Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan 2 津軽こけし館2

Up to the second floor where the collection is located.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote part one of my discussion of the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan in Kuroishi City, focusing on the first floor with its sales area and workshop. This time I'm taking you upstairs to see the kokeshis. Because the pictures should speak for themselves I'll limit the text, but as you'll see it houses an amazing collection of all types and sizes of traditional kokeshis with an understandable emphasis on ones from Tsugaru. Naturally every serious kokeshi enthusiast should try to get here at some point, but non-Japanese speakers should beware that there is very little English signage anywhere in the museum. But that is hardly a reason to not visit the Kokeshi Kan. Enjoy this grade-A kokeshi adventure!

This display was a nice introduction to the traditional kokeshi types.
A display on the history of Tsugaru kokeshis.
A splendid -- yes, splendid -- collection of Tsugarus.
More Tsugaru kokeshis.

During the 1990s there was a famous pair of 100-year old twin sisters in Japan named Kin-san (Gold) and Gin-san (Silver). At some point in the early 1990s these metal kokeshis were made to represent them.
Lots and lots and lots of kokeshis.
Naoko enjoying the collection.
These Abe family kokeshis (Zao type 蔵王系) in the middle (the ones with the big, wide-set eyes) have become a favorite with Naoko of late.  There's only one person left making this style -- 74-year old Mr. Abe Shinya 阿部進矢さん located at Atsumi Onsen あつみ温泉 on the Japan Sea coast of Yamagata Prefecture. Sounds like a future kokeshi adventure awaits us!
Another Abe kokeshi.
I especially like the kokeshi dressed in the kids clothes on the right. Oops. That's my kid.
Tsugaru kokeshi craftsman Mr. Mori Hidetaro 盛秀太郎さん hard at work. Mr. Mori was the creator of the original Tsugaru kokeshi.
Wait! He's not real! A fantastic life-size diorama located on the second floor in honor of the old master. 

Notes and lyrics for a song about Mr. Mori. It's pretty clear that he's a hero around these parts.
Giant Tsugaru kokeshis. Thank goodness for the ropes -- these things can be quite vicious.
A nice print of the late originator of the Tsugaru kokeshi tradition, Mr. Mori Hidetaro, also seen in the diorama above.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Kokeshis クリスマスのこけし

For those who don't know, the Japanese people on the whole love American-style Christmas. That is, the lights, the decorations, and even Santa Claus. While the connection with Christianity seems to be vaguely understood in Japan, as we'll see below kokeshi makers are catering to the love of Christmas with some really creative designs. We have acquired a small collection of these kokeshis, and each Christmas Naoko pulls them out along with other Christmas decorations (see photos below). Meanwhile, in the spirit of kokeshi connoisseurship I bought a fake Christmas tree this year and covered it with small-sized traditional kokeshis. Many makers produce tiny kokeshis and put strings on them for use as cell-phone straps, and they happen to make perfect ornaments especially since their colors tend to be similar to Christmas colors. I found that smaller kokeshis can be secured to the tree using the fake tree's wire branches, so why not? Overall, I think we've started an innovative new kokeshi tradition.
Our kokeshi-themed Christmas tree.
A small Sakunami kokeshi 作並系 by Mr. Hiraga Teruyuki 平賀輝幸さん. You can see that I wrapped the branch around the kokeshi to keep it in place.
Another small Sakunami kokeshi by Mr. Hiraga. We received this and the one above at a recent Tokyo Kokeshi Tomo no Kai 東京こけし友の会 meeting.
A nice Yamagata kokeshi 山形系 by Mr. Kobayashi Kiyoshi 小林清さん. 
A very unique Naruko kokeshi 鳴子系 by Mr. Izu Toru 伊豆徹さん.
A small Zao kokeshi 蔵王系 by Mr. Mito Hiroshi 水戸寛さん.
A mini Tsugaru kokeshi 津軽系 by Mr. Abo Kanemitsu 阿保金光さん. 
During a recent adventure to Sakunami Onsen 作並温泉 in the mountains near Sendai City we spent some time with traditional kokeshi craftsman Mr. Hiraga Teruyuki. I'll discuss that kokeshi adventure in an upcoming blog, but I did need to mention his Christmas kokeshis here. Naoko was completely taken with them, and they really are wonderful little handicrafts. I would guess that if they were brought to the US or Europe they would be extremely popular. Mr. Hiraga has four types that he creates for Christmas: Angels, Santa kokeshis, kokeshi Santas, and snowmen. He didn't have any snowmen when we were visiting, but we did get examples of the other kinds. These kokeshis definitely blur the line between traditional and modern kokeshis, though I would put them in the traditional camp 1) because they were made by a traditional kokeshi craftsman, and 2) because the faces are basically those of traditional kokeshis. In case you're wondering, Mr. Hiraga sells these little masterpieces for 1,000 yen a piece -- a bargain.

