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Stuffed Animal Surgery Teaches Japan About Organ Donation

Second Life Toys mends and transplants broken toys for a cause.

by Giaco Furino
May 18 2016, 3:20pm

The first run of toy transplants gather for a group pic. All photos by and courtesy of Second Life Toys.

Whether it’s an elephant with a squirrel’s tail for a trunk or a dragon with a dog’s leg, the creations from Second Life Toys use patchwork cuteness to convey a major message. Though at first glance these toys might look like the symbolically loaded work of Mike Kelley, Second Life Toys is an operation meant to spark the conversation around organ donation in Japan. The Creators Project spoke to Second Life Toys’ creative directors Akira Suzuki and Togo Kida on the issues of Japanese organ donation, the process toys go through to get “transplants,” and opening up the dialogue around this sensitive issue.

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This happy bear enjoys hearing in stereo once again thanks to his transplant.

Though Japan, overall, has a world-class healthcare system, the country’s organ donation system falls behind most modern nations', and child donors and transplants are even further behind. “In Japan, the number of child donors is significantly low,” explains Togo Kida, “less than 10 organ transplant operations [occur] annually, nationwide.” In 1997, the Organ Transplant Law required brain death, or written consent prior to their death, plus consent from the family. Further complicating child donors, consent was restricted to people over the age of 15. Though these laws have loosened over the past few years, Kida says there’s still a communication barrier, “people tend to avoid this topic. Simply, for the Japanese people, the topic of organ transplant conjures up an image of death, and therefore becomes a barrier for them to talk about this topic. When it comes to child organ transplant, the tendency intensifies.” And that’s why the work of Second Life Toys is so important, “We had to come up with a way to make this topic more approachable.”

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“We quickly realized the power the toys have” says Creative Director Togo Kida.

Second Life Toys hand-sews “transplants” onto broken toys. “Once the toys are received,” explains Kida and Suzuki, “we will evaluate the plush toy, and discuss what would be the best way to perform a transplant. After the operation is done, we would send the toy back to those who want it to get fixed.” In other words, people send in toys needing transplants, and those are matched up with toys that people have sent in as “donors.” The donor toys are ones that were loved and in good condition, but are no longer needed and used. After a “sick” toy is returned to its original recipient fixed up and feeling better, that recipient is asked to write a thank you letter back to the donor. This circular loop of need, compassion, and gratitude gets at the heart of organ donation.

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This whale gets mended using donated wings from a dragon.

Kida says his favorite transplant they’ve done in this first batch is the whale with dragon wings. “After releasing the project,” the directors explained, “we quickly realized the power the toys have. [They are] capable of communicating the meaning of organ transplant very quickly. With that in mind, we would love to have an opportunity to exhibit some of the toys explaining about organ transplant.”

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A toy transplant in progress

Though primarily a Japanese endeavor, if you would like to donate a toy to the cause, or if you have an injured toy that needs a transplant, visit Second Life Toys for more information.

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