Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Akiu Kokeshi 秋保のこけし

Welcome to Akiu Onsen!
Just south of Sakunami Onsen (described in a previous entry) across a ridgeline lies Akiu Onsen 秋保温泉 (pronounced "A-ki-oo"), which compared to Sakunami is an enormous onsen resort area with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and yes, kokeshis. Back in the old days (let's say 50-60 years ago) there was actually a separate category known as Akiu-type kokeshis, which today are lumped under Togatta-type kokeshis 遠刈田系こけし. In my amateur opinion Akiu kokeshis seem distinctive enough to be their own family, and apparently there are kokeshi enthusiasts who refer to them as Akiu Kokeshis, or Sendai Kokeshis, so I'm not the only one who has thought about this. The history of the categorization of traditional kokeshis is of interest to me, so I'll try to explore that in a future blog.
As for being a kokeshi adventure Akiu Onsen was, frankly, something of a dud. Of course we had just spent a couple days in Sakunami and Sendai, and had just visited the Akiu Traditional Arts Center, but compared to other kokeshi towns Akiu just doesn't have quite the same feeling. Perhaps this is because there weren't kokeshi-themed signage and manhole covers and lanterns and artwork throughout the town, though we did discover a pair of giant Akiu kokeshis leading into the onsen area. Of course all of this is pretty subjective, so by all means go and visit Akiu and see for yourself.
Beautiful craftsmanship.
While there we did manage to visit one kokeshi maker's shop, that of Mr. Sato Takeshi 佐藤武志さん who let us mill around taking pictures. We spent about 25 minutes in the shop and admired his amazing skill at making small kokeshis and tiny wooden toys. Mr. Sato is true master craftsman, and his ability to add wooden rings around his kokeshis was most impressive. However, there were no standard-sized kokeshis for sale apart from some older faded ones, so we bought a couple of his tiny pieces and were on our way. After that we tried visiting another kokeshi workshop that we had seen along the way, but unfortunately it was closed. That was OK though since it was getting late. We simply hit the road and drove back to Tokyo.
Even if Akiu Onsen was something of a disappointment, overall our Sakunami-Sendai-Akiu adventure was first class, and we came back with a nice haul of kokeshis and wonderful memories of that beautiful area. Best of all was meeting more kokeshi makers whose dedication to their craft makes our adventures possible!

Kokeshi shop -- closed.

Hey, a kokeshi sign! But the shop was closed.

Mr. Sato's shop. The sign says "Akiu Kokeshi." See, there is such a thing as an Akiu kokeshi.
Inside Mr. Sato's shop.
While not exactly kokeshis, these were very clever.
Mr. Sato's miniature collection. These were amazing.
An Akiu Kokeshi with wooden rings. The rings cannot be removed and are created as part of the lathing process. So, how does he do the painting under the rings?
We bought one of these little guys. It's tiny, but it's a traditional Akiu Kokeshi -- the only one in our collection.
These were actually kokeshi nesting dolls. As I recall, about 20,000 yen each.

I'm not sure I like this, but it is innovative.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Akiu Craft Park 秋保工芸の里

An explanation of the Akiu Craft Park.
During our big Sakunami kokeshi adventure we drove from downtown Sendai up into the mountains to a place called Akiu kogei no sato 秋保工芸の里, or Akiu Craft Park. We discovered the place on the Internet and figured we had to go since there were three kokeshi makers there along with other traditional craftsmen such as a fellow who makes Sendai Tansu 仙台箪笥, a traditional wood carver, and another guy who makes wooden tops. It's really a neat place and sits next to a large athletic complex where I took the girls while Naoko explored the shops and hunted for kokeshis.
We actually went to the Craft Park twice, and dedicated readers may recall that in a previous blog I described our second trip there at which time we visited Mr. Suzuki's kokeshi shop. On this day, though, we visited Sato Kokeshiya 佐藤こけし屋 owned by the Sato family that makes Sendai-Akiu kokeshis 仙台秋保こけし, a branch of Togatta-type kokeshis 遠刈田系こけし, and Wagatsuma Kokeshi 我妻こけし owned by the Wagatsuma family that makes Togatta kokeshis.
Sato Kokeshiya exterior.
I didn't really go into the Sato shop, and oddly Naoko didn't buy any of their kokeshis. There's something about the Sendai-Akiu design that she doesn't like. According to Naoko it's the hair on the left and right side of the head that's been so stylized that it looks like a small sheet of dried seaweed. Once she said that, well, it started to look like that to me too! But you know, I didn't really care for Naruko kokeshis at first, but now I really like them, so it seems that one gets used to certain kokeshi families. Maybe Sendai-Akiu kokeshis will start to grow on me.
Wagatsuma Kokeshi was right next door and I found their kokeshis to be much more appealing. Three generations of Wagatsumas call this shop home: The 93-year old grandfather Mr. Wagatsuma Kichisuke, the 62-year old father Mr. Wagatsuma Satoshi, and the 36-year old son Mr. Wagatsuma Masato. None of them were at the shop when we visited, but fortunately they had a good selection of beautiful kokeshis for sale. The shop is also a wood-crafts shop, and Naoko got a large laquered wooden spoon along with a couple of kokeshis.
If you're in the Sendai area and you like kokeshis then you must go to Akiu Craft Park.