Mr. Hiraga's angel kokeshis.
A Hiraga Christmas kokeshi.
Two more Hiraga Christmas kokeshis.
Another branch of Christmas kokeshis is Santas, and I'm always struck by the cleverness of these Japanese designers who are dealing with such a non-Japanese tradition. From what I can tell modern kokeshi makers were the first to make them, but traditional kokeshi makers are also creating these fun little holiday figures that even the most anti-Christmas scrooge could appreciate.
A Santa kokeshi by traditional kokeshi craftsman Mr. Sato Hideyuki 佐藤英之さん that has a surprise....
Surprise! The head is a top.
A little round-ball Santa kokeshi. This is just amazing. 
Though not exactly a Santa kokeshi, the delightful little winter kokeshi on the left is by a modern kokeshi maker  named Chie ちえ (I don't know her full name). The Santa on the right is by Usaburo Kokeshi, which creates many of the modern kokeshis seen in souvenier shops throughout Japan. Absolutely fantastic.  
Another round-ball type Santa kokeshi.
A Santa kokeshi by Mr. Hiraga.

Another type of Christmas kokeshi is the snowman, also pioneered by modern kokeshi makers like Usaburo but also made by tradional kokeshi makers. We've only found three of these so far, but I suspect they will become more popular over the next few years.

Egg-shaped Santa and snowman. 
An Usaburo round-ball kokeshi snowman.
We found this snowman at a Tokyo Kokeshi no Kai meeting. It's by a traditional Naruko kokeshi craftsman named Mr. Sato Yoshihiro 佐藤賀宏さん.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nuruyu Onsen 温湯温泉

Before continuing with the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan, I need to mention the Nuruyu Onsen 温湯温泉 section of Kuroishi City 黒石市 where the Kokeshi Kan is located, and where a number of kokeshi makers are have their workshops. Nuruyu's identity is connected with kokeshis, though not to the extreme of places like Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 (see my blog posts from October and November). Because the goal of our big adventure was meeting kokeshi makers we spent one night at an old inn located in Nuruyu Onsen. It had its own onsen (hot spring bath), and considering the age of the building I would guess we had the same experience that travellers to Nuruyu have had for many decades. Would I recommend the place? Sure. In fact most Americans and other foreigners would undoubtedly feel like they were having a very Japanese experience. Naturally there were of kokeshi-themed signs here and there, though we did not see any shops selling kokeshis, nor did we find any kokeshi workshops. We were pretty close to the home of kokeshi craftsman Ms. Yamaya Rei 山谷レイさん, but decided not to bother her since she didn't have a shop sign on her house. We did find some of Ms. Yamaya's kokeshis at the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan (see upcoming blog), but it would have been nice to meet her. We only stayed one night, and the next morning we went to the public onsen across the street from our inn. It was fantastic (did I mention I love onsens about as much as I love kokeshis?), though the water was close to being unbearably hot. Interestingly, there were a couple of older local men in there with me, and while my Japanese is pretty good I honestly could not understand a thing they were saying since they were speaking in the Tsugaru dialect 津軽弁. Until that moment I did not realize how different it is from standard Japanese. And one other thing about Nuruyu and other onsen towns: The people in these areas have amazingly healthy looking skin, no matter what their age, which I attribute to spending a lot of time in onsens. Our younger daughter has eczema, and we noticed that by the end of this kokeshi adventure (that was equally an "onsen adventure") her eczema had cleared up entirely. Although this is anecdotal, it does suggest that hot spring water is indeed good for human skin.
The gate you go through when entering the Nuruyu Onsen area. For those who don't know, an onsen can either be a single hot bath, or a larger area with multiple hot baths.

We stayed in this old inn called Izuka Ryokan 飯塚旅館.
The public onsen in the middle of town. It's a beautiful brand new building with near-scalding hot water coming right out of the ground, necessary for surviving the harsh winters in western Aomori Prefecture.
There were signs of kokeshi heritage around Nuruyu Onsen. The restaurant where we ate dinner listed its menu on kokeshi-shaped boards hanging on the wall, a local barber shop had a nice kokeshi-shaped shop sign, and by the river was a large modern sculpture that could be nothing other than a kokeshi. The best bit of kokeshi-ness was located in a nearby park -- a massive Tsuguru kokeshi slide! The identity of this area is undeniably intertwined with kokeshis.

This meaning of this kokeshi sign says "Jumping out caution"; i.e., "Watch out for children."
A barber shop in Nuruyu.
Parking lot sign.
Note the menu on the wall in the upper left of the photo.
The bridge leading to the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan had this marvelous Tsuguru-type kokeshi bust on it.
Kokeshi sculpture on a path along the river.
A beautiful park near Nuruyu Onsen. A giant kokeshi slide dominates the playground area.
Behold! The kokeshi slide, which is of course a Tsugaru type.
Sitting right next to the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan is the Tsugaru Densho Kogei Kan 津軽伝承工芸館, a place for local artisans (crafts and food) to make and sell their wares. I highly recommend it as part of a trip to the Kokeshi Kan, if nothing else for the free ashiyu 足湯 (foot hot bath), but also for the human-sized kokeshi lanterns decorating the facility. The lanterns are lit up at night, and look especially charming in snow. 

Kokeshi lanterns.
Another kokeshi lantern.
The foot bath, the hot water from which flows throughout the facility creating a nice atmosphere.
These nice hanging things (maybe also lanterns) reminded me of pinatas. But who would want to smash something like this, even if it was filled with candy?
A good view of some kokeshi lanterns at the Tsugaru Densho Kogei Kan.