Wool from Fukushima Village Made into Expensive Suits

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Akikazu Fukano, left, and a woman remove dirt and dust from wool in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture.

A man is raising sheep in the village of Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, which was evacuated due to the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. Suits made from the wool of Akikazu Fukano’s sheep were launched at the end of June.

While it has been seven years since the evacuation instruction was lifted for most of the village, its population is still only about 30% of the pre-disaster level. “I would like to attract more people by expanding wool production as an industry of the village,” Fukano, 34, said.

Fukano runs a consulting company in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture. His grandfather had run a racehorse ranch in Katsurao, but he was forced to suspend the business due to the accident. Later, Fukano took over the land from his grandfather.

Aiming to use the land to revitalize the village, Fukano focused on raising sheep for meat as the demand is high globally and the market is expected to continue growing. He invited a 48-year-old livestock farmer in the village who used to work at his grandfather’s ranch to join him and they started raising 30 to 40 Suffolk sheep in 2018. The lamb became popular for its melt-in-your-mouth texture and began to be used by high-end restaurants in Tokyo and other places.

The turning point came in 2020. Kensuke Konaka, 62, the president of major men’s clothing company Konaka Co., contacted Fukano after being impressed by the taste of the lamb. Fukano met with Konaka in Tokyo and talked about his efforts to improve the taste of the meat and his enthusiasm for the village’s revitalization. Then Konaka said to Fukano, “I would like to work with you to develop suits using carded wool.”

Since his sheep were raised indoors, the wool was not sun damaged and the color was pure white, which was good for making yarn. After dirt and dust were removed from the wool at Fukano’s company, the wool was washed, dyed and processed at Konaka Co. Generally, wool from meat sheep is so thick and long that it is difficult to process into yarn. However, Konaka “brought together technologies to help revitalize Fukushima” and succeeded in producing 24 kilograms of yarn from 70 kilograms of raw wool.

Only 12 suits were made from the 100% domestically produced wool because of the limited amount of raw wool. The custom-made suits, each consisting of a jacket and a pair of trousers, cost ¥275,000 including tax. While they are expensive, they have been selling well. Konaka plans to sell the suits in the coming year and beyond.

According to the Japan Wool Industry Association based in Osaka, most of the wool used in Japan is imported from Australia and New Zealand while home-grown wool accounts for less than 0.1% of the total.

Fukano, who is proud of the home-grown carded wool processed entirely in Japan, said, “I hope people in Japan and abroad will enjoy this new product born in a disaster-hit village.”