Sendai-Akiu kokeshis. They're easy to distinguish because of the heavy top and bottom stripes, as well the stylized hair that Naoko thinks looks like a piece of seaweed. Ha ha! 
More Sato kokeshis.
A basket of kokeshi cell phone straps.
Akiu kokeshi hankerchiefs. Naoko bought one of these.
Wagatsuma Kokeshi exterior.
Wagatsuma kokeshis. Really nice.

These little guys were by the elder Wagatsuma, and we got one. The faces have a definite attitude.
I liked these relatively large black and white kokeshis that were a good price too (2,500 yen). We had to pass on them though. 
The Sendai Tansu shop. Absolutely beautiful, but at the current exchange rate astronomical in price!
Ganbaro Tohoku sticker on a Coke machine in support of the post 3-11 disaster victims. We saw signs like this all over Sendai.

Blue Kokeshi 青いこけし

Of all the colors one doesn't see painted on kokeshis, blue is conspicuous. It's true that's there is a kind of light blue-green used on some Takobozu たこ坊主 Tsuchiyu-type kokeshis 土湯系こけし, but I wouldn't call them "blue" kokeshis. And it's also true that one doesn't see shocking pink, or puce, or burnt umber, or chartreuse, but those are uncommon colors and I would guess at some point in the past the traditional kokeshi community set standards for itself regarding color range. Blue, on the other hand, would be a natural choice, right? It's certainly common with modern kokeshis, but why traditional kokeshi makers do not paint their kokeshis blue is not clear to me.
The colors one sees normally are red, green, yellow, black, and purple. Reds are almost always bright, as are yellows. Greens tend toward bright but vary in shade, while purples deep rather than pastel. Scanning our kokeshi collection I can say without hesitation that red is the most common kokeshi color. Black is used on every kokeshi for hair and faces, and occasionally for design. Yellow is sometimes used for bodies and striping, and purple tends to be used almost exclusively for striping. But there's no blue.
That is except for one lone kokeshi in our collection.
In this blog I would like to introduce a blue Naruko-type kokeshi 鳴子系 that we found last summer at the annual Kokeshi Festival at Naruko Onsen by Mr. Sato Yoshihiro 佐藤賀広さん. It's about 18 centimeters and as you can see it's a blue kokeshi! Well, blue color dominates. If you look closely there's also hunter green leaves, another unusual color. Striping is black, while red is used sparingly. I can't stress enough how striking it is in contrast to its red-green sisters. Well, that is my opinion of course. 
Enjoy this wonderful little work of art.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big Kokeshi, Small Kokeshi 大型こけし小寸こけし

Much like there are big dogs and little dogs, there are big kokeshis and there are small kokeshis. I happen to like them all, and here we see wonderful examples of each. The large one is indeed big -- about 34.5 cm -- and is by Mr. Sato Seiko 佐藤誠考さん from Iwaki City in Fukushima Prefecture. We bought this beauty last year at his temporary home on the side of Mt. Akagi in Gunma Prefecture. The concentric circles on the crown of the head tells us its a Yajiro-type kokeshi 弥次郎系こけし, and yet this is the only example I've ever seen of a black and yellow traditional kokeshi, Yajiro or otherwise. Beautiful work.
As you can see it dwarfs the little kokeshi which is only 10.5 cm. This innovative little one is a non-traditional Naruko-type kokeshi 鳴子系こけし by Mr. Kakizawa Yoshinobu 柿澤是伸さん, and while we visited the Kakizawa family's gallery on the mountain above Naruko Onsen last summer, we purchased it at the Miyagi Prefecture Exhibition in Ikeburo (see 2011 blogs for both events). To me this design of a child looking up is creative and new but still stays well within the bounds of traditional kokeshi making. Naoko displayed these two like this the other day and I had to share it in the blog.

