Monday, March 7, 2011

Kijidokoro Sato Kokeshi 木地処さとうこけし

Welcome to Iwaki
On the weeked of 5-6 March we drove north to Fukushima Prefecture (福島県) in southernmost Tohoku, the land of kokeshis! Our quest was the Kijidokoro Sato Kokeshi (木地処さとうこけし) studio and workshop in Iwaki City (いわき市), an old coal mining area and port on the Pacific Ocean.
Because we expected a long drive we were on the road by 7:30 am, picked up my father-in-law on the way, and got on the Joban Highway (常磐高速道路) by about 9:15 am. Yes, it took over 1.5 hours to actually get to the highway -- that's Tokyo city driving for you. In absolutely perfect weather we headed north from the Oizumi Interchange, encountering some light traffic at first, and were at the Iwaki exit by about 11:30. It took about another thirty minutes to find the kokeshi workshop which was a house located in a semi-residential, semi-agricultural area in the city suburbs. Note: Non-Japanese beware. This is another place that would be impossible to find without Japanese-language reading ability.
Giant kokeshis. Much to everyone's horror I knocked over the one on the right. Fortunately, no harm done!
The workshop as seen from the street.
Crafting kokeshis.
Kijidokoro Kokeshi is a branch of the Fukushima Prefecture traditional kokeshi style called Yajiro (弥治郎), named after the Yajiro Onsen (hot spring) area in the north Fukushima mountains. The Sato family, the proprietors, are part of a Yajiro kokeshi-making familial line on Mrs. Sato's side. Even though they are no longer making their kokeshis in Yajiro there is no doubt that Kijidokoro is part of that tradition, though perhaps they might be called the Iwaki branch. Yajiro kokeshis are typically identified by the concentric circles on the top of the head, which in the case the Kichidokoro ones. They also tend to have very whimsical faces that are surprisingly different from other kokeshi types.
As with other kokeshi workshops we have visited, there was a chance to watch kokeshis being made, and on this day one of the sons was at the lathe making kokeshi bodies. Mr. and Mrs. Sato also make kokeshis, as does their other son. It is always fun to see kokeshis being born, as it were.
In the studio.
The Kijidokoro Kokeshi studio is really just the Sato's living room, which makes it nice and homey.
We were welcomed right in for some tea and cookies, to talk kokeshis, and to see what they had to offer. Dozens of nicely arranged kokeshis adorned the studio, organized by whichever family member had made them. Once again we were overwhelmed by the choices offered, especially since each was so beautiful. The Satos make a wide variety of kekeshi sizes, from the absolutely tiny to enormous. I liked the huge ones (about 1.5 feet high), but at 35,000 yen each I'll have to save my money.

Tiny kokeshis.
Kokeshi kendamas.
Naoko was drawn to the diminutive kokeshis, which Mr. Sato sells as small boxed sets for 5,000 yen. They also make the tiny ones into Japanese seals, which according to Mr. Sato have been very popular. Anyway, one can see just how small they are in the picture above, dwarfed as they are by a Han Solo Battle of Hoth action figure. Those are all hand-lathed and hand-painted. Exquisite! The Satos also make and sell wooden toys (tops, kendama), and kokeshi-themed items such as cell-phone straps and magnets. Overall nothing was cheap, but these are hand-made crafts from Japan so that is to be expected.
Standard kokeshis that are now part of our collection.
Besides a box of three tiny kokeshis, we bought three standard-sized ones that are good examples of what the Satos produce. The photo clearly shows the head rings that identify a Yajiro kokeshi, but I would like to think that these are, at least in some small way, unique to Iwaki.
Telltale concentric rings of a Yajiro kokeshi.
In sum, our kokeshi aventures continue!

Small, but not the tiniest. 
Freshly painted kokeshis that will become seals.