Every year as cherry blossoms bloom, mothers across Japan toil until late at night to sew fabric bags that nursery and elementary schools require their children to have when starting class in April.
Even though many women nowadays continue working after becoming mothers, and sewing machines are no longer a must-have item in households, there remains social pressure for them to make a variety of items for their children, based on a strong belief that loving mothers do things by hand. Fathers, meanwhile, are generally not expected to do needlework.
“I did needlework many nights. I found myself truly driven into (a) corner,” a 40-year-old working mother in Unzen, Nagasaki Prefecture, said, recalling how she had to make six items a year ago just so her son could enter elementary school.
The items included a bag for his gym clothes, one for his toothbrush and cup, and a bag for his scissors and glue.
Many Japanese kindergartens, day care centers and elementary schools require parents to prepare a number of bags or other items for their children to use at the institutions.
And in many cases, these bags must meet certain conditions that are often surprisingly detailed, making it difficult to purchase from stores.
Conditions pertaining to size, type of textile, or even how a string, zip fastener or button should be sewed on, worry women who are not good at sewing or simply don’t have the time.
However, many mothers, no matter how busy or clumsy they are, accept the springtime needlework just because they want to please their children.
Nami Uchiyama, a 39-year-old graphic designer in Tokyo, just made a handbag and a bag for indoor shoes for her son entering elementary school this month.
She said the key to successfully completing the work was breaking it up into parts. “I did the work little by little every day after my son went to bed. I told myself, ‘Today, I will just cut out the fabric. Tomorrow, I will sew,’ ” Uchiyama said.
But some women simply cannot find time for the work or find themselves too exhausted to do it.
“I would have loved to make them by myself for my sons, but I didn’t have a sewing machine or time,” said a 34-year-old full-time office worker in Tokyo who was asked to prepare a futon cover and other items when her sons entered day care for two consecutive years.
She starts work early in the morning so she can leave early and take care of her children. When she puts them to sleep, she often falls asleep with them because of exhaustion.
Unable to find the time to make the items herself, she used an online service that found a sewer for her and helped her get the job done, she said.
In fact, many women are now seeking solutions outside the household.
Nutte, an online service that began last year, connects people in need of needlework with sewers from across Japan. In Japanese, nutte can mean “please sew.”
In January, the number of requests Nutte received doubled from last year’s monthly average, boosted by special demand related to children starting school in April.
Yuzawaya, a nationwide chain of handicraft stores, expanded services related to this demand several years ago. It now offers 10 types of made-to-order fabric bags and other school-use items and accepts orders for single items.
“Orders have especially grown from mothers in their 20s and 30s in recent years. It seems they are busy and don’t have anyone in their family who will make the bags instead,” a Yuzawaya official said.
Because of the strong social belief that children with good mothers have hand-made goods, some moms say they feel guilty using online sewing services or professionals to make the bags.
Aki Fukoin, head of the civic group Parents Concerned with Nursery Schools, said society needs to understand that “making something by hand is not the only way a parent can show affection to child.”
“If you listen carefully to your child, whose environment has drastically changed after entering school, and if you keep in close contact with your child’s nursery school or elementary school, you are showing (wonderful) love to your child . . .,” she said.
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