Monday, June 30, 2014

Hanamaki Kokeshi Adventure 花巻こけしの冒険

Back in April Naoko, the girls and I headed up north and deep into Tohoku for a big kokeshi adventure. We had a great trip overall, which started out in the hills of Hanamaki City 花巻市 in Iwate Prefecture 岩手県 where we visited the kokeshi workshop of Mr. Susumago Morizo 煤孫盛造さん. The fact that we were in Iwate was interesting in and of itself, but Mr. Susumago is one of the last Nambu-style kokeshi 南部系こけし makers, so we got to see and purchase some very unique and rare kokeshis in their native habitat. Nambu kokeshis are probably the easiest traditional kokeshi to recognize as they are the only ones that are left unpainted. Well, the most famous Nambus are the unpainted ones, and frankly I didn't really really care for them as kokeshis until we visited Mr. Susumago's workshop. It was then that I finally came to understand that besides being a beautiful example of a pure representative form, the way Mr. Susumago does his unpainted kokeshis is to draw attention to the beauty of the wood used to make the kokeshi. When you see the variety of colors of natural wood, as well as the grain, it becomes a completely new kokeshi experience. We even bought one made from wood that Mr. Susumago said is likely hundreds, and possibly thousands of years old! Here are a few shots of what we saw.    
The workshop.
The shop sign says "Nambu  Susumago Kokeshi  Susumago Morizo."
Inside the workshop it was cluttered, warm, and welcoming. 
Some Nambu kokeshis for sale.
A group of Nambu kokeshis. One thing all Nambus have in common is the kina kina きなきな head that bobbles around, something that was originally designed for babies to teethe on. You can see a couple of heads tilted in this photo. One of of Mr. Susumago's unique additions to the kokeshi world, and for which I believe he is famous, is the unpainted kokeshi with the hat and overcoat. For some reason I used to think it represented a Catholic priest, but it's actually a doll of Mr. Miyazawa Kenji 宮沢賢治さん, a famous chidrens' book author from Hanamaki who died in 1933 at the age of 37. In fact, just up the hill from Mr. Susumago's workshop is a museum dedicated to Mr. Miyazawa and his works.
Some painted and unpainted kokeshs for sale.
Mr. Susumago explaining about Nambu kokeshis to Naoko. 
A Nambu head waiting to be joined to a Nambu body.
Bodies destined to become Miyazawa Kenji kokeshis.
Naoko, Lena, Emily and Mr. Susumago.
It was very nice to visit Mr. Susumago who is just one of two kokeshi makers remaining in Hanamaki. After saying farewell we went to the Miyazawa Kenji museum that I mentioned above, and then drove up into the mountains to our onsen where we spent the night. Yes, of course there was an onsen, and it was great! Overall I definitely recommend a  trip to Iwate and to visit Mr. Susumago's workshop, but if you go it would be best to call ahead of time so he'll know that you're coming.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gunma Kokeshi Sightings 群馬県でこけしの観測

On 21 June Naoko, the girls and I drove up into the mountains of Gunma Prefecture for a day in the country. By chance we ended up at Minakami Onsen 水上温泉, and it's a beautiful spot. Although I was not expecting this to be a kokeshi adventure, we did see some interesting things I'd like to report on in this blog. First, we discovered a kokeshi maker's shop on the main street of town. Based on the condition of the facade I would guess that the shop is permanently closed, though I can't say for sure. The craftsman, whose name neither Naoko nor I have been able to decipher, appears to be a traditional kokeshi maker, but I checked our kokeshi our handbooks (from 1993 and 2011) and the name is not in there. Here are a couple of photos of the shop. This is definitely a mystery, and if I find anything out I'll provide information.

Interestingly, when we went into Murakami's Michi no Eki 道の駅 (a chain of facilities along country roads throughout Japan that carry local produce, foods, and goods) I noticed a shelf full of kokeshis. On closer inspection I found that though they weren't exactly modern kokeshis, they also weren't traditional kokeshis either, but there's a connection. Furthermore, they are not related to the craftsman's shop mentioned above, and according to the display there is apparently another kokeshi shop in Minakami called Michinoku Kokeshi Ningyo-ten. みちのくこけし人形店. We didn't make it there, and it may not even be open any more. There were two kokeshi designs for sale: One was a kokeshi that looked similar to a traditional kokeshi, and the other was a Jizo 地蔵, one of the little stone gods seen along roads in Japan. Anyway, I thought these kokeshis were quite nice, though expensive (the Jizo kokeshis were 3,000 yen, and the "traditional" ones were 2,500 yen) so we didn't get any. Again, though, the Jizo kokeshis were really quite nice and striking, so perhaps we'll pick one up the next time we visit Minakami.  

Finally, at a highway rest stop on the way home I spotted this food product using a traditional kokeshi as its label! Kokeshis are definitely everywhere these days.