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Handmade bras popular among evacuees in rain-hit western Japan

This undated photo shows Wanowa Bras, bras made from a long strip of cloth, which are popular items among women in shelters in Japan. (Kyodo)

OKAYAMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- An easy-fitting bra made from a long strip of cloth that doesn't look like a bra when hanging out to dry has become a popular item among women who remain in evacuation shelters in western Japan following torrential rains that devastated the region last month.

Mitsuko Watanabe, 52, is among the many Wanowa Bra users at an evacuation center in the Mabi area of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, one of the areas hit the hardest by the rain disaster.

"It's comfortable as it doesn't have wires or that binding feeling, and moreover, it's cute," said Watanabe, adding that the bra feels cool on the skin and does not look like an undergarment when not being worn -- an important consideration for those living in a shared evacuation space.

"The colorful patterns make me happy," she said.

For women like Watanabe living in evacuation centers, securing a supply of underwear that fits has been a problem -- not to mention feeling uncomfortable about having to dry their undergarments in public. Thanks to the Wanowa Bra, these problem have been resolved.

The double-strap bandeau bra is made of linen dyed with vegetable dyes and comes in three sizes -- small, medium and large. Users adjust how it fits by pulling strings attached to the front. When the strings are loosened, it becomes a flat piece of cloth.

While the evacuation center where Watanabe is staying and two other centers in the area have received many conventional bras as relief aid, many of them have gone unused as they come in specific sizes that limit the number of women who can wear then. In addition, some of the designs have proven to be a bit too eye-catching for a number of women, who even avoid hanging up tops with built-in support.

Wanowa Bra was first created by Keiko Onishi, 45, of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, who survived the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995. The magnitude-7.3 quake devastated areas around Kobe and Osaka and left more than 6,400 dead and over 316,000 people in shelters at its peak.

After learning from friends that there was a shortage of bras at evacuation centers in western Japan in the wake of the rain disaster, she described how to make a simplified version of the bra on her blog.

Since then, more than 20 women in Okayama Prefecture have made around 400 bras using materials donated from around the country.

"Our aim is to get people who are unfamiliar with the Wanowa Bra to accept it," said Michiko Inoue, 42, who was taught how to make it in the past and has become a central figure in promoting it today.

Inoue said she hopes to stockpile the bras so she can deliver them to more women in the event of a future disaster.

Torrential rains devastated wide areas of western Japan in early July, killing more than 220 people, mostly in Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures.

Some 23,000 people took shelter at evacuation centers at one point and over 2,000 remained as of Tuesday.

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