15-year-old in Japan turns hypersensitivity struggles into fashion and supports business


Jiei Kato presents a hoodie that he says “is stylish and can be worn comfortably by anyone, regardless of hypersensitivity to touch,” in the Chuo district of Tokyo on September 16, 2021. (Mainichi / Yuka Obuno)

TOKYO – What if just brushing your clothes against your skin was so uncomfortable that it hurt? What if you couldn’t enjoy a good meal because the tastes and smells of the food overwhelmed your senses? This is the world that 15-year-old Jiei Kato has lived in since he was little.

But at the age of 12, the now grade 1 high school student in the town of Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, turned his experiences with “hyperesthesia” into a business connecting those suffering from the disease. same disease. Through these efforts, Kato aims to create a society where everyone can realize their full potential.

Kato also launched a crowdfunding campaign (https://camp-fire.jp/projects/view/428761) to set up a line of clothing suitable for hypersensitivity that he developed himself. The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with the young president of the company about his efforts.

The ragged tank tops that Jiei Kato has been wearing for the past five years are shown in this image he provided. He has tried wearing new shirts, but finds them uncomfortable due to his hyperesthesia and could not find a replacement.

The high school student started Crystalroad Inc. in 2018 with his mother Satomi, now 46, when he was in his first year of middle school. The two began to offer support to parents and children looking to start businesses together, like them, but the business failed to take off. Kato’s father, an employee of a company, said: “In the course of your job you may have to deal with the adverse circumstances you are facing.” In January 2020, Kato founded Kabin Lab, an organization under Crystalroad that distributes information about hyperesthesia and develops products for people with the condition.

According to the website of the Department of Health, Labor and Welfare and other sources, hyperesthesia refers to a state of heightened sensitivity of the senses, including sight, hearing, touch, taste. and smell.

“As a kid, I thought everyone put up with the pain of wearing clothes,” said Kato, who only wears a sleeveless undershirt and underwear at home all year round. “I try to choose underwear that hurts as little as possible and is comfortable to wear,” he said. He added that he had so many underwear his mother bought him but couldn’t tolerate them filling an entire cardboard box.

Hyperesthesia also limits Kato’s food choices. His favorite meal is rice and miso soup, and he eats shabu-shabu, or thinly sliced ​​meat cooked in broth, five times a week. He says he can eat “karaage” fried chicken, depending on the parts used. But all this is not due to extreme rigor. Kato said, “The smells and flavors of the food are unbearable, and I just can’t eat things.”

Lunchtime during his elementary school years was also a puzzle. He found out from his friend’s brother that there was a private high school that allowed students to bring their own lunch and passed the entrance exam. Although the problem with his own breakfasts had been resolved, he still suffered from the smell of his classmates’ meals. He also found the high-pitched voices of the students unbearable and was tormented by his tight-fitting uniform.

A “fan mask” and badges created for people who have difficulty wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic are seen in the Chuo district of Tokyo on September 16, 2021. They are sold on Kabin’s website Lab. (Mainichi / Yuka Obuno)

He confided in his school nurse during his freshman year of college, and was told he might have hyperaesthesia. Reflecting on the time, Kato said that when he researched the condition after returning home, the symptoms matched his situation precisely and “right away it all fell into place.”

However, this did not lead to a real solution to his problems. He then dropped out of college and founded Kabin Lab. He first made a social media appeal to other people with hyperesthesia, and within days he had a group of 25. “Although the symptoms vary from individual to individual, there were more people facing similar difficulties than I expected, which surprised me. I also learned that it there were people who had more difficulty than me, ”Kato said.

He currently runs an online community with around 480 members, including people who are hypersensitive to sound, taste, smell and touch, and their families. Kato’s job is to facilitate discussion while generating some form of support for their daily lives.

A hoodie developed by Jiei Kato that has no tag or stitching on the inside is seen in Tokyo’s Chuo district on September 16, 2021. (Mainichi / Yuka Obuno)

The coronavirus epidemic struck shortly after the opening of Kabin Lab. The first challenge Kato faced was dealing with the masks. There are quite a few people with hypersensitivity to the touch who find masks extremely uncomfortable. Kato designed signs to educate others about the disease, with descriptions like “Due to hypersensitivity, I have difficulty wearing masks” and “I cannot wear a mask”, and made available as a free download from Kabin’s website. He also developed “sensu masks” which can be spread out like a foldable fan and cover the mouth. They are available for purchase online.

Based on his own experience of struggling to find clothes that meet his needs, the young entrepreneur also planned to create painless clothes. As he struggles to wear clothes, Kato said, “I wish I could walk the streets dressed the same as the young people of my generation, rather than wearing the same clothes over and over again to give birth. priority to what they feel on my skin. ”

Kato studied tailoring starting with its basics and tracked down a staff member at a textile trading company who showcases fabrics on YouTube. After the square pieces of fabric sample arrived, he spent over six months testing their texture by rubbing them against his skin, and set out to develop a special hoodie.

Kato’s hoodie does not have the labels seen on usual store-bought clothing |. The seams are on the outside and are designed to be elegant. The hood is wide so that the flaps can cover the mouth like a mask. The first prototype was completed in December 2020, and many improvements have been made since.

A hoodie developed by Jiei Kato with a hood large enough to cover the mouth like a mask is seen in the Chuo district of Tokyo on September 16, 2021. (Mainichi / Yuka Obuno)

The teenager’s crowdfunding campaign to cover the creation of the hoodie as well as the pants, t-shirts and other merchandise runs until October 25. Kato hopes to launch the clothes under the Kankaku Factory brand next January and start online sales.

Kato returned to school in the N secondary section of Kadokawa Dwango Gakuen, which offers online classes, and entered the S secondary section last spring.

“I actually want to participate in fun activities that are fit for a person my age. I want to go to amusement parks with friends and travel to Osaka to eat takoyaki. I would like to try this stuff. But I can’t stand some tastes and smells, and my friends would have to worry about that. So I can’t plan that kind of trip, “Kato said.

He continued, “My motto is to live without letting go of the present. I would like to take it step by step, develop solutions to everyone’s concerns and problems. I would be happy if many people could lend their support.”

(Japanese original by Yuka Obuno, Digital News Center)


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