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To Deliver "Authentic" Products to Children: A Pilgrimage to Rediscover Traditional Crafts of Japan

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To Deliver "Authentic" Products to Children: A Pilgrimage to Rediscover Traditional Crafts of Japan

What's this Challenge about?

"The Treasure is Here!" This is How I Found Japan's Great Treasures…



Hi, thank you for stopping by! I'm Rika Yajima, Founder of aeru.



What kinds of stories did you enjoy when you were little? As a little girl, I loved adventure stories about treasure hunters and treasure maps. Whenever the characters finally discovered hidden treasures, my heart filled with so much joy and excitement. It was my dream to go on a treasure hunt myself, just like the characters of my favorite stories.

But there was one thing I worried about. "What if all the treasures in the world have been discovered by the time I grow up?" How I wished I was big enough to set about my own journey before everybody else beat me!

There was no need to worry, though. When I grew up, I did set about my own adventure and find precious, hidden treasures, which weren't even on the map; the great artisans of traditional Japanese crafts. With a strong sense of duty and earnest passion, they have continued their honest pursuit of wisdom and techniques passed on through generations. These wonderful artisans and their work are the very treasures I'd been searching for ever since I was little. I just hadn't realized it was everywhere. All I needed to do was to look.

At the same time, it also came upon me that there was hardly any product for children made using traditional techniques. I myself had no memory of using anything that could be called a Japanese traditional craft as a child. Though traditional crafts were originally produced and used as everyday items, nurturing and refining people's minds even before they were old enough to talk, our modern society was no longer a place where children could grow up being surrounded by authentic items made by dedicated artisans. I realized that's one of the reasons the traditional craft industry has declined so much in this country.

That is why I founded "aeru," a traditional craft brand for babies and children up to six-year old. It was the beginning of my next journey with a new mission to deliver "authentic" Japanese crafts to all children. "Aeru" is a Japanese word used for cooking that means "tossing together." What we aim at "aeru" is to "toss together" the old and the new, rather than mixing and melting them into one. We hope to continue rediscovering the "authentic" Japanese crafts and passing them on to the future by creating products that match our contemporary lifestyle using traditional techniques.


My New Journey Begins! A Pilgrimage to Discover More Treasures



Ever since the start of aeru about a year and half ago, I've been devoting myself to realizing our goal of delivering "authentic" Japanese crafts to all children, creating new products and participating in events in many different places. Everything was a new, great experience that brought us closer to our dreams, but meanwhile, I had no time left to continue my treasure hunt adventure.

When, as a college sophomore, I first started visiting Japanese artisans, I set a goal to visit one hundred great, "authentic" artisans by the time I reached twenty-five. That dream, though, has been pushed aside in the hassles of daily work. With only ten months left before my twenty-fifth birthday, I still haven't completed creating my own treasure map, and my desire to continue on with the rest of the journey is getting stronger and stronger each day.

Through this "Pilgrimage," I hope to discover even more great artisans and create more wonderful "treasures." At the end of this journey, I believe, lies a new path to deliver "authentic" Japanese traditional crafts to children and pass these longstanding wisdom and techniques to the future generations. This dream needs to come true for "aeru" to take the next step toward our ultimate goal!

(Interview by The COUNTDOWN Team)



(0:10~) Q. After meeting and working with many Japanese artisans,
how do you feel about them?
(1:16~) Q. What have you learned from actually watching them work?
(2:40~) Q. How did you feel when you first discovered the "Japanese treasures?"
(3:20~) Q. What made you launch a traditional craft brand for children?
(4:23~) Q. What will happen out of your "pilgrimage" to visit artisans all over Japan?
(6:14~) Q. Please tell the world what's great about Japan's traditional craft artisans.

Two Main Goals of the "Pilgrimage" to Traditional Artisans of Japan.



1. Create a "Treasure Map of Japan," aeru-edition (or a dictionary of Japanese traditional crafts)



Wisdom and techniques of Japanese artisans who have been protecting and refining traditional crafts are indeed one of the most precious treasures of this country. As the traditional craft industry declines, it is our obligation to rediscover and revive the appeal of these treasures and bring to people's attention. As a way to make it possible, I plan to create a "treasure map," or a dictionary of Japanese traditional crafts, based on stories and anecdotes I gather from the artisans I will meet on this "pilgrimage" and publish it on aeru's website.



