Nozomi Project: Tsunami-Battered Women Discover Shattered Beauty Within Japan's Shores

by Jackie Adamany

Courtesy of Handmade Business

March 11, 2011; Northeastern Japan

A 9.0 magnitude earthquake shakes northeastern Japan to its core, causing widespread damage on land and unleashing a savage tsunami. Within an hour of the initial shaking, the first of many deadly tsunami waves begin to attack Japan's coastline. These giant waves deluged cities and rural areas alike. Near 30-foot tsunami waves swept homes, buildings, cars, boats, and even trains through the area leaving a path of devastation and death. According to the official toll, the disasters left 15,839 dead, 5,950 injured, and 3,642 missing.

Worldwide, news media showed remarkable pictures of the coastal and inland devastation. Buildings were broken down into rubble, entire neighborhoods were gone, farmlands were ruined, and widespread fires and nuclear destruction were all examples of the immediate after effects. Entire families were swept away with loved ones lost and homes devastated. However, from disaster a gleam of hope shone through.

Recovery through economy
Enter the Nozomi Project. Nozomi--which means ''hope'' in Japanese--is a social enterprise bringing sustainable income, community, dignity, and hope to the women in Ishinomaki, Japan by training them to craft high-quality jewelry. Nozomi women create one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry featuring broken pieces of pottery that were discovered in the wake of the tsunami and other upcycled pottery. Each of their product lines has been named by a Nozomi woman in honor of a loved one in her life.

The stories of the Nozomi women are both heartbreaking and inspiring. Yuko, jewelry artisan and manager shares her story of when the devastating earthquake shook Japan, after helping her store's customers to safety: ''All of a sudden, I felt scared and sad. I tried to drive to my son's school, but the road was jammed with cars. So I went to an ocean road, and ended up abandoning my car near the sea. I ran to the school.''

Yuko's story continues, ''When I found my son safe, I started worrying about my mother. I started running to her house, but saw a black wall [the tsunami] coming in front of me. So I had to go back to the school. I felt so bad about leaving my mother behind. The next day I was so relieved when I saw my mother and my brother alive.''

The Nozomi project has helped Yuko and other women like her to see hope after destruction. ''Nozomi means a lot to me. It is not just a work place but a place where I can be myself. We can be honest about our hurts and weaknesses. I feel comfortable here. I might have lost a lot through the tsunami, but I also gained a lot through it too. My family and friends are more important than material things,'' says Yuko.

From disaster to fruition
Director of the Nozomi Project, Sue Takamoto, shares how she personally became involved and how the project developed. ''My family and I were living about 14 hours away in Kobe when the disaster occurred. One week later, my husband and a few friends started driving a truck full of supplies up to help the victims. Over the course of one year he made approximately 16 trips to the area. I was able to go up once, about four months after the disaster. One morning, while we were cleaning out a park that was filled with rubbish and debris from the tsunami, I saw there were tons of broken pottery shards everywhere. I started gathering them in a bag--with no plan except thinking it was such a waste for so much beauty to be thrown out.''
Nozomi Project Jewelry

''I was at work when the earthquake hit. The store manager and administrator were off, so I felt resposible for helping our customers run to safer places. I did a store announcement and let everyone go before I went to find my son.'' Yuko, jewelry artisan and store manager

Broken Shards of Pottery One month later Takamoto was looking through a jewelry catalog and remembered those broken shards she had collected, and she began to think about how cool it would be if someone could start a business in Tohoku making jewelry from broken pottery that would employ the local women. She never dreamed that person would be herself.

One year after the disaster and with a lot of thought and prayer, Takamoto's family made the decision to move to the hard-hit region joining several other families and individuals forming a group called ''Be One.'' Takamoto says, ''We realized that the recovery was going to be a huge, long-term effort. It was as I became friends with the moms at the local elementary school where our children began attending, that the idea began to take shape. There was so much hopelessness and despair; most of these women had lost their jobs because so many of the fish factories and local businesses had literally washed away. We began getting some of these women together to see what we could do with the broken pottery.''

Several talented jewelry artisans joined the effort, providing designs and teaching the women. It was from this that the project was born. Picking up and holding broken shards of pottery that once came from loving homes and families washed away from the tsunami was heartbreaking and difficult.

Takamoto explains, ''One of our staff said that at first it was hard to wash, cut, and clean the broken pottery because she knew it held so many precious memories from a family who had used it. But she realized that making it into beautiful jewelry was a way to honor that family and those memories. Some of the staff has found broken pottery from their own homes that were damaged or washed away, and they have been a part of making it into beautiful jewelry that preserves the memory. It is in seeing the hope and dignity that is being restored to these women that we are able to find redemptive value in what was broken.''

Worldwide impact through beauty
On October 2, 2012 Takamoto and her team officially began the Nozomi Project, selling their accessories worldwide and paying women an hourly wage to work. They could not make long-term promises, but their desire was that this would be a chance for women to find employment, a sense of community, dignity, and hope.

''We have learned so much from our failures and our successes. We remain committed to balancing the two most important aspects of what we do: successful business and effective community. Teamwork is one of our core values. One necklace usually is made through the collective work of about eight different staff. We have 16 local women who are divided into three teams: grinders, necklace makers, and administration,'' Takamoto shares.

Takamoto is excited to report that each year the Nozomi Project has profited from their sales. They have used their profits to model another core value--generosity. ''With this profit we are able to pay the women generous bonuses, donate 20% to local and international organizations, and set aside for the future of the Nozomi Project,'' Takamoto says happily.

What does the future look like for the Nozomi Project? Takamoto has realized the group has currently outgrown their current two-story building and is looking into options for expansion. One thing is certain for Takamoto, ''If the Nozomi Project is a model that others can use to help people in disaster-affected regions to rebuild their lives, it would be an awesome treat to help that happen. We are holding the future with open and expectant hands.''
Pottery Necklaces