Monday, February 21, 2011

A Traditional Kokeshi Shop

As much as Naoko and I would prefer to visit kokeshi workshops, meet the creators, and purchase kokeshis in their native environment, we are also more than happy to visit shops that just sell them. In previous posts I have described our trips to quasi-kokeshi shops (Tokyo Kokeshi, Kokeshika) that also sell non-kokeshi items. Those were lots of fun. However, on February 19th we sought out a traditional kokeshi-only shop named Kiboko (木ぼこ) north of Machida City (町田市) near Tsurukawa (鶴川), about 15 miles southeast of our home. As with all of these trips within the Kanto Plain it took forever to get there because of the roads. Nevertheless, it was well worth our time.
These are all for sale.
"Is this a good one?"
For Americans and other foreigners who cannot read Japanese I would say going to this shop without a guide would be out of the question: Kiboko is on the first floor of a private house located in a maze-like residential area in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, we happened to notice the shop's tiny sign while driving blindly around the neighborhood. It took a few minutes for the owner to open up after we called him on the comm-link, but once inside it was truly traditional-kokeshi heaven. Basically the shop is like a small museum where everything is for sale, though the kokeshis are definitely not cheap. According to Kiboko's owner it is one of only two of its kind in Japan. There were no modern kokeshis to be seen, so I would say it is really a place for serious traditional kokeshi collectors, or those hoping to be serious collectors! The shop owner, a connoisseur himself, was a wealth of information and was happy to answer all of our questions and talk about kokeshis.
Naoko's new kokeshis. They looked her in the eye and said "buy me."
Kiboko sells both new and antique kokeshis. To the best of my knowledge the shop has representative pieces from all major traditional kokeshi types, from Naruko (鳴子) to Tsuchiyu (土湯) to Togatta (遠刈田), in all shapes and sizes. All were delightful, but one group that I found to be striking was those of a branch of the Tsugaru (津軽) type from Aomori Prefecture. The colors on these primitive-looking works are simple and earthy, and the faces are jovial and childlike. While I am not yet an expert on these things, I cannot help but think that this is the way kokeshis from Tsugaru might have looked back in the 19th century.
These are also for sale.
Naturally, since this was a kokeshi adventure we could not leave the shop without bringing something home with us. While our friends who had joined us on the adventure were able to run into the shop and quickly pick out a couple of kokeshis to send back to America as presents, we couldn't do that. Purchasing kokeshis is a process that takes time. Moreover, Naoko read somewhere that a kokeshi will look at you and tell you to buy it (maybe like a puppy in a pet store), and sure enough there was a tiny Togatta type that Naoko felt was saying "bring me home." She also found a giant Yamagata (山形) type, about 1.5 feet high, that called out to Naoko's maternal kokeshi instincts. Naturally we could have bought many more, but did not because we have decided that it would be preferable to get the kokeshis directly from the artisans up in Tohoku (northeastern Japan) when we go there later this year.

Tsugaru kokeshis. Somehow, I found these to be striking.

Yajiro (弥治郎) kokeshis.
Tsuchiyu (土湯) kokeshis. 
Antique kokeshis.


  1. I am looking for unpainted kokeshi dolls. Where can I find them in Japan? Thank you, Eveline

    1. Eveline, thank you for your message. I have seen unpainted kokeshis at a couple of workshops of traditional craftsmen -- they'll sometimes have an area for visitors to sit down and paint their own. It's not that common though. I would try contacting the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan first, since they often deal with foreigners. You might also try the Togatta Kokeshi Museum, or Naruko Kokeshi Museum. They might also be able to help you. I did see unpainted ones at the Usaburo Kokeshi factory, so you could probably buy them there too, but the shape would be modern rather than traditional (please check their web site). If you're not in Japan you might be able to find a local craftsman with a lathe and ask him to make a basic kokeshi shape which probably isn't too complicated. I hope this helps. -- Best, John