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A two-day exhibition that started Friday at Tokyo’s Science Museum provides a glimpse at efforts being made at prisons nationwide to help inmates return to society through handicraft skills.

The 57th annual free event, which showcases works made by inmates at prisons and correctional centers for young offenders, started with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by celebrities including singer Atsushi from the R&B group Exile, appearing in a prison guard uniform.

Among the more than 50,000 items on display and sale at the Chiyoda Ward museum are those that prominently feature an encircled kanji logo reading goku (“prison”) , which are becoming popular, according to the ministry.

The products, including shirts, tote bags and book covers, are made by young inmates from a correctional center in Hakodate, Hokkaido, who learn crafts as part of a governmental program aimed to help them acquire skills to succeed in the future.

The center has served as a correctional institution since 1869. Inmates were traditionally trained in skills such as sewing and manufactured uniforms for local firms. But as demand shrank, the prison was forced to seek ways to utilize the long-standing correctional tradition and skills to produce uniforms using indigo-blue canvas cloth with embroidered logos. In 2006, the institution’s officers decided to start production of aprons with embroidered logo that reads “prison.”

The aprons were initially sold at local department stores, but as the product’s popularity grew, the center expanded the product line by introducing small accessories such as smartphone cases and book covers.

The products are available for purchase at the retail chain Capic, which stands for Correctional Association Prison Industry Cooperation. It is operated by the Japanese Correctional Association, which also sells them online.

The product line now includes foods such as hand-made noodles, made-to-order shoes and furniture, with price tags ranging from less than ¥1,000 to over ¥100,000 for hand-made furniture sets.

The profit is used as part of a fund to assist crime victims and to buy production materials.

The exhibition also features presentations of materials including videos of inmates engaged in a social work program to stress the importance of such programs in correctional centers.

Friday’s opening ceremony was also attended by singers Ryotaro Sugi and Rimi Natsukawa. Along with Atsushi, they are members of a support group of 14 celebrities appointed in April by the Justice Ministry to help especially young inmates transition back to society.

Sugi, who is also a veteran actor, was given an honorary title of special correction officer by the ministry in 2008 to advocate for prisoners’ welfare, in acknowledge of his visits to jails over almost five decades.

“All these things, I could never make them myself. I’d like to buy some,” Atsushi said, praising the inmates’ work.

“I was surprised the works have been made with such a great care,” said Okinawan singer Natsukawa.

The show will also run on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The ministry said last year’s event drew 15,000 visitors, and organizers sold products worth ¥38 million over the two days.

Information from Kyodo added

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