A contrast in sizes.
Big and small. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Suzuki Kokeshi at Akiu Craft Park 秋保工芸の里での鈴木こけし

Gangu'an Kokeshiya exterior.
Up in the hills outside of Sendai City is Akiu Craft Park 秋保工芸の里, a complex with Japanese-style buildings in which a number of traditional artisans have workshops. It is one-stop shopping for Sendai-area Japanese crafts, including three kokeshi makers! I'll discuss the Craft Park and two of the kokeshi shops in an upcoming blog, but for this entry I'd like to focus the third kokeshi shop, Gangu'an Kokeshiya 頑愚庵こけし屋 owned by craftsman Mr. Suzuki Akira 鈴木明さん that we visited on 22 December. After arriving at the Craft Park I stayed outside and played with the girls in the snow while Naoko went inside Mr. Suzuki's shop, and after we had had enough of the white stuff we went to see some kokeshis. What a nice, cozy shop! To be honest, it's been my experience that not all kokeshi makers have a keen sense for interior design, but Mr. Suzuki certainly does and and it made milling around and viewing his work that much more of a pleasure. 
Shop interior.
Mr. Suzuki is a third-generation craftsman whose main kokeshi is a branch of the Sakunami family called Enakichi 胞吉, and apparently he's the only person in Japan who makes them. Enakichi is a really a nice, pleasing kokeshi design with a baseball-bat shaped body and smooth, clean lines. I noticed that these and many other kokeshis in the shop were painted just using black and red, which is a rare color combination in the kokeshi world. Besides those there were lots of things to see, including tiny kokeshis, kokeshi magnets, Darumas, and a series of what can only be called modern-style traditional kokeshis. Take a look at the photos below and see if you agree.
The Akiu Craft Park is highly recommended, and if you go be sure to spend some time in Gangu'an Kokeshiya! 

Mr. Suzuki's signature traditional kokeshi, which is branch of the Sakunami type called Enakichi kokeshis which his father also made.
Various sizes available. We bought a medium-sized one.
A broader version of the above. 10,000 yen... yikes! But that's because it's made out of Zelkova (Japanese: Keyaki 槻) wood, which is apprently pretty expensive stuff. But as you can this is beautiful kokeshi craftsmanship and is worth every penny (oops -- yen).
Mr. Suzuki's workshop is located inside the shop, and it's easy to watch him work his magic on the lathe.
These are tiny kokeshis, maybe about one inch high. For these Mr. Suzuki likes black and red, which I've never seen on a kokeshi before. 
More small kokeshis. Despite the variety notice how Mr. Suzuki still manages to ensure that the faces are his style.
Three sizes of kokeshis.
Mr. Suzuki drying a kokeshi that daughter Lena made.
Mini ejiko kokeshis.
There's a do-it-yourself kokeshi corner in the shop. and these are the instructions (read from right to left to left of course).  
Some of Mr. Suzuki's kokeshis definitely blur the line between traditional and modern.
Chubby happiness kokeshis. Well, the kanji says "happiness," so I presume these are "happiness kokeshis." Again, notice how consistent Mr. Suzuki is with his faces.
Lucky Cat kokeshis, right? Are these kokeshis?
These are definitely traditional kokeshis, and yet the faces are something new.
Kokeshi purists probably don't know what to make of this sort of design, but I think it's pretty cool! 
These jolly little guys are Kintaro 金太郎 kokeshis. Also, note the plate in the background. That's Mr. Suzuki's graphic kokeshi design which I found very appealing.
Pair kokeshis, or Hina kokeshis? We're not sure.
Little tops and a wooden container.
Holders for toothpick and pens.
Kokeshi chopstick holders -- really creative.
Kokeshi-faced magnets.