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July 28 2014

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Update From Japan:
On The Road In Osaka And Kyoto

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The three-day weekend celebrating the spring equinox brought crowds to Kyoto and Osaka, where plum trees showed the first signs of pink blossoms and streets bustled with shoppers.

Last week, the stress of what some are calling 3/11, along with the uncertainty of blackouts and earthquakes, made it difficult to focus and work in Tokyo. Many, especially those with children, went as far as Okinawa to avoid possible contact with radiation. While there were feelings of guilt, talk of overreaction, even resentment—who fled, who stayed—the focus quickly shifted to aiding relief efforts and keeping morale up. Popular model, TV personality, and DJ Elli-Rose Van Cliff traveled to Osaka and Fukuoka over the weekend to spin at fundraisers, though she worried about the safety of her mother and father (photographer Hiroyuki Arakawa, whose white flowers series decorated Yohji Yamamoto’s Fall collection), who remained in Tokyo.

I visited Kyoto, where I was greeted by the well-known kimono expert Kazuko Hattori, a member of the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and founder of the 50-year-old school Kazuko Hattori Kimono Institute. We toured the Tonoichi showroom, a 150-year-old wholesaler of kimonos and kimono fabrics, where we saw and tried on some of the four thousand silk kimonos on display. The area around Fukushima has historically been one of the main silk production regions in the country. “We don’t have any news about the condition of the silk farms,” said Tonichi’s general manager, Toshio Tsukamoto, though he remains positive while preparing for a sales exhibition on the 25th and 26th of this month.

Meanwhile, trains in Tokyo have been functioning at 80 percent, with the Yamanote line cutting off most lights. Many people leave offices around 5 p.m., a very rare occurrence in work-centric Japan. It was business as usual for editors at top-selling women’s fashion magazines ViVi and Spur, who worked all through last week despite issues with paper supplies, and electricity blackouts stalling printing presses and schedules. WWD‘s Japanese contributor Aya Sasaki found herself wondering about the importance of writing about new beauty creams or luxury clothing. “When we recover from this, we have to keep culture moving like before,” she said. “When I think about that I rush back to my computer and push myself to meet my deadline.”

Monday morning, most headed back to their homes in Tokyo, though no one is really sure how safe it is. Concerns about the water and the potential of rain are rampant even as the Fukushima nuclear situation is edged off the top page of international Web sites, newspapers, and even local TV broadcasts. But relief efforts continue both at home and abroad. In Japan, Undercover designer Jun Takahashi is supporting victims by fundraising for Civic Force, an emergency response team through Justgiving Japan, an online charity fundraising platform that also has branches in the U.K. and the U.S. (where it is known as First Giving). And friends around the world continue to think of us. A welcome note from New York-based social and philanthropist Michelle Harper brought word of a benefit called Love for Japan, hosted by Wynton Marsalis and Martha Stewart—and a couch to sleep on in New York if I need it.

Photo: Tiffany Godoy

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