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Thursday, April 7, 2011

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A bag from the trunk: Yumeka, Japan's elephant celebrity artist, paints cherry blossoms on a tote bag for ROOTOTE's Tote as Canvas online charity auction. COURTESY OF ROOTOTE CHARITY EVENT

Celebrities offer tote bags of hope

Staff writer

In a time when handbags and briefcases appear to be giving way for the simple canvas holdall, ROOTOTE, a trendy fashion brand specializing in tote bags, has made quite a name for itself on the streets of Tokyo. And in light of the March 11 disaster, it is now using that popularity to generate relief aid.

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Cooking up a design: Kiyomi Mikuni's personal chef's coat is used to style his contribution to the Tote as Canvas online charity auction. COURTESY OF ROOTOTE CHARITY EVENT

Tote as Canvas, a previously successful project for which anyone was invited to paint and customize a plain white ROOTOTE bag, has invited a variety of well-known creators to design tote bags, which will then be auctioned off for charity.

The original project won Japan's 2004 Good Design award, and it inspired ROOTOTE to organize annually held charity auctions of celebrity-designed tote bags. Since 2007, ROOTOTE has been donating all its profits from the charity auctions through the international charity organization "Save the Children," which organizes aid for children in third-world countries.

This year, Super Planning Company, which produces ROOTOTE bags, is focusing its efforts in Japan by contributing to Tohoku-Kanto earthquake and tsunami disaster aid.

"When we first started this annual charity event, I had never even dreamt that we would be donating to domestic charity," says Takahisa Kamiya, The president of Super Planning Company and its charity committee head. "The news from the Tohoku area is still unbelievable, but in Japan we have an old saying; 'Nanakorobi yaoki,' meaning there is always a chance to get up again after falling down. What we are doing is just one of the many efforts that will all join hands to help out the damaged area."

ROOTOTE's 5th charity auction of celebrity-designed bags takes place online after an exhibition at Omotesando Hills. Again, the proceeds will be donated to Save the Children Japan, and the money will go toward helping kids in the Tohoku area. It has already gained the attention and support of both Japanese and non-Japanese celebrities, from various fields, with about 90 of them contributing designs. Actress Koyuki — widely known for her international screen debut costarring with Tom Cruise in "The 'Last Samurai' " — has dyed her tote red and given it frilly lace trimming, and four members of the top J-pop idol group AKB 48 have produced a set of cute cartoonish designs. Other celebrities include American Enka singer Jero, pro-soccer player Yosuke Kashiwagi and many more, all of whom have also personally autographed their bags. Most of the totes express optimistic messages of hope and love, others show a freedom of artistic expression. French singer Clementine drew a scene of Paris with the message "Keep your hopes up," while chef Kiyomi Mikuni tailored a chef's coat, one that he had been using for more than 20 years, into a stylish bag.

On the more quirky side, Yumeka Japan's famous artistic elephant, who specializes in painting flowers, contributed a seasonally suitable cherry blossom tree on her tote bag as a message of spring cheer.

The bags are already on display along the Omotesando Hills' entry staircase and will be on show until April 10th from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., but they can all be seen on rootote.jp , accompanied by personal comments from each of the designers.

The Tote as Canvas online auction is being held at www.crownjewel.co.jp
till April 11. All profits will go to Save the Children Japan for the mental care of affected children in the Tohoku area. For more information, visit rootote.jp/toteascanvas/charityevent

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