Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kokeshi Books

Evans and Wolf's book -- a work of art.
In Japan, it seems, a topic's popularity is commensurate with the number of books available at the bookstore about said topic. For instance, bookstores in this country are full of volumes on pottery, railroads, architecture, cooking, plants, bugs, hiking, mountains, and so forth. The fact that there are almost no books available on kokeshis sadly reveals a general lack of interest in this wonderful craft. However, there are some available if one knows where to look. For books in English, there is only one that I am aware of: A relatively new book (2005) from the United States that's still available entitled Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan by Michael Evans and Robert Wolf. I got mine new on eBay a few years ago and it's been well worth it. For English-speaking enthusiasts this beautiful work is a must have, as it covers both traditional and creative/modern kokeshis. I think it's fair to say that this is THE foundational work on kokehsis in English, although there is definitely room for more detailed works in the future.

A page from Evans and Wolf.

Another page from Evans and Wolf.
The Japanese-language book on kokeshis that everyone ought to have -- Japanese and foreigners alike -- is Cochae's (A collaborative name) work from 2008 entitled こけし (Kokeshi) in Japanese, or Kokeshi Book in English. The book covers the eleven traditional kokeshi families from Tohoku, as well as ephemera and kokeshi goods. No modern kokeshis here! Alas, for those who don't read Japanese there is little English in it, but then, why not use it to practice reading Japanese? The book's photography, design, and eye for humor will be evident to everyone, and in fact it's as much a book on design and color as it is about kokeshis. Tellingly, when I've seen this work in bookstores it's been in the graphic design section rather than in the art or traditional crafts sections. Kokeshi Book is a must have for anyone interested in kokeshis, and for only 1,680 yen it's a bargain.
Cover of Kokeshi Book. That's a Tsugaru kokeshi on the cover by the way.
A random page from Kokeshi Book. Most photos focus on the intrinsic whimsicalness of traditional kokeshis.
As one's kokeshi connoisseurship develops, so too does the need for more detailed information about these colorful wooden dolls. I found this one -- Traditional Arts: Tohoku Kokeshi (伝統工芸東北のこけし) by Mr. Takai Satoshi (高井佐寿) at an online used bookstore for about 3,000 yen, though its cover price is 5,000 yen. Even though it came out in 2009 it's already out of print, but I think copies are still available in Japan. There are 140 color pages, and if your goal is to just stare at page after page of different kokeshis this book is for you. It's especially useful for learning to identity the different kokeshi makers' styles.

Traditional Arts: Tohoku Kokeshi cover.
Random pages from the book.
Close up of a page from Traditional Arts: Tohoku Kokeshi. 
Anyone who has read other posts on this blog knows that Naoko and I get a great deal of pleasure out of visiting kokeshi makers at their workshops -- that's the adventure part. The following two books are fantastic handbooks for helping to find out precisely where those workshops are located. I suppose the downside to these books has been finding that many of the kokeshi makers up in Tohoku are in their 80s or more, and possibly have already gone on to the next world. But still, these books should be very useful for anyone embarking on a serious kokeshi adventure!

Newest Record of Kokeshi Makers, 2003. A friend loaned this to us -- I don't know if it's still available.
A page from Newest Record of Kokeshi Makers.
A True Record of Kokeshi Makers, 2005. Also on loan to us. We'll have to get our own copy.
A page from A True Record of Kokeshi Makers. 

1 comment:

  1. I purchased the first book you discussed and had a delightful email exchange with one of the authors. He told me to buy every kokeshi I could! Especially the older ones.

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