Friday, April 25, 2014


A couple of weeks ago I was delighted to see that a new kokeshi-themed book has just come out, though this one's a bit different than what we typically see. It's actually a novel called The Naruko Kokeshi Murder Incident 鳴子こけし殺人事件 by author Mr. Nishimura Kyotaro 西村京太郎さん. Naoko says Mr. Nishimura is quite popular, and a quick check of his other novels shows that he writes lots of similar stories, usually related to trains. Anyway, I would guess that this is the world's first murder novel involving kokeshis, and proves without a doubt that kokeshis are, as we say in America, hot! As for the story, well, it starts off with the discovery of a man murdered in his Tokyo hotel, and the only thing found at the murder site is a single Naruko kokeshi by a famous craftsman. After that are more murders and more kokeshis. I haven't read The Naruko Kokeshi Murder Incident so I have no idea what happens in the rest of the story, or even if the book's any good, but there are kokeshis on the cover so that's good enough for me. Hopefully it will be turned into a movie starring plenty of kokeshis!
If you would like to buy the book, or learn more about it, one good place to start is Amazon.

Kokeshi Wiki

On 17 April 2014 a new and important kokeshi-related resource appeared on the Internet: Kokeshi Wiki (click to view site). It is Japanese-language only, but there are plenty of images to look at for those who do not read Japanese. Here is a screen capture.
As the name suggests, Kokeshi Wiki is an on-line encyclopedia based on the 1971 Kokeshi Dictionary こけし辞典, covering the world of traditional kokeshis, including craftsmen (active, retired, and deceased), history, regions, materials, areas or research, literature, folkways, and even tools. While I haven't gone through everything, it is a serious effort that is clearly meant to be academic and authoritative. The site is brand new and is still a work in progress, but it's already an excellent resource and will become more so as it gets filled in. Although it's not an open wiki, I'm sure in the coming months kokeshi experts out there will be adding a lot of materials and information in order to make it the Wikipedia of the traditional kokeshi world. I will definitely be using this site as a key resource to compliment the books we have on kokeshis, and look forward to seeing how it progresses in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Antique Kokeshis 2 中古こけし 2

A couple of weeks ago Naoko and I discovered that our local antique shop had some really great kokeshis for sale, of which I showed two Tsugaru kokeshis in the previous blog entry. Among the others we found were three Nambu kokeshis 南部系こけし from Iwate Prefecture 岩手県. As with most Nambus, these three have kina-kina (bobble) heads, and all are in beautiful condition despite their age which I estimate to be 26-30 years based on the information written in pencil on the bottom.

The first is, I believe, from 1984 and was likely created by Mr. Matsumoto Tsuruji 松本鶴治さん who was from Hanamaki City 花巻市 in central Iwate. The reason I suspect, but cannot be sure, that Mr. Matsumoto was the craftsman of this kokeshi is the signature on the bottom. The first character is probably "Matsu" 松 while the second is definitely "Tsuru" 鶴, which are the first characters of Mr. Matsumoto's family and given names. So, a bit of a mystery, but I'm fairly confident that this is correct. It's not a particularly outstanding kokeshi, but since Nambus are rare it is nonetheless special. Mr. Matsumoto may actually still be alive (aged 92), but he is no longer making kokeshis.
The mystery signature that's most likely that of Mr. Matsumoto.
The next two Nambu Kokeshis are by Mr. Sasaski Kakuhei 佐々木覚平さん who passed away in 2007. The first one is a relatively small and nice-looking kokeshi. I would have had a hard time identifying it if not for the penciled information on the bottom giving the last name.
Signed with just his first name: Kakuhei 覚平.
The last kokeshi is another piece by Mr. Sasaki, and this one is fairly large and definitely special as one knows it's a Nambu upon looking at it. The big giveaway is the classic Nambu shape -- bulky in the chest area and narrow at the bottom, which is perfect for a child's grip (or that of a serious kokeshi collector!). Based on my research this striping pattern is also unique to Nambu kokeshis. Overall, this beautiful piece has been a very welcome addition to our collection.
A nice, thoughtful, serene face.
The back of the head has this colorful dot pattern in light blue, red, and yellow, matching the striping colors. Quite striking, and also unique to this branch of Nambu kokeshis.
Like the above kokeshi Mr. Sasaki signed it with his first name only. The the three-character word says "Nambu-kei" 南部系. 
Overall I consider these three kokeshis to have been quite a find since they are in great condition, and also because Nambus tend to be hard to find.
Our three "new" Nambu kokeshis with their heads turned.