Mikiko Yoshijima
2009winners contribution to society
Creating and delivering paper patterns for towel headwear for people concerned about hair loss due to cancer treatment
Mikiko Yoshijima

born: 1961
Licensed cook; Director, Iwate Hospice Association (Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Japan)

Award summary

Ms. Yoshijima started these activities after hearing in March 2008 from a daughter worried about her mother, a cancer patient, losing her hair as a side effect of cancer treatment. She decided to try making headwear out of towel material and had her mother, an expert seamstress, help in the creation of a paper pattern, which she sent to the woman together with a sample hat. She was very happy to see that the hat was both easy to use and "was something that could be given as a personal gift instead of just as a part of nursing care."

Ms. Yoshijima herself experienced hair loss as a side effect of treatment for leukemia and malignant lymphoma at the age of thirty. While serving as a cook at a daycare center, in 2002 she started the Iwate Hospice Association, where as Director she consults with cancer patients and their families. In June 2008, the association began holding local training sessions on how to make towel headwear. Since then, it has held sessions at a pace of once a month, and the number of participants continues to increase, including some from outside Iwate Prefecture and from the medical profession.

Users have told the association that the towel headwear, with colors and patterns that can be chosen to suit the tastes of the patient, is gentle on the skin and easy to clean. Both patients and their families are overjoyed by the way the handmade headwear expresses the feelings of the person who made it. Each applicant is sent a paper pattern, a sample hat made by a member of the association, and a handwritten message, all for 1,000 yen including shipping. As of the end of 2009, more than 6,000 such packages had been sent.

At the same time, many people have sent in hats made using the patterns for donation to patients who need them. This headwear is then sent to hospitals and other facilities across Japan that treat cancer patients.

Reasons for this award

Starting with the creation of a paper pattern for a simple, hand-sewn piece of towel headwear in response to a conversation, this idea, and the consideration behind it, appears to have developed from the winner's own experience struggling with illness. Since a towel is an everyday material, this project has the benefit of making it possible to create functional headwear suited to patients' tastes in areas such as color and design. Activities such as holding training sessions on how to make the hats and preparing and sending samples are carried out by members of the Iwate Hospice Association, founded by Ms. Yoshijima, and volunteers. Identification with this project is spreading across Japan, and it is thought that the low cost of 1,000 yen is one reason behind the popularity of the item.

Comments from the winner

Today, one in three people is afflicted with cancer at some point in their life. We began making towel headwear from simple face towels in order to help ease the emotional strain on patients and their families, if only a little. I never thought that these simple hats, sewed one stitch at a time with basic materials and a variety of original looks, would spread to such an extent. While I am both surprised and moved to receive this award, I also am grateful to the people who have made the hats because they needed them and the volunteers who have sewn hats to help strangers, which makes me feel that somebody somewhere is watching over and supporting our activities.