Jamanapo: Soulful Treasures

15 Apr 2020

Jamanapo handcrafted bags have found their way to a number of exclusive gift-shops, a remarkable accomplishment for a two year-old, home-based business. 

The journey for these memorable handcrafts begins in faraway Japan. They are made from worker's aprons or sake sacks. The most colourful are from kimonos that may have been stored away for over one hundred years. The natural pieces of fabric – with history – are carefully reincarnated as exquisite bags.

To pick one up, admire its vivid colours and feel the thick texture is to be reminded of the beauty and spirituality of Japan.

The handcrafted bags are a labour of love for Moako Caroll who lives with her husband and two children in bush land. Her home is hidden amongst gum-trees in the rolling hills near Warrandyte, Melbourne. It's an intoxicating natural setting that nurtures her artistic instincts enabling a lifelong dream of doing something creative to be fulfilled.   

A deep maternal bond

Maoko's mother wanted a child who would be cherished and grow as strong and straight as a hemp plant. This is what the characters in Maoko's name mean. It's a fascinating coincidence given Moako's devotion to all things fabric.

As a child, Maoko would sit at her mother's feet watching her sew and knit. Even at an early age, she loved to sew and surround herself with cloth, threads and buttons.

"My mother has had a great influence on the way I live and taught me to find value in older things", says Maoko.

It was hard to leave her mother and move overseas, but Maoko manages to speak with her weekly on the phone. 

Theirs is a special bond. "I feel like my mother is always next to me with her hand on my shoulder guiding me … 'that matches better', l might hear her telling me," says Maoko.


A friend suggested Maoko turn her talent for making beautiful handcrafted gifts into a money-making venture, and Jamanapo was started. 

Jamanapo is a family affair; the business name is a combination of their abbreviated names. The sewing machine, threads and fabric occupy a busy corner of the house. Maoko's children have their own material boxes, know how to sew and like to be involved in whatever their mother is up to.

Using vintage Japanese pieces of material helps Maoko identify with her heritage. Bringing new life to forgotten pieces of clothing is something she finds deeply satisfying. But she's mainly driven by the richness and quality of the offcuts. 

As talk turns to fabric, Maoko loses her normal, quiet demeanour. Scooping up pieces to show how well they are made, or where they are from, she's suddenly animated, taken by her love of the natural material waiting to become someone's treasured bag.

"This apron is from a gardener … this one is from a sake maker."

There is a downside; creativity comes at a price. Maoko's passion for handcrafting means she sometimes works long hours, forgetting to eat and rest, until her husband steps in and insists she stop.

The demand for Jamanapo bags has surprised Moako, concerned at the thought of expanding and losing a personal connection to each one. "I will always sew," she says, as if to reassure herself that she never let this happen.

Maoko makes shoulder bags and handbags and small jewellery bags that she calls treasure bags.  Jamanapo products are sold at Shepparton Art Museum's gift-shop who are hosting an internationally acclaimed exhibition of Japanese wood-block prints, Ukiyo-e. 

Maoko also sells her bags at craft markets. Each bag is one of a kind. "I like my bags to find their owner," says Maoko.

She will take orders, giving customers the chance to choose the design, size, colour, and of course fabric. "I like orders, Moako adds, "I can think about matching a bag to the character of the person."

In our modern throwaway society, Jamanapo is a refreshing reminder that the older things are … in the right hands – the more they have to offer.

P.O. Box 72, Kangaroo Ground
VICTORIA, Australia 3097
Mob: 0421 835 649
Website: www.jamanapo.com

Article: Peter Dewar
Photos: Peter Dewar & Jamanapo


41 Gamon Street
VIC, 3011
Tel: (03) 9689 9368
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.sedoniaseddon.blogspot.com.au

Shepparton Art Museum Shop
70 Welsford St
VIC, 3630
Tel: (03) 5832 9860
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.sheppartonartmuseum.com.au

Summerhill Farm Shop
264 Barkers Road
Main Ridge
VIC 3928
Tel: (03) 5989 6077
Email: [email protected]

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