Jewellery made from broken pottery

The Nozomi Project trains women from a city in Japan devastated by the 2011 tsunami to make jewellery from broken pieces of pottery.
The Nozomi Project trains women from a city in Japan devastated by the 2011 tsunami to make jewellery from broken pieces of pottery. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

One day in 2012, American Christian missionary Sue Plumb Takamoto was helping to clean up a park damaged by the tsunami that struck Japan the year before when she saw broken pieces of pottery on the ground.

It occurred to her that something beautiful could be created from the brokenness and the Nozomi Project was born. Nozomi means hope in Japanese.

The project aims to bring sustainable income and a sense of community to women in the city of Ishinomaki by training them to craft high- quality jewellery products from the broken pieces of pottery left in the wake of the tsunami and other used pottery.

Ishinomaki, located in the Miyagi prefecture in the Tohoku region of northern Japan, was one of the cities most seriously affected by the 2011 disaster. The project has a store in Ishinomaki, though it mainly sells the pieces through its website, nozomi project.com.

It also occasionally participates in local jewellery exhibitions and markets to sell the pieces and spread awareness.

Some of the project's Japanese staff were in Singapore last month to sell its jewellery.

They were invited by the owners of Ishinomaki Grill & Sake at Palais Renaissance, Mr Chi Pin Han, 52, and his wife Janice.

The couple, who are members of the Woodlands Evangelical Free Church, got to know about the Nozomi Project through the church's missionary work in Japan.

According to a report by The Guardian newspaper, the tsunami killed more than 3,000 of the city's residents and destroyed or damaged more than 50,000 buildings.

Mrs Takamoto, who has been a missionary in Japan since 1990, oversees the project's staff, management and public relations.

The 52-year-old is married to American missionary Eric Takamoto, 53. They have four adopted children - Owen, 13; Annie, 11; Olivia, 10; and Ian, six.

The family worked and lived in Kobe for eight years before moving to Ishinomaki in 2012.

After she saw the broken pieces in the park, Mrs Takamoto gathered a group of mothers to start the jewellery-making project. These were mostly women whose children attended the same school as hers and some had lost their jobs because of the tsunami.

Volunteers helped gather broken pottery or collect unwanted pieces. Professional jewellery artists from the United States flew in as volunteers to teach the women how to turn the broken pieces into pendants for necklaces and bracelets.

Today, the project employs 15 Japanese women who take on different roles, including administration, grinding the pottery pieces into shape and constructing the accessories.

Those who make the jewellery pass on their knowledge to newer members.

Since 2012, the project has sold almost 25,000 jewellery pieces to about 30 countries including the US, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and Singapore.

Besides paying for the cost of production and staff salaries, 20 per cent of the money earned is also donated to local and international non-profit organisations.

Ishinomaki resident and mother of two Emi Katsumata, 37, has been a grinder with the project for four years. She lost her previous job when the vegetable store she used to work at was destroyed by the tsunami.

Speaking to The Straits Times in Singapore, she says she enjoys her current job much more.

Not only does it offer her flexible working hours so that she can look after her teenage daughters, it has also given her a sense of community and belonging with the other women at the project. Her husband is a truck driver.

She says it takes a few women to create each piece of jewellery, from grinding and shaping the pendants to beading the necklaces. "I enjoy being able to create something beautiful from something that has no form or shape."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Jewellery made from broken pottery'. Print Edition | Subscribe