“Connecting daily life and culture” Baltic countries edition: Travel stories (2)

STORY | 2023/10/21

From here, your journey through the Baltic countries begins. First, we headed to the Lithuanian Ethnographic Museum, which is said to be one of the largest open-air museums in Europe. After spending a full day observing the traditional way of life of Lithuanian people, Yuki came across an ornament that completely changed her view of the Baltic countries.

[2023.9.19-9.23 Lithuania]

``I originally had a hobby of collecting old things, and before I knew it, I went to the shop of an old man who was running a shop.The long, pink ornaments were meant to be wrapped around Christmas trees. He said it was from a time when Lithuania was ruled by the former Soviet Union.

The store is located in Kaunas, Lithuania's second capital. Speaking of Kaunas, when Lithuania was being invaded by the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II, Chiune Sugihara, who was posted as a deputy consul at the Japanese consulate, issued visas to Jews and It is famous as a place that helped people escape.

``I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't know much about the history of the three Baltic countries until I visited them.So, I learned about how they were once ruled by the Soviet Union, and how small countries were subjected to great powers. When I bought the ornament, I didn't have a clue.
However, I wanted to learn more. I also visited the KGB Museum in the capital, Vilnius, where I had heard a story from writer Sayaka Murata.

KGB is the secret police of the former Soviet Union. The site used by the KGB as a headquarters during World War II, where they held and tortured people, is now open to the public as a museum. "I haven't put it into words yet..." Yuki continues, choosing her words carefully.

``All the detainees could only use the toilet for five minutes a day, there were soundproof rooms where they couldn't hear their screams, there were rooms where they were flooded with water... There were many bullet holes. It is said that the people who were killed were buried in such a way that they were not considered human beings.Visiting this place made me realize that the people who were killed at the time were buried at the time of the occupation, which I bought at my uncle's shop. The ornaments made in the past looked completely different.I would like to think that this small ornament may have been lighting up someone's home during a difficult time."

“My uncle's store didn't have it, but there were quite a few shops in the Baltic States that sold military items, such as gas masks.When I saw things like that, I thought... Of course, they are all different countries, but I want to see with my own eyes a little bit of the history that each land has experienced.As Russia continues to invade Ukraine, I want to see the relationship between the three Baltic countries and those countries. It also inspired me to continue traveling while studying.”

I think the word ``sightseeing'', which means ``seeing the lights,'' is beautiful. However, at the same time, I want to be careful about the attitude of trying to get only what is convenient or easy for oneself, which can be included in the sound of tourism.

I wonder who made the ornaments that were placed in the old man's shop and what their thoughts were. Yuki said, ``He didn't say much, but in hindsight, I think he was from the younger generation during the occupation.'' The shopkeeper explained the ornaments, sometimes remembering things, and sometimes not remembering them. I guess he gave it to me.

``In my previous travels, I had visited ethnic museums in various countries, but I had never been to places that were political or involved in wars.It was painful after all, so I turned my attention away. However, I am saddened by the fact that conflicts are always occurring somewhere, and in this unstable world, there is a possibility that I or the people around me may find themselves in such a situation. I also realized that I hadn't had the time to imagine it until now.
I didn't know anything about the Baltic countries, so I wanted to see them from various perspectives, so I was led to this place, and I'm really glad I went here in Lithuania.''

A glass object I found in Latvia, which I visited after Lithuania. The corners of his eyes droop at his blank expression. Yuki says, ``The more mysterious creature that isn't a bee is the lingonberry fairy.'' In Latvia, I also purchased a hand-woven basket to attach to my bicycle.

[ 2023.9.25-9.29Estonia ]

Finally, our next destination was Estonia, which Yuki said was her favorite of the three Baltic countries. In the capital, Tallin, I met two key people.

``There are several handicraft associations in Estonia, so I emailed them in advance and asked, ``Would it be possible for me to meet someone involved in knitting?'' ”I contacted them and they responded very kindly. They were Liivi Soova, the president of the Estonian Folk Arts and Handicrafts Association, and Riina Tomberg, who teaches at a university and also works as a knitter.1. We talked for two hours over tea.

``With Liivi and Riina, we talked about our mutual cultural concerns regarding handicrafts.A hand-woven cloth cost 20 euros, but even though it was a way to earn some pocket money, it was not enough to make a living. The number of young people who want to become craftsmen is not increasing.It's the same in Estonia and Japan.''

Liivi gave me a book about Estonian traditional costumes as a gift. When Yuki flipped through the book, her eyes were drawn to a picture of extremely large socks. The secret will be revealed in the places they visit the next day.

``The museum had a large collection of materials on traditional handicrafts.The big socks were actually worn when going to Kihnu, an island across the sea from the mainland of Estonia. The outermost layer of the sock is very large so that you can wear four layers of socks when walking on the taut sea.''

The Heimtari Museum, where you can touch and see a variety of Estonian handicrafts collected by textile artist Anu Raud, and the former Soviet army in Tartu, an ancient capital that flourished as a cultural and academic city. The Estonian National Museum was built on the site of a former military airstrip. Estonian handicrafts continue to attract Yuki one after another.

``Socks with a colorful pattern only on the top part so that it can be seen when dancing or sitting while working on the farm are called ``proud socks,'' and no three have the same pattern. The color red symbolizes the wish to prevent all bad things from entering, and it is said that by using it on wrists, skirt hems, collars, etc., it played a role in protecting entrances and exits .
I also saw the Tõstamaa folk costume, which involves pressing down on hot, freshly baked bread like an iron and folding the pleats of the skirt. I was excited because during my limited time on the trip, I had not been able to find any materials that were rooted in this kind of daily life in Latvia or Lithuania. I was surprised to see a sweater that didn't require the bodice to be knitted by two people knitting one sweater at the same time face-to-face. The winter season is long in the Baltic countries, so knitting techniques have been developed since ancient times to protect against the cold. ”

The fragments of the scenery I've seen so far come together like a constellation in Estonia, and the journey begins to move forward.

``Although I thought I didn't have to gain anything, I was starting to get a little anxious as the date for my return to Tokyo approached.At that time, I was able to experience even a small amount of the history of invasion and occupation in the Baltic countries, and I met many people. It was painful to think about people passing away, cultures becoming discontinued, and things that were supposed to be connected not being able to connect .
Then, when I encountered Estonia's knitting culture, I felt a sense of hope that someone had indeed created such a wonderful culture, and that someone was trying to preserve it. I wondered what I could do for the culture of handicrafts. That's when I learned the term 'related population.'

Anna Hashimoto, a friend of the editor who moved to Estonia, taught me the idea of ​​a ``related population,'' a group of people who are not permanent residents but who travel, work, and have ongoing relationships. Yuki comes up with an idea and does it.

``Right now, I'm contacting Riina and asking Estonian knitters if she could knit some knits for me.I haven't received a response yet, but for example, I would like to make mittens with a traditional Estonian pattern. I was wondering if I could have them all knit in different patterns and introduce them at the next unveiling event.I would like to connect the encounters I made during my trip to the next one.I would like to create something completely different from the previous YUKI FUJISAWA productions on this trip. I wanted to create it together with the people I met.”

“Clothes with true wishes and prayers” Returning to Ireland: Continued from travel story (3)

Words: Yume Nomura

Photo: Masumi Ishida

Movie (Travel): YUKI FUJISAWA