Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Different Kokeshi ちょっと変わったこけし

Naoko is a big fan of darker woods used for making kokeshis, so when she saw the subject of this blog during her trip to Japan this summer I guess she couldn't help herself. In this beautiful piece by Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系こけし master craftsman Sato Masahiro 佐藤正廣さん of Sendai the doll appears to be emerging from a raw piece of wood for a stunning effect. It's almost as though the kokeshi was inside the log just waiting to be released!  
The wood Mr. Sato used is called Ichi'izai 一位材, or Japanese Yew, a kind of evergreen tree native to Japan and northeastern Asia. It has a very interesting grain that Mr. Sato has worked into the kokeshi's design.
This view shows the upper back half of the doll. You can see that Mr. Sato took the time to paint a flower design here, which is an unusual but welcome touch.
Here's a close up of the side showing the grain.
The face is classic Togatta.
Finally we get to the underside of the kokeshi where we can see how nice the woodgrain is. From this view it also looks as though Mr. Sato may have used a stain to give the wood its sheen. I've never seen that before. The bottom characters say "Masahiro," while the darker characters say "Ichi'izai" which is of course the wood used to make this kokeshi.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A New Yajiro Kokeshi 新しい弥次郎こけし

Getting back to the group of kokeshis Naoko picked up while in Japan this summer, today I am looking at a beautiful Yajiro kokeshi 弥次郎こけし by Ms. Niiyama Mayumi 新山真由美さん of Shiroishi City in southern Miyagi Prefecture. In many respects this is a perfect kokeshi, from the use of colors to the balance of the face, the striping, and so forth while the squarish head balances with the body perfectly. It's somewhat small -- about the size of a Star Wars action figure -- and is just so pleasant. Enjoy the photos!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Togatta Kokeshi Event in Sugamo Part 2 巣鴨で遠刈田系伝統こけし製作実演 2

Continuing from my previous post about the Togatta Kokeshi event in Sugamo that Naoko and Emily attended back in early July 2016, here are some more photos showing the main display table. So many wonderful pieces available, and they really show how beautiful Togatta kokeshis can be.
Togatta kokeshis from large to small.
Kokeshi goods.
A kokeshi craftsman demonstrating the art of kokeshi making.
An area where kids could try out traditional Japanese toys.
The area where you could make your own kokeshi (1,000 yen).
Another view of the venue.
According to Naoko this was an excellent kokeshi event, and it's pretty obvious from the photos that there was a lot to see and do even though it was not held up in northeastern Japan, the home of traditional kokeshis. I can't wait to get back to Japan so we can go to these sorts of events all the time.

Togatta Kokeshi Event in Sugamo 巣鴨で遠刈田系伝統こけし製作実演

A few posts ago I stated with absolute certainty that Naoko only made it to one kokeshi event during her Japan trip this summer. Well, I had forgotten about the other kokeshi event that she went to; a big Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系こけし event held at the Koganji Temple in the Sugamo section of downtown Tokyo from 1-5 July 2016. Naoko and our daughter Emily went on 2 July and had a great time. By the way Koganji holds two annual kokeshi events (July and November), so if you're going to be in Tokyo in the future please check to see if something is happening there.
The entrance to the Sugamo shopping street.
Below is the first set of photos from that event, and as you can see it was pretty awesome -- lots of kokeshis and guests in a beautiful venue in a fun part of the city. Naoko got our two new wooden Daruma dolls at this event (discussed in a previous blog), plus an ejiko kokeshi by Ogasawara Yoshio and a unique half branch, half kokeshi (if I could describe it that way) by Sato Masahiro. I'll discuss these new purchases in a couple of upcoming blog entries.
Event poster.
The entrance into the venue -- pretty obvious that it's a kokeshi event.
Giant kokeshi lanterns. I love these things!
The event was obviously well attended.

