Under gray skies on Saturday, February 12th the kids, Naoko and I drove north on the Kan'etsu Highway from western Tokyo to Maebashi City in Gunma Prefecture for the 51st All Gunma Modern Kokeshi Concours (第51回全群馬近代こけしコンクール) held on the first floor of the magnificent Gunma Prefectural building. It was well worth the effort.
The Gunma kokeshi tradition is completely of the modern (近代 kindai) or creative (創作 sosaku) type, and sure enough there was not a single traditional (伝統 dento) kokeshi anywhere to be seen at the event. Complicating things further, the concours (French for "contest") had three kokeshi categories: Sosaku, Shingata (新型 new type), and Kiji Omocha (生地玩具 wooden toys). By the way, my wife Naoko tells me that purist Japanese kokeshi collectors are generally not interested in modern kokeshi dolls, which is their loss. However, I will say that at a certain point it becomes hard to say if they are really kokeshi dolls. In fact many examples at the creative kokeshis were akin to sculpture, as the artists gently brought out faces and shapes one would swear had been living in the piece of wood all along. This is simply not the same process as turning out a traditional kokeshi on a lathe.
|Tokyo Shinbun Award Creative winner: "Soaring" |
by Yasunobu Oki.
As it turns out the All Gunma Modern Kokeshi Concours is a really big deal. The Prime Minister of Japan awarded the top prize, while the Japanese Minister of Economics and Manufacturing gave out two prizes, as did the Japanese Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Other awarders were the Gunma governor, the head of the Gunma prefectural assembly, the mayors of Maebashi city and Shibukawa city, one local newspaper and six national papers, Gunma Broadcasting, and other Gunma organizations. Total awards were handed out: 19 in the Sosaku category, 15 in the Shingata category, and three in the Kiji Omocha category. The competition pieces were not for sale, though some of the artisans brought piece to sell, all at very good prices.
Without a doubt Gunma Prefecture, centering on Shibukawa, Maebashi and the surrounding area, is a serious kokeshi-producing area. While many Gunma kokeshis are produced in factories (often for sale to Japanese tourists and foreigners traveling through Narita International Airport), their creators are also fully capable of producing the kinds of exquisite works seen here that clearly expand the definition of what a kokeshi might be.
|New Type kokeshi dolls.|
|Creative kokeshi Forestry Agency Award winner: "Dance of Wind" by Kiyoshi Saito. |
|A row of Creative kokeshi dolls.|
|Gunma Assembly Chairman Creative award winner: "Warm Spring" by Chiyomatsu Kano|
|Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries New Type kokeshi award winner: "Sound of Snow" by Tatsuo Kato.|
|Shibukawa City Mayor New Type award winner: "Cherry Blossom Child" by Yoshie Okamoto.|
|Small-Medium Enterprise Agency Director Creative kokeshi award winner: "Kaoru" by Fumio Tomidokoro.|
|Observing kokeshi dolls.|
|Kokeshis for sale.|
|More kokeshis for sale.|