Saturday, September 17, 2011

National Kokeshi Festival Part 1 全国こけし祭りパート1

Four of my favorite things in Japan are 1) Tohoku (Northeastern Honshu), 2) Onsens (Hot Baths), 3) Kokeshis, and 4) Festivals. Putting those together would be nearly bliss I think, which brings me to the September 3-4 National Kokeshi Festival at Naruko Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture. While I still owe a couple of blogs about our big summer Aomori trip, I do need to discuss this festival while it's still somewhat fresh.
Naoko, Naoko's mother, the girls and I departed Tokyo at about 5:30 am, got on the Tohoku Expressway, and were in the Naruko area (a spectacular river valley northwest of Sendai) before lunch. Naruko, for those who don't know, is not just an onsen town: It is also a kokeshi town. That's right, a kokeshi town (!) where currently about 25 different craftsmen live and make traditional kokeshis of the Naruko type (鳴子系). If there is a Mecca for the kokeshi world Naruko is probably it, simply because of the sheer number of kokeshi makers who live there, and the fact that the area's identity is wrapped up as much with kokeshis as it is with hot baths. And that's saying a lot since Naruko is considered to be one of Japan's top onsen towns. To have a kokeshi festival there is truly icing on the cake.
Naruko-type kokeshis.
As one approaches Naruko by car the kokeshi connection is evident everywhere, and like beacons in the night those monuments of kokeshi-dom guide the wary traveller to his or her destination. Honestly, just the spectacle of those kokeshi signs and giant kokeshis along the way was probably worth the trip.
See our photos of the drive leading into the town, and I'll continue in the next blog with an overview of the festival.

Entering the town. 
I wish I had needed to make a phone call...

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