Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kokeshis and an Earthquake

Just after the earthquake. It could have been worse.
Traditional kokeshis are, by design, top heavy. Not that kokeshi makers necessarily produce them to be top heavy, but with their typically large round heads (the center of gravity) and long, thin cylindrical bodies, even on a normal day these things topple over pretty easily. As the world knows, on 11 March 2011 Tokyo and all of northern Honshu island suffered a massive earthquake. Locally we felt it as a strong five (Japanese scale), which made our 9-story apartment building wobble like it was made out of rubber. It was absolutely amazing! A few of our kokeshi dolls fell over, though Naoko -- true kokeshi enthusiast that she is -- had the presence of mind to lay a couple of the big ones down before they had a chance to fall. We can only imagine what the kokeshi makers' workshops up in Tohoku looked like after the shaking stopped. After all, Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures, hardest hit by the quake, are the heart of the traditional kokeshi world. It turns out, though, that toppled kokeshis haven't been their biggest problem. Apart from the incessant aftershocks that have made fine detail work difficult tourism to that part of Japan has understandably dried up, and since kokeshi makers are very reliant on tourists for their trade times are definitely tough. Naoko follows a number of Japanese blogs about traditional kokeshis, and along with their fellow countrymen the craftsmen are keeping a stiff upper lip. Nonetheless, this must be an extremely difficult time for them.  
Naoko assisted some of these into their down position before we left the building.