Handmade bra growing popular with rain-displaced evacuees in western Japan

Kyodo

An easy-fitting bra made from a long strip of cloth that doesn’t look like a bra when hung out to dry has become popular with rain disaster evacuees stuck in shelters in western Japan since last month.

Mitsuko Watanabe, 52, is one of many using the Wanowa Bra at an evacuation center in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, one of the areas hit the hardest by the rain disaster.

“It’s comfortable as it doesn’t have wires or that binding feeling, and moreover, it’s cute,” Watanabe said, adding that the bra feels cool on the skin and does not look like an undergarment when not being worn — an important consideration for those living in a shared space.

“The colorful patterns make me happy,” she added.

For women living in evacuation centers, finding underwear that fits has been a problem, not to mention the embarrassment from having to dry their undergarments in public. Thanks to the Wanowa Bra, these problems have been resolved.

The double-strap bandeau bra is made of linen dyed with vegetable dye and comes in small, medium and large. The fit is adjusted by pulling on strings attached to the front. When the strings are loosened, it becomes a flat piece of cloth.

While the evacuation center where Watanabe is staying and two others in the area have received many conventional bras via relief aid, many have gone unused as they come in specific sizes, limiting the number of women who can wear them. In addition, some of the designs have proven a bit too eye-catching for some, who even avoid hanging up tops with built-in support.

The Wanowa Bra was created by Keiko Onishi, 45, of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, who survived the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. The magnitude-7.3 quake devastated Kobe and the surrounding areas leaving more than 6,400 dead and over 316,000 displaced at its peak.

After learning from friends that there was a shortage of bras at evacuation centers in western Japan after the disaster, Onishi described how to make a simplified version of the bra on her blog. Since then, more than 20 women in Okayama have made around 400 bras using materials donated from around the country.

“Our aim is to get people who are unfamiliar with the Wanowa Bra to accept it,” said Michiko Inoue, 42, who was taught how to make it in the past and has become a central figure in promoting it today.

Inoue said she hopes to stockpile the bras so she can deliver them to women caught up in future disasters.

Torrential rain devastated much of the region in early July, killing more than 220 people, mostly in Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures.

Some 23,000 were in evacuation centers at one point and over 2,000 remained in shelters as of Tuesday.