on their knees or under the sewing machine table. Atoji-san, CEO of BERNINA JAPAN was our interpreter. A Japanese specialist gave technical support and often there was also a technician helping us. In the evening, we packed everything so that the material could be sent on to the next place or to travel with us. Thanks to Atoji-san and his wonderful staff, the perfect organization and the careful preparation, everything went well and was handled professionally and efficiently. A shipping company always appeared at the workshop door on time, we left a clean, empty room, and pushed our suitcases to the station where a bullet train would take us to the next city in no time. After checking into the hotel, we were rewarded with a sumptuous dinner. Japan’s regions all have their specialties which we enjoyed greatly. We tasted (almost) everything!

In the workshops, we put the emphasis on the decorative stitches of the sewing machines. We either showed the participants how to make free-motion embroidery or how to use the embroidery tool.

We always started the workshop with a short power point presentation about Switzerland, our families and our quilts. Then the participants made a small exercise in A5 format. After that, they could choose between a small shoulder bag or a mobile phone case. Depending on the number of students, that was sometimes a real challenge because everyone wanted to take home a finished object. Our opinion as “Sensei” (teacher) was almost a credo, which we experienced as a demonstration of respect towards us. We were always aware of the fact that this was a different culture, but in a very positive sense. People were so friendly, attentive, helpful and considerate, towards us and among themselves. It was just wonderful to experience all that!

Our trip ended in Yokohama, host city of the International Quilt Week, a huge event with over 20‘000 visitors on each of the three days of its duration. There are exhibitions, contests, workshops, sales booths and lectures. As we were teaching ourselves, there was hardly enough time to see everything!

We were happy to run into familiar persons such as Naomi Ichikawa, Noriko Endo and Keiko Goke. Naomi Ichikawa, who was the initiator of the quilt collection project, confirmed that our last shipping of quilts had arrived exactly on the last day of our trip. Since the weather had turned colder, the quilts were distributed and received with deep gratitude. Quilts had been collected not only in Switzerland but also in Germany, France, the US, etc.

An unbelievable number of 10’000 quilts came together, and there were moments when Naomi felt like the sorcerer’s apprentice and did not know where she could store the quilts before distribution! But now everybody is happy and grateful that quilters all over the world showed their solidarity with the Japanese people and tried to help.

Do we believe in coincidence? In our Yokohama workshops, we had an interpreter who is a friend of Keiko Goke. Keiko is from the region of Sendai where the damages from the Tsunami were substantial. With her and the interpreter, Mariko Akizuki, we were able to establish some ties and bring our donation project to a good end. Keiko found a group of women who started to sew after the disaster. But they own only two sewing machines! With the cash donations that we received during the quilt collection, we can buy 8 used but well-maintained Bernina machines as well as some fabric. This will give the women the opportunity to build up a new existence. We will keep you up-to-date on the project.

The year 2011 was a difficult one for Japan, and we are very happy and grateful that we were able to make this trip and to have so many wonderful encounters.

Our compassion for the Japanese people was received with deep gratitude which we would like to pass on to everyone who contributed to the quilt collection project in any possible way! Arigatô gozaimashita! ありがとう ございました。
We hope for a happy Year of the Dragon !