Tokyo: A group of men aged 40-someting have added a different stitch to the stereotypical Japanese man - a needle and a thread. Members of a men's only sewing club meet once a month to beat the stress of their jobs as marketing professionals, computer engineers and film directors/producers.
As the club's seven members do not consider themselves experts in sewing, their stitches are not aligned, fine seams are nowhere to be seen, but their works are creative.
"We decided that we don't have to be perfect," said 42-year-old sewing club leader, Shoichi Ishizawa, a fashion designer. "We can make a moving salamander toy, but we can't even sew buttons."
Ever since Ishizawa invited his drinking buddies over for a sewing session in December 2003, their club activities have expanded to holding exhibitions and their membership has opened to children, called the Minis, and to women, called the Flowers.
Visitors to their exhibitions are keen on buying the frog-shaped purses, children cling tight to sheep-like toys with a long nose and a cloud of puffs, while others ask where they too can learn to sew.
Ishizawa begins every session by first opening a can of beer as he proposes the day's projects. Then the members choose a needle from Ishizawa's set of more than 30, as if they were picking a favorite truffle out of a box of chocolates.
After threading the eye with a colorful thread, they choose a piece of scrap fabric to shape into something creative and maybe even useful.
"It's just like mothers thinking up a dinner menu out of what's in a refrigerator," Ishizawa said. "We don't measure every kind of seasoning. It's like we taste too much salt in our dish, so we add curry powder to mask the taste. That's what sewing means to us."
Based on that philosophy, Masayosu Yoshida was able to take up the challenge of sewing a three-dimensional stuffed toy based on a dinosaur-like drawing by his six-year-old son. His son has since joined the Minis group.
The 40-year-old computer system-engineer father had never sewn before he joined the club. But in just two years, he grew so fond of this after-work exercise that now nothing stops him from running a thread through a needle.
"I have nothing else besides work that I do with full concentration," Yoshida said. "But when I'm running a sewing machine, my hands know no stopping."
The sewing circle members are pleased that they have overcome the prejudice and stereotypical image of sewing as a "girlie thing to do", Ishizawa said, adding they enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from completing a project.