Features of the "Treasure Map of Japan," aeru-Edition



Features of the "Treasure Map of Japan," aeru-Edition

-It's a comprehensive dictionary of traditional crafts all over Japan.
Hon-aizome (indigo dye using 100% natural dyestuff), Tobe-yaki pottery, and Echizen washi paper are only a few examples of the great variety of unique traditional crafts that have been cultivated over history in different regions of Japan. aeru's "Treasure Map of Japan" will introduce each of these traditional crafts and techniques in an illustrative and reader-friendly manner. It'll be a reservoir of the abundant knowledge and wisdom of Japanese traditional craft industry that anybody can enjoy.

-It'll be fully based on artisans' real voices.
In Japanese culture, a lot of wisdom and knowledge has been passed down by oral storytelling. I will follow that example and create our treasure map based on real voices of the artisans I meet on my Pilgrimage. Rather than simply listing pieces of information, our "Treasure Map of Japan" will include interesting stories and facts about traditional crafts which only artisans who have actually kept these traditions can tell. This treasure map will be full of precious wisdom that should be passed on to the future generations.

-You can also purchase "authentic" products by Japanese artisans.
Once you learn about a new craft, it's natural to want to see and use the actual products. aeru's "Treasure Map of Japan" is linked to the aeru store, where you can purchase "authentic" products created together by aeru and Japanese artisans whose voices will build the dictionary. We hope to create a society where many will enjoy using Japanese traditional crafts in their everyday lives, which will enable artisans to continue earning their living by their arts.

-It's bilingual so people from all over the world can enjoy it.
The rich wisdom and knowledge of Japanese artisans are treasures that should be shared not only in the nation but also with the whole world. aeru's "Treasure Map of Japan" will be published in both English and Japanese so anyone from anywhere can learn about the amazing craft of Japanese traditional artisans. I hope sharing the wisdom of the Japanese traditional craft industry will attract more people to visit our country and start using "authentic" items produced by dedicated artisans of Japan.

2. Create a new "authentic" product using Japanese traditional techniques to deliver to children everywhere.



Many children nowadays grow up surrounded by inorganic products without many opportunities to learn the true value of things and lives around them. At aeru, we take it as our job to create a lifestyle that nurtures and enriches children's minds and hearts by delivering "authentic" products by Japanese artisans ("authentic" for us means something we truly believe young children should grow up with).

We believe these "authentic" products transcend borders, and that there are people everywhere who share our beliefs in delivering these truly good products to children. Wherever they live, we hope babies and young children have opportunities to use quality, safe items made by Japanese traditional artisans.

So the second goal of this journey is to create another "authentic" product for children with the brilliant Japanese artisans I will meet on my Pilgrimage and deliver it to the whole world.



For all the existing aeru products, there had been absolutely no plan until I actually met and spoke with the artisans. It'll be the same with this new product. I won't know exactly what aeru will be making with the artisans until I meet and start talking with them. There are three things I can promise you, though.

The new product will be:

-A truly "authentic," quality product in which you will feel the spirit of the artisans.
-An item that's perfect for children and adults alike.
-Something that can be used by anybody from anywhere around the world.

To give you a bit more concrete idea of what the new product will be like, let me introduce two of aeru's original products to you.

Hon-aizome (100% natural indigo dye) Birth Celebratory Set





Everything in this baby gift set is made with organic cotton dyed by the rare, traditional method of Tennen Aku Hakkodate Ai-zome, where absolutely no chemicals are used. Though it's not a very well-known fact, indigo has so many positive effects including antibacterial, deodorant, and insect repellent effects, retaining heat, and shielding the skin from ultraviolet rays.



