Monday, February 14, 2011

Tokyo kokeshi dolls? Yes!


Mr. Kuninobu Okura in his Hachioji workshop.
The kokeshi tradition is firmly rooted in the six prefectures of northeastern Japan, called Tohoku (東北) in Japanese. There is also a strong, though more recent, kokeshi-making tradition in Gunma prefecture and a few other places. However, apart from a vague mention that Naoko found on line, we have never seen a printed reference, in Japanese or English, talking about a Tokyo kokeshi tradition. Intrigued by the on-line mention of "Tokyo kokeshis," on February 7th Naoko, daughter Emily and I decided to seek out a kokeshi maker located in the western Tokyo city of Hachioji (八王子). 
Turning a Tokyo kokeshi.
The Tokyo Kokeshi workshop lies about 14km south of our home, and after some complicated twists and turns typical of the western Tokyo road system, we finally found it tucked away on a residential Hachioji street. As can be seen in the photos, Mr. Kuninobu Okura has a small workshop consisting of a lathe and pieces of wood. Logically, he heats his shop with an old-fashioned wood burning stove that was nearly red hot! Mr. Okura welcomed us in, explained his kokeshi style, and then showed and how he makes his dolls by quickly creating one on his lathe in just a couple of minutes. The Tokyo kokeshis that Mr. Okura makes are definitely unique, and are turned from a single piece of wood rather than the typical head and body construction of traditional kokeshis. The head is either round like a ball, or else tiny with a huge bulb of hair (?) on top. The neck is very thin, while the body is vase-shaped and balances out the head. The most interesting part is probably the signature "necklace" that Mr. Okura makes while trimming down the neck and upper torso. As he explains in his English-language pamphlet, "The necklace or ring called "wa" (輪) in Japanese, is to symbolize happiness "shiawase" (幸せ), using the same sound." Pretty cool.
Tokyo Kokeshi shop in Hachioji.
Tokyo Kokeshi interior.
Tokyo Kokeshi signboard.
Mr. Okura does not sell his kokeshis out of his workshop. Rather, he and his wife have a small shop called -- what else? -- "Tokyo kokeshi" (東京こけし) a few blocks away selling their own Tokyo kokeshis, traditional wooden Japanese toys from northeastern Japan, a variety of Japanese traditional wooden tops (こま), and some imported items from Asia. Mrs. Okura paints the kokeshis with various flower patterns, and they are really quite simple and pleasing. Notably, the style is raw wood without varnish. We bought a round-headed one painted with a wisteria for 1,050 yen, as well as tops for the kids, and a delightful traditional Daruma wooden toy for Naoko. Another successful Kokeshi Adventure!
Tokyo kokeshis. Note the tops in the background. Mr. Okura make those too.
Tokyo kokeshis -- variety. We bought the fourth one from the left.

6 comments:

  1. I hope you don't mind but can you advise me of where to go for Kokeshis in Tokyo? I've tried googling the bookstore you did an interview in that you mentioned in an older post but can't find it. Do you have the address?

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    1. Lixie,
      Thank you for your message and sorry for the delay in responding. It depends on what kind of kokeshis you're looking for. If you like modern ones, which is how I would categorize Mr. Okura's kokeshis, then you have a lot of options as modern (kindai) kokeshis can be found at many souvenir shops around the city (I know that's not a specific location), and even at Narita Airport. However, if you live in Tokyo then why not make a day trip to Gunma and visit the Usabaro factory and shop up on Mt. Akagi? Or the Fujikawa workshop in the same area? Gunma's only an hour by express train out of Tokyo, or a 90-minute drive. As for traditional kokeshis from northeastern Japan (Tohoku), I've been seeing them available more and more recently at "Japan" stores where the shop sells traditional Japanese goods. For instance, there are a couple of shops like that with kokeshis in the shopping area in the Kichijoji JR/Keio train station. If you don't mind buying used kokeshis, I have heard you can find them at weekend flea markets in the city, though I don't have any recommendations for you. In Kanda there's Hiyane ひやね, which is on the second floor of a bookstore (I wrote about this in a blog a couple years ago). It's open Monday-Saturday from 11 am to 7 pm, and the shop has a great selection of antique traditional kokeshis. I think you could find Hiyane fairly easily from the Kanda train station. There's also Kokeshika コケーシカ in Kamakura located fairly close to the Great Buddha -- an easy train trip from Tokyo, though I don't recommend driving. Another shop is Tsudoi つどい in Meguro (which I've never been to), and finally there's Kiboko 木ぼこ in Machida City (in Tokyo) which I highly recommend. However, you would have to drive and it's hard to find. However, this shop would be well worth your time. You know, I'm thinking that I should do a blog entry based on what I've just told you!
      Good luck, and please let me know if you need more details.
      Best,
      John

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  2. Dear John,

    Could you please tell me the address of Mr Okura's workshop and shop? Also if you wouldn't mind, the nearest train station?

    Many thanks,

    Ann

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    1. Ann, my apologies for the long delay in responding to your query -- I've been away from the blog for a few months. We went to Tokyo Kokeshi more than four years ago and I hope it's still in business. Here's what I believe is the address, or at least close by: 〒192-0066 東京都八王子市本町2-11-12
      Just drop it into your navi or phone, or show it to a cab driver and you should be in luck. Also, the full name of the shop is Tokyo Kokeshi Hapinesuringu 東京こけしハピネスリング. Have fun!
      Best,
      John

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  3. Do you know if there is any way to order from this shop by phone or online? I think his kokeshi are very unique and beautiful and I'd love to have one! I live in Japan, but nowhere near Tokyo, unfortunately. Thanks!!

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    1. Hi Brandon, and please pardon the long delay in getting back to you. I was out of the country for a few months when you wrote and lost track of the blog -- hopefully not too late. As you can see in the date of the post we went to the shop a few years ago so I know nothing about its current status. I think you will need to call, or if push comes to shove, write a letter via Japanese mail. You could also try contacting the Hachioji Chamber of Commerce. Sorry I'm not able to be of more help.
      Best,
      John

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