Photo/Illutration Models wearing fishing net dresses wow spectators at a fashion show held in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, on April 8. (Hiroshi Matsubara)

YOKKAICHI, Mie Prefecture--Stuck with around 10 tons of pristine fishing nets after his grandfather died, Kai Yoshida considered his next step.

Any attempt to revive the dying fishing net industry in this port city, once also widely known for a sprawling petrochemical complex that fouled the air, seemed to be out of the question.

Surprisingly, the 25-year-old hit upon the idea of creating a business to recycle the fishing nets into clothing and accessories. He started by producing fishnet dresses, or more properly fishing net dresses, out of the stock.

His aim is to keep a slice of the city’s history alive, albeit in a fashionable and nonpolluting way.

His outfits were shown in the “Plastic Collection 2023” fashion show held in the Suwa shopping district of Yokkaichi on April 8.

Models wearing bold fishing net dresses drew gasps from the enthralled 150 or so people flanking the catwalk, prompting the audience to liken them to characters straight out of a fairy tale set in the sea.

A 76-year-old Yokkaichi resident was busy snapping photos with her smartphone.

“This show symbolizes the revival of our city that was once polluted with hazy air and a terrible smell,” she said. “There must be a message we can deliver on environmental issues.”

Yoshida served as a director of the show.

His parents’ home is in Tomisuhara, an area of the city lined with subcontracted fishing net factories.

The Yoshida family had been in the fishing net business for generations.

But that abruptly ended when Yoshida’s grandfather, Tsunenobu, retired, having devoted his adult life to the manufacture of fishing nets.

 Tsunenobu liked to refer to the booming business period up until the 1970s as the “Gachaman era” because every time he knitted nets with a machine clanging “gachan,” he felt like the plant was earning “ichimanen” (10,000 yen, or $74).

But then the first of two “oil shocks” hit, resulting in soaring oil prices and sluggish exports on the back of a strong yen and oligopoly in the fishing net industry. The surrounding factories went out of business, and the site was turned into a residential area.

Tsunenobu continued to produce nets on a small scale for clients until he collapsed at his plant in February 2016. He died in 2021 without regaining consciousness at the age of 86.


Among his possessions were around 10 tons of fishing nets.

“The death of my grandfather symbolized the vanishing fishing net industry in Yokkaichi,” Yoshida said. “To properly close out the chapter on my grandfather’s life, I wanted to pass on the memory of the industry to the next generation by using his remaining nets.”

Yoshida said his grandfather was a taciturn craftsman.

He recalled researching the dying fishing net industry for his graduation thesis. After his graduation, Yoshida worked for a large fishing net manufacturer until the end of last year.

Fishing nets made from oil-based synthetic fibers do not decompose naturally. Another problem is that they lose their original shape once they have been recycled.

Yoshida had an epiphany after interacting with a student group in Sendai that processed marine debris into accessories in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

He got an inkling he could process unused fishing nets into clothing and accessories while maintaining their original shape.

In April, he established his company, Tsuneyoshi, at the site of the former plant, taking one character each from his grandfather’s name and family name.

“We aim for ‘upcycling,’ where we create products that go beyond mere recycling and maintain the shape and essence of fishing nets,” he said.

Yoshida plans to sell fishing nets to apparel makers and designers across the country.

The 10 tons of nets left to him are expected to run out in about five years.

“When the time comes, it would be great if memories of the once-thriving fishing net industry in Yokkaichi could be shared with as many people as possible,” he said.

“In Japan, where the population is declining and the industrial structure is constantly changing, I want to create a model case that preserves the memories of disappearing industries and family business in new forms,” Yoshida said.

He believes that is the promise he made to his late grandfather.