Thousands of people lost their homes, families and land on March 11, 2011 when a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan. The people who survived the tsunami were moved from shelter to shelter for months. Many of them now still reside in temporary housing. They hope to relocate to new land as a community and start rebuilding their lives.

This project was started after the tsunami by Sendai kimono maker Tsuyo Onodera and her daughter Maki Aizawa. Tsuyo Onodera has been a kimono maker and teacher for fifty years. Her kimono school, where her daughter Maki grew up, has taught hundreds of women the art or making kimonos. Many of her past students live in the area effected by the tsunami. Like many people they wanted to do something more than just give immediate aid to people effected by the disaster. Many people lost their land, their livelihoods. These people have nothing to do but wait in shelters until they can go back to their lives. This is why Tsuyo Onodera and Maki Aizawa decided to start the Senninbari Project using their knowledge of kimono making and the garment business to provide a livelihood for women who lost everything. They and their former students have gone to shelters to teach women how to sew traditional Tohoku Alteril designs.

They started working with a group of women in a shelter in Koizumi, Kesennuma in the Miyagi prefecture. They are teaching them sashiko stitches and kogin embroidery. Each woman stitches on one twenty inch square of fabric. Thirty-four of these embroidered squares made by different women are sewn together to make one Dotera. A Dotera is a quilted kimono made with layers of heavy cotton insulation for the cold climate in Tohoku. One Dotera is a collection of each families crest, invoking spiritual protection from preceding generations. Japanese people, especially in rural areas, have a strong bond with their land and ancestors. Generations of family stay in one house, taking care of each other and their neighbors as a way of life. The pieces of cloth these women embroider recreate this age old community.

The Senninbari Project is working to help rebuild lives. Senninbari means “Thousand Person Stitches”. The Japanese believe that a garment sewn by many people becomes an amulet, protecting the wearer from danger and clothing them in prayers. The goal of the Senninbari project is to form a sewing collective for these women. The hope is to exhibit the pieces sewn sharing the resilience of the women of Tohoku during this hard time. Items will also be created the will be for sale.

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