More to come!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

NHK Kokeshi Show On Line NHKこけし番組オンライン

Before I get back to the kokeshis that Naoko found this summer, I wanted to alert readers of this blog that NHK World has posted a fantastic 30-minute travel show called "J-Trip Plan" about visiting Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 in Miyagi Prefecture. I have often discussed Naruko and its amazing kokeshi culture, and J-Trip Plan presents it very nicely. Please click here to go to the NHK World site where you can see the program in its entirety. During the first ten minutes or so the announcers discuss hydrangea viewing in Kamakura during the rainy season (also interesting), but the rest of the show is devoted to Naruko, including a stop at the National Kokeshi Museum, a bath in an onsen (hot bath), kokeshi making, and buying kokeshis and kokeshi-themed gifts. Of course after you watch this program you will need to fly to Japan and see this place in person. Here are a couple of screen captures from the show which I hope will wet your appetite for a fantastic future kokeshi adventure!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Darumas 達磨

As many readers may know, traditional kokeshi makers often make Daruma heads. Like kokeshis, there is an infinite variety of Daruma designs, shapes and sizes. Naoko picked up two splendid pieces while in Japan, both by a relatively new craftsman named Kan'ichi-san from Sendai City whose last name we do not know. We do know that he is the student of Mr. Sato Masahiro, and in fact we met him at Mr. Sato's workshop a few years ago when he was probably still in the early stages of his training. When I track down his family name I'll update this blog.
The first piece I would like to discuss is a cylindrical Daruma with a red nose, slightly crossed eyes, and a faint smile. The real Buddhist monk Bodhidharma ("Daruma" in Japan), founder of Zen Buddhism, is normally depicted wearing a red cape and sporting a bushy beard. In this case Kan'ichi-san has heavily stylized the beard by using a thick black line. Overall this is very appealing, and like a kokeshi that expresses so much with one or two pieces of lathed wood and painted lines, the effect here is similar. The size is about three inches high.
The bottom of the Daruma with Kan'ichi's signature.
The second Daruma by Kan'ichi is this little fellow below, and the effect is completely different than the one above. It's quite tiny -- about one inch -- and the face is extremely expressive. For this piece Kan'ichi made the face less stylistic and more realistic, and the grumpy appearance is simple and appealing. Remember that the craftsman is painting onto a curved wooden surface using a fine brush, which must be tricky.

The bottom of the smaller Daruma. Kan'ichi-san wrote just "Ka" rather than his whole name.
Below are the two Darumas together so you can compare not just the size difference, but also Kan'ichi-san's approach to doing the faces, beards, eyebrows, noses and mustaches.  
As noted above, there is a huge variety of Daruma styles in Japan, not just among those created by kokeshi makers but also among the traditional paper-mache Darumas that are so famous. Kan'ichi-san's work is a nice addition to that tradition.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Black and White Tsuchiyu Kokeshi

The second of the nine new kokeshis that Naoko collected during her summer trip to Japan is this beautiful Tsuchiyu kokeshi 土湯系こけし by Mr. Abe Kunitoshi 阿部国 from Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture. We went to Tsuchiyu a couple of months after the March 2011 earthquake disaster and visited Mr. Abe's shop, but he wasn't in that day.
This kokeshi is 4 and 7/8ths inches high and is the first black and white (or really, black and wood) one that I believe I've seen. It has a light coating of wax to protect the paint, and it is a perfect example of a Tsuchiyu face, body design, and striping. If you look closely at the stripes on the body you'll notice some waves, and as I recall Tsuchiyu craftsmen create that effect by quickly forwarding and reversing the lathe as it spins. 
This top-down shot shows the circle pattern on the crown, the hair on the forehead, and a very nice floral pattern that bridges those elements nicely.
Tsuchiyu kokeshis tend to have a U-shaped nose, and Mr. Abe uses a noncommittal expression that I find appealing.
And finally here's Mr. Abe's very stylized signature on the bottom-- I must admit that it is completely indecipherable to me!