Revisiting Kai Family!
After one year since I visited the Kai family, I went to see the Kai family again in Miyazaki prefecture to spend a day with them. I didn’t get to spend that much time with the craftspeople previous year (before I started Yoka) so I was happy that the Kai family welcomed me to deepen our relation.
Since it was the second day after arriving in Japan, the jet lag actually helped me start driving at 5am in the morning. Driving over the Aso mountain (the active volcano mountain in my hometown Kumamoto) early morning felt so refreshing with the air being so crisp.
Spending a day with them, I witnessed their dedication and effort in making each decoration. Yoichi, a third-generation member, now leads the family business. It was touching to see all three generations working together in the same space.
The Kai family team starts sprouting rice plants in early spring and spends an entire year raising them to create the decorations with straws. They harvest the rice plants during summer to get the green straws. For larger Shimenawas, they wait until fall when the plants have more fiber and golden colors.
After harvesting, the materials take a full year to dry perfectly and protected in the attic from typhoons that hit their village every year. Before making decorations, the straws undergo many processes to remove dust, sand, and unusable pieces. Occasional watering is crucial to keep the straws from getting too dry.
Yoichiro's grandfather, who invented a machine (known as a straw millet machine) to soften the dried straw. Before this creation, they used to manually soften dried straw using a wooden mallet and softening the straw by hand.
They then make ropes of various sizes, with each member working on a different part. Yoichi steps on the rope while wearing clean Tabi-socks to make it tighter. Afterwards, they rub and pull the rope to strengthen it even further, trimming the fuzzy parts from the rope and finally start wearing it into shape.
At the end of the day, Minoru (Yoichiro's father) and I delivered remaining unusable straws to the nearby cattle farm, where the cows eat the delicious straw. On the way, I saw an abundance of Shimenawas (straw decorations) made by the Kai family!
This cycle of giving continued as the cow dung was delivered to neighbor vegetable farms which would provide the village with fresh vegetables and rice. It's an impressive cycle of self-sufficiency and community, as evidenced by the local farmers gifting fresh vegetables to Yoichi's family and me on the way to the farm.
Spending a day with them and helping with their work was a truly unforgettable experience.
Hope you will see this heartwarming Yoka (good)community cycle - you'll leave feeling fulfilled and impressed with their way of life.