If you’re dropping by any of Hiroshima’s tourist gift shops in the coming months, you’ll likely stumble across some of the offerings from EARTH Hiroshima, a new brand launched by SOAR Service.
SOAR Service was started by Chizuru Gorai, a local businesswoman who wanted to create a support framework for freelancers and independent designers in and around Hiroshima. Offering affordable, shared office space, promotional venues, seminars on subjects like taxes and accounting for the independent entrepreneur, and matchmaking services connecting freelancers with different skillsets, SOAR has been a boon to the city’s gig economy.
In 2016, building on SOAR’s success in putting people together to extend and amplify their talents, Ms. Gorai started EARTH Hiroshima. The brand’s main purpose is to create collaborative projects between local creatives, including product and graphic designers, and Hiroshima-based manufacturers, giving access to both skilled craftsmen and cutting edge technologies that would normally be out of reach for most independent designers.
More fundamentally, the motivation behind EARTH Hiroshima is a hope Ms. Gorai first felt nearly twenty years ago, after attending August 6th commemorations in Peace Memorial Park. Leaving the park, she found the city engaged in business as usual. The juxtaposition was jarring, but instructive. In a place where nothing was expected to grow for a full seventy years after the bombing, life has continued, even thrived. Hiroshima works to keep its memory of suffering alive and vital, potent enough to honor the dead and warn the world away from the brink. And yet the joys of daily life are as present here as anywhere else. It’s a balancing act that Ms. Gorai understands well, and believes that every resident of the city performs.
Speaking directly to this experience, EARTH Hiroshima seeks to imbue small, everyday pleasures like choosing jewelry or writing a thank you note with a quiet wish for peace. The image of Earth was chosen to emphasize the idea of a single planet, beyond artificial boundaries and divisions.
The project has started small, with just a few products designed primarily as souvenirs of Hiroshima for visitors to the city. One of their most eye-catching offerings, for example, is a small, sculptural representation of the famous orizuru paper crane that is so strongly associated with Hiroshima’s role as a witness to the costs of war. The object is a perfect example of how EARTH Hiroshima works to bring local designers and manufacturers together.
The initial design was created by Tomoko Kanagu, an award-winning art director and designer who established her own studio, K’s design room, in 2003. Though normally working in two dimensions, she took up paper clay in an effort to create a 3D original that would uniquely express the shape of the orizuru.
Next she handed her prototype off to Kunihiro Baba, president of Baba Plastics, a local company whose main business is producing automobile components. After some tinkering with the company’s 3D printers and a few misses at color coating the complex shape, company craftsmen succeeded in creating a paper crane in Soul Red, a color used both in locally made Mazda cars and for the helmets of the beloved Hiroshima Carp.
A full palette of colors followed, and the little cranes were turned into earrings, bookmarks, necklaces and even ear scoops. The designer might never managed it on her own, and for the craftsmen at Baba Plastics the challenge was a welcome departure from routine.
More projects are planned. With this modest, open-ended beginning, and with its heart in exactly the right place, it will be interesting to see what else EARTH Hiroshima comes up with over time. And with their products offered in venues from Orizuru Tower to Tokyu Hands, Hiroshima Station and all the way to TAU, a Tokyo shop dealing in Hiroshima-based brands, they won’t be hard to find.