A 33-year-old mother of three in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, has another life in cyberspace. Known as Chachiru online, she makes and sells handicraft items through a retailing website called tetote. She can only make a piece or two a day, but in a good month she earns as much as ¥50,000.
Chachiru used to work for a company in Tokyo, but decided to leave her job about two years ago when she felt she was pushed to her limits. With three children to look after, she hardly had time left to sleep.
After quitting, she decided one day to make a cloth cover for the tires of her children's bike that is the type with no pedals. The idea was born of necessity - she didn't like soiling her clothes when carrying the bikes onto trains.
After a friend asked if Chachiru could make her the same kind of cover, she decided to register with tetote, wondering if other people might also be interested in her product. Once the item was displayed on the site, she started to see a steady flow of orders.
Chachiru has been uploading photos of items such as straps to keep children's toys from falling off strollers. Her principle is to make goods that she herself finds convenient to have around.
"There's the joy of making things and then there's the joy of seeing people who purchase them happy," Chachiru said.
Chachiru is one of many women who have difficulties getting a job, mainly because it's hard for them to get out of the house while their children are small.
Instead of being frustrated, many such women have started to fulfil their ambitions by making and selling handcrafted goods. Websites helping sell such handicrafts on behalf of their manufacturers emerged around 2010 to cater to this demand.
The websites let the individuals display items free of charge once they register themselves as crafts "artists." Pricing is up to the individuals. The website organizers handle the exchange of goods and payment. Once a deal is settled, the artist pays a commission fee of approximately 10 to 20 per cent of the sales to the organizer.
According to Kenzo Yoshida, the chief producer of tetote, women in their 30s and 40s who are in the middle of childrearing are most active. They are also heavy buyers. "We couldn't run our business without them," Yoshida said.
Noriko Fujii of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, is another crafts artist who specializes in flower arrangements. Under her artist name Mermaid Rose, she sells flower garlands and photo frames decorated with flowers.
Fujii displays her products through two retailing websites, minne and Creema. Minne boasts 150,000 artists, while Creema holds two grand sales events every year. During the month of September, Fujii sold about 70 items, with prices ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥8,000 per piece.
She gave up her hobby of Japanese flower arrangement after she married, and devoted herself to housework and raising three daughters. Once her youngest daughter started attending kindergarten, she began taking classes to make preserved flowers.
Fujii began displaying her work on the websites around the time she started teaching classes at home. Her retail business suddenly took off this spring when she offered flower garlands as her main product. Her daughters had hinted to her earlier that they were hot items among young women.
As sales soared, Fujii had to stay up late to keep up with the orders. She was surprised to hear her husband kindly asking her not to overwork. She almost cried when one of her daughters said she was thinking doing something she would enjoy in the future, just like Fujii.
"I was so happy to hear such encouraging comments," said Fujii. "Flower arrangement used to be a hobby for me. Now it seems to have become a profession." Her next challenge is to sustain her present sales.