We have received wonderful messages from people who have used the items. One mother told us, "I can see our baby's face softens when we put this shirt on her." Another said, "Our little one looks really happy whenever she's sucking on the aizome towel." I'm convinced that babies can tell the quality of truly "authentic" items.

aeru's Spill-Free Dishes





In aeru's spill-free dishes, you can see the best of Japan's traditional wisdom and techniques. They are safe, all-natural, "authentic" products, great for everyone from little babies to elders, characterized by a lining inside to assist little children's clumsy hands to scoop the food without spilling. These spill-free bowls make the mealtime much more comfortable and enjoyable.



Artisans of three different traditional techniques, Yamanaka lacquerware of Ishikawa, Otani-yaki pottery of Tokushima, and Tobe-yaki pottery of Ehime, produced dishes in the same functional designs. It was a rare and touching experience to witness the process of three traditional artisans working together to create one thing.

I really appreciate your help with delivering aeru's "authentic" Japanese items to more and more children around the world and change their lives. Each of your support will add to the power to turn our world into one where every child can grow up in richer and more nourishing lifestyle!

To Everyone Around the World, Please Visit Japan and Meet Our Treasures!



Lastly (but not leastly), I have a message to people from all over the world.
Everyone, please come to Japan to meet our treasures, the great, aspiring artisans of Japanese traditional crafts!

What I have learned through witnessing their passion and perpetual quest to perfect their techniques and create even better products is simply immeasurable. The beauty they carry inside them and the wonder of their work are not something, hard as I may try, I could fully convey in words. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you can someday visit Japan and meet them in person. I'm sure it'll be a soul-shaking experience that will change your life.

Rewards for Supporters



For a 500 JPY contribution:
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage.

For a 1,000 JPY contribution:
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage.

For a 3,000 JPY contribution:
-You'll be invited to my talk on the Pilgrimage planned in 2013 (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage.

For a 5,000 JPY contribution:
-A handwritten postcard from me.
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage and get 10% off the purchase.
-You'll be invited to my talk on the Pilgrimage planned in 2013 (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.

For a 10,000 JPY contribution:
-Free one-year aeru supporter membership (worth 12,000 JPY)
The membership gift will be upgraded to a Tobe-yaki spill-free bowl (worth 2,500 JPY)
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage and get 10% off the purchase.
-You'll be invited to my talk on the Pilgrimage planned in 2013 (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.

For a 30,000 JPY contribution:
-Free one-year aeru supporter membership (worth 12,000 JPY)
The membership gift will be upgraded to a Yamanaka lacquerware spill-free plate (worth 5,000 JPY). You can pick the color from rose, dark brown, and natural.
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage and get 20% off the purchase.
-You'll be invited to my talk on the Pilgrimage planned in 2013 (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.

For a 50,000 JPY contribution (limited to 8):
-Invitation to join the after party of my talk (with a slight charge).
-Free two-year aeru supporter membership (worth 24,000 JPY)
The membership gift will be upgraded to a Otani-yaki spill-free bowl (worth 5,000 JPY) and a Hon-aizome face towel in a Paulownia box (worth 5,800 JPY).
-You can pre-order the new aeru product created by the Pilgrimage and get 20% off the purchase.
-You'll be invited to my talk on the Pilgrimage planned in 2013 (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-You will receive email updates of the Pilgrimage.
-Your name will be in the credits of the Treasure Map of Japan.

aeru supporter membership includes:

-Invitation to the annual aeru supporter mixers (you need to pay for transportation and accommodation).
-Receive a quarterly newsletter from aeru and occasional updates on our products and events.
-A membership gift (an aeru product of our choice)

Through this Challenge, I'm trying to raise 850,000 JPY for transportation and accommodation for the Pilgrimage and editing of the aeru Treasure Map of Japan

There Are Other Ways You Can Help!



You can help by:
-Spreading the word about this Challenge
-Letting me know about Japanese traditional artisans you think I should meet
-Giving me a chance to talk in the areas I'll be visiting
-Offering a place to publish my articles about the artisans I meet
-Helping out the Japanese-to-English translation of the Treasure Map of Japan on pro bono
-Giving me a chance to write a book of aeru's story and our visions for the future

I'll be visiting different areas of Japan on this Pilgrimage. If you happen to be in any of those areas, I really look forward to meeting you and sharing aeru's messages in person.