Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Kokeshi-making Video こけしを作るビデオ

A friend back in the US posted a link to a beautiful video by Tetotetote 手とてとテ via the Colossal web site showing Naruko craftsman Mr. Okazaki Yasuo 岡崎靖男さん creating one of his kokeshis. Click here for the video. It's 4:13 long and well worth your time, and Naoko and I agree that it really captures the spirit of kokeshi craftsmanship. The Colossal article states that kokeshis are a 400-year old tradition, but I'm pretty sure that's way off. As I recall reading kokeshis are relatively modern, with research suggesting that the earliest ones likely appeared in the late Edo period and early Meiji (1860s-70s). I'll try to find an exact source for that.
Anyway, we've been to Mr. Okazaki's shop which is right on Naruko's main street and is easy to find, and you should go there too! Naoko bought one of his small kokeshis during a trip there a couple years ago, and it is very nice.
One of our Okazaki kokeshis. It's about 2.5 inches high.
By the way, the Tetotetote web site also has a good English-language article on Miyagi kokeshis, so to read that click here. For those of you who can handle Japanese, there's more on kokeshis at the Tetotetote site here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

New Kokeshi Book 新しいこけしの本

When we were up at Naruko Onsen last month we bought an important new book on the history  of kokeshis. Its title is (my translation) A Soothing Smile: The Tohoku Kokeshi Story 癒しの微笑み東北こけしの話 written by Mr. Takahashi Goro 高橋五郎さん. Last year Naoko and I attended Mr. Takahashi's talk on the origin of kokeshis at the Kamei Museum in Sendai, and he showed the group some really old kokeshis he had found that were helping him to put the pieces together of how and when the kokeshi tradition started. On top of that between Oct 2012 and March 2014 Mr. Takahashi wrote 77 weekly newspaper articles about his research that appeared in the Kahoku Shinpo 河北新報 newspaper, and those articles were compiled for this book. I've shown the cover and a few pages below.
The cover of A Soothing Smile.

One very interesting page in the book is this map showing the spread of traditional kokeshis throughout Tohoku first starting in Sakunami Onsen and Togatta Onsen. This is really a useful map!  
Of course I highly recommend this book even for those who don't read Japanese. At 270 pages it's inexpensive (1,600 yen), and the numerous full color photos of some amazingly old kokeshis make it well worth the price. The book isn't available yet on Amazon Japan, but I'm sure it will be soon.

Friday, October 3, 2014

2014 National Kokeshi Festival part 8 2014 全国こけし祭り8

The previous seven blogs fully showcased the National Kokeshi Festival, but I did want to devote an entry to Naruko Onsen and the kokeshi culture that permeates that town. It's really a lot of fun, and I cannot recommend enough for anyone interested in kokeshis to go and stay there. I know I showed a few of these things a couple years ago, but they're so cool that I can't help showing them again. Enjoy!
This might be my favorite discovery from the festival. It's a Traffic Safety Prayer sticker for your car, available for 500 yen at the Naruko Town Onsen Shrine. It was worth every yen, and will be going on our car in the near future! 
This was an inn we saw while driving a back road in Naruko. I love the sign.
Close up view.
A sign showing kokeshi-cats in Naruko. Or are they cat-kokeshis?
This young lady is Ms. Hoashi Kanoko ほあしかのこさん, a comic book artist who draws stories about taking travel adventures throughout Japan. She is apparently a fellow kokeshi enthusiast and has done at least one volume on a kokeshi adventure. I also got the feeling that what she experienced at the Naruko festival will make it into an upcoming manga.
Mr. Yamada, our friend from the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan in Aomori Prefecture had a very nice booth packed with kokeshi goods.
Kokeshi books and magazines for sale.
This is an older shop in downtown Naruko. The name translates as "A Shop Where Kokeshis are Made." Perfect.
Interior view of A Shop Where Kokeshis are Made. Unfortunately I don't think anyone is actually making kokeshis here anymore.
Human-sized Naruko kokeshis welcoming revelers to the festival.
The Naruko Town post office. Oh! What's that in front?
Yes, the post office converted its mailbox into a giant Naruko kokeshi. I wouldn't mind having one of these.
Another angle.
Another kokeshi maker's shop. They're everywhere in town.
These kokeshi manhole covers are all over town. I'm telling you, Naruko is serious about its kokeshis.
Naruko's main street.
A freshly-painted welcome kokeshi outside the Naruko train station.
A poster at the train station.
Kokeshis available at the train station shop. Yes, those a Hello Kitty Naruko kokeshis, a very cool mashup I must say.

5-6 Oct 2014 Kokeshi Festivals 週末のこけし祭り

I know it's a bit late, but I did want to announce that there are two major annual kokeshi festivals this weekend (4-5 Oct 2014), so anyone in Tokyo can get there easily by train or car. The first is the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival みちのくこけし祭り at the Nana Beans Building in downtown Yamagata City 山形市. Here's a link, though it's Japanese only (sorry about that). We've been to this event a couple of times and it's excellent. Yamagata is also fantastically beautiful, so go for the kokeshis and Yamagata! I'll of course report on what I see in an upcoming blog.
The other event, which we've never attended because it's always held at the same time as the Michinoku Festival, is the National Traditional Kokeshi Lathe Festival 全国伝統こけしろくろまつり at Togatta Onsen 遠刈田温泉 in Miyagi Prefecture 宮城県. We're going to attend this year, so I'll blog later on how it went. Togatta is another kokeshi hotspot, so it should be excellent. Here's the poster, and here's a link for further info (Japanese only).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

2014 National Kokeshi Festival part 7 2014 全国こけし祭り7

On the evening of Saturday, September 6th was the the actual Japanese-festival portion of the annual Kokeshi Festival in Naruko, and it was awesome! I think the best part was the parade with the human-sized paper mache kokeshis -- they were like rock stars among the revelers. We had perfect weather, the mood was great, and overall the event was fantastic. There were even three mikoshi 神輿 (portable shrines) being carried through the streets. I'll let the photos tell the story, but this was easily one of the best festivals I've ever been to during my time in Japan.
Attending the main kokeshi venue in the school and seeing our friends made the event fun, and this night time party was the icing on the cake. For those of you who have never been to the National Kokeshi Festival in Naruko, you have to go!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

2014 National Kokeshi Festival part 6 2014 全国こけし祭り 6

The other special display area consisted of kokeshis that many craftsmen had submitted for the award competition, but that didn't win. These kokeshis were all fantastic, so it must have been extremely difficult for the judges to make their decision. Oh yes, these kokeshis were for sale, and from what I could tell almost all of them had been purchased early on the first day. Here are some photos of what I saw.
I believe this collection were the kokeshis that had been on display in the Shinto shrine during the opening ceremony.
Adding to the fun were a number of mascot characters strolling around the venue floor. I like these things, and of course everybody wanted to get in a picture with them.
And again, there were the human-sized paper-mache kokeshis too!