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Osaka bartering project turns thread into house through series of trades

Daisaku Yoshimura stands in front of the home that is waiting to be bartered, with some red thread that started it all in his hands. (Courtesy of Daisaku Yoshimura)

OSAKA -- Inspired by the Japanese folktale "Straw Millionaire," in which a poor man becomes rich through a series of barters, a nonprofit organization here in the city's Tsurumi Ward has managed so far to turn a spool of red thread into a house that can be lived in for free for a maximum of 10 years.

    The head of the group Miracle, Daisaku Yoshimura, bought some red thread -- believed to tie people together as legend has it -- at a 100-yen store, for which he paid 110 yen (about $1), including tax, in September. He came up with the project "to broaden the ways in which people can donate, and to help people have fun contributing to society." He said he also wanted to link people together with the literal and proverbial red thread.

    The project was announced on Miracle's website on Sept. 24, and bartering began. Yoshimura started off by cold-calling, but was turned down by one business after another. The first place to give him a chance was a coffee bean shop in Kagoshima Prefecture, in southwestern Japan. The store proprietor, who sells coffee in packages that have illustrations of Amabie, a Japanese folklore creature said to ward off plagues, agreed to give Yoshimura three sets of Amabie coffee, commenting that the project was an inspiring one. All of a sudden, the 100-yen spool of thread had turned its value to approximately 80 times its original price.

    The coffee then turned into the rights to produce original manga at a Tokyo manga production agency. It then went on to obtain a one-hour online baseball talk and a Seibu Lions uniform from former Japanese professional baseball player Shogo Kimura, 2,000 sets of six colored pencils, and 100 pairs of reflective sound technology earphones with microphones.

    A telephone call moved the project in an unexpected direction. Sayoko Hara, a homemaker who had been planning to open up a free school in an unoccupied house she owns in Osaka's Tsurumi Ward, but had decided against it because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, contacted Yoshimura with the intention of finding someone who would be able to use the property with her, since Yoshimura publishes a free community paper. Hearing about the project from Yoshimura, Hara decided to rent out the three-story, 85-square-meter house for free. It is open to bartering offers until noon on Oct. 24.

    Those who have responded to Yoshimura's bartering offers have been jumping on the giving bandwagon by giving away the items or services they obtain through the barters. For example, the coffee was donated to a hospital that takes in COVID-19 patients, and the colored pencils were donated to kindergartens. Former baseball player Kimura, who won the right to produce his original manga, made a call on Twitter for eateries suffering from the pandemic to apply for the right. It went to a bakery on an isolated island in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture.

    "To provide relief to those who are suffering from the coronavirus crisis, it's important to have many people think of the problem as their own. We await your participation in our bartering project," Yoshimura said.

    The project will continue until Nov. 22. For more information (in Japanese), go to https://www.make-future.jp/

    (Japanese original by Rika Fukui, Osaka City News Department)

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