OKAYAMA -- Craftspeople at a teddy bear maker in this west Japan city have been making some 3,000 newborn life-size memorial stuffed bears annually. The items are popular with people celebrating the birth of a child, while also providing comfort to those grieving the loss of a young loved one.
The brand named Poche Cigogne -- meaning "stork's pocket" in French -- was launched 25 years ago as the world's first teddy bear maker to create made-to-order, hand-made "memorial bears" that weigh and measure the same as newborn babies. Fourteen artisans at a workshop in Okayama's Kita Ward take about two months to create the items from the time of order to delivery.
While many customers buy memorial bears to commemorate the birth of a child or to send to their parents at their wedding ceremonies to show gratitude, there have been an increasing number of consultations in recent years from people who have lost their children. Operating company Brain Network has a special website for such teddy bears, named "angel bears," to accommodate as much as possible requests from those who have had premature babies.
Chikako Shima, 42, a certified day care worker in Osaka's Naniwa Ward, lost her eldest son Kantaro at the age of 1 year and 5 months in 2009. Because of the painful experience of suddenly losing her own child, she had wanted something to hold. She had Poche Cigogne make a stuffed bear measuring 35 centimeters in height and 1,008 grams in weight -- the same size as Kantaro at birth.
"I was relieved so much when I held it for the first time. It brought back fond memories," Shima said. Her family members were worried at first that she might become dependent on the teddy bear, but she told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I feel really healed by it, though its shape is different from a human. I can feel my son close." She apparently enjoys bringing the bear on trips and looking at beautiful seasonal flowers together.
Brain Network's director Akemi Ishikawa, 53, explained: "Every customer who orders a bear has a story. Our artisans are making them while understanding the customers' thoughts and backgrounds from information sent to us such as letters. We are glad if these memorial bears lead to their happiness."
Poche Cigogne's website is at https://www.pochecigogne.co.jp/ (in Japanese)
(Japanese original by Maiko Umeda, Osaka Photo Department)