In 2011 the Fukushima region of Japan was devastated by an earthquake and nuclear disaster. Six years on, the residents have begun to rebuild their lives and are producing bespoke, Japanese cotton to create Lush Koi and Mixed Fruit Knot Wraps.
The Great East Japan earthquake and its aftermath made agricultural land in Fukushima difficult to farm. The effects of the tsunami and nuclear disaster left soil with a high concentration of salt, which made it hard to grow traditional food crops. However, cotton is resistant to this type of pollution and grows healthily in salt-rich terrains.
Recognising this, business union Otento Sun made it their mission to begin harvesting cotton on abandoned farmland and to give farmers back the ability to grow crops and produce an income.
The Bicchu Brown cotton the Fukushima farmers grow is native to Japan. The safety of the cotton is unquestionable. It is grown in Iwaki, a region with low radiation levels in which it is considered safe to live and work without protective equipment.
Every crop harvested in Fukushima has to go through radiation tests, and only crops below the standard radiation level can be distributed. In fact under Japanese regulations, farmland must have caesium (radiation) levels lower than 8000Bq/kg to be able to grow crops.
The farmers check the radiation levels on their farmland every year and once they are sure it is below the required level, they start to grow cotton on their fields. Once the cotton has been harvested and ginned (the process where cotton is separated from the seed), the seeds are returned to the farmers to sow again for the next season. This year marks the fifth harvest of the bespoke cotton.
But the cotton grown by the farmers in Fukushima is about more than the disaster. The farmers and union members believe in keeping the age-old tradition of Japanese Bicchu Brown Cotton alive, as well as reducing the widespread use of pesticide in cotton production.
Director of Otento SUN Emiko Yoshida said “Cotton is one of the most environmentally unfriendly crops on this planet. At the same time, it is one of the crops we use most in our everyday lives.”
Although you may not realise it, cotton is everywhere - whether it’s in the clothes we wear, the sheets we sleep in, or the bags we carry our goods. But, although we come into contact with cotton every day, most people know very little about the way it is produced.
Cotton is considered one of the dirtiest crops in the world because of the amount of pesticide that is used in its production. As well as growing their cotton on Fukushima land, Otento Sun prove cotton farming does not have to involve heavy use of pesticides by using organic, non-GMO native seeds to create high-quality, safe cotton.
The Bicchu-brown cotton grown by Otento Sun has been used in Japan since the Heian Era (794-1185). Unlike western cotton and as its name suggests, it produces a brown material. The short length of Japanese cotton fibres means weaving it is more labour intensive than white cottons. It is more difficult to spin, and it requires artisanal skills to shape it into strong, resilient threads and fabrics. Otento Sun mixes brown Japanese cotton and white Western cotton to create beautiful, soft, cream-coloured threads. This traditional cotton has not only helped to regenerate land and livelihoods in Fukushima, but has helped to improve the quality of cotton production in Japan.
What’s more, the venture has encourage communities to work together and create relationships and connections with each other. Regeneration is still ongoing in the area, but projects like Otento Sun make it possible for people to create a secure and happy future for themselves and their families.
Emiko says: “We hope our organic cotton will be used across the world. Our aspiration is for the reconstruction and regeneration of Fukushima. This may be a small first step, but we believe that it can be realised by us all making a small change in our daily lives. It can start from this furoshiki.”
The safety of our customers, employees and the materials we use is important to us. In order to ensure the cotton we use in these Knot Wraps is completely safe, we measure them to the EU criteria surround radionuclide levels for foods imported from Japan following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, as per the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/6. Specifically, this regulations stipulates restrictions on the maximum levels of caesium-134 and caesium-137 present in foods. The cotton is tested in Japan and we have commissioned additional tests in the UK. Both sets of results came back below the individual laboratory's Limit of Detection (LOD) which is 10 Bq/kg for the UK laboratory and 1.8 Bq/kg for Japan, for both caesium-134 and caesium-137. This is far below the limits set for importing food from Japan, which are 50 Bq/kg for infant food and 100 Bq/kg for other food