Before continuing with the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan, I need to mention the Nuruyu Onsen 温湯温泉 section of Kuroishi City 黒石市 where the Kokeshi Kan is located, and where a number of kokeshi makers are have their workshops. Nuruyu's identity is connected with kokeshis, though not to the extreme of places like Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 (see my blog posts from October and November). Because the goal of our big adventure was meeting kokeshi makers we spent one night at an old inn located in Nuruyu Onsen. It had its own onsen (hot spring bath), and considering the age of the building I would guess we had the same experience that travellers to Nuruyu have had for many decades. Would I recommend the place? Sure. In fact most Americans and other foreigners would undoubtedly feel like they were having a very Japanese experience. Naturally there were of kokeshi-themed signs here and there, though we did not see any shops selling kokeshis, nor did we find any kokeshi workshops. We were pretty close to the home of kokeshi craftsman Ms. Yamaya Rei 山谷レイさん, but decided not to bother her since she didn't have a shop sign on her house. We did find some of Ms. Yamaya's kokeshis at the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan (see upcoming blog), but it would have been nice to meet her. We only stayed one night, and the next morning we went to the public onsen across the street from our inn. It was fantastic (did I mention I love onsens about as much as I love kokeshis?), though the water was close to being unbearably hot. Interestingly, there were a couple of older local men in there with me, and while my Japanese is pretty good I honestly could not understand a thing they were saying since they were speaking in the Tsugaru dialect 津軽弁. Until that moment I did not realize how different it is from standard Japanese. And one other thing about Nuruyu and other onsen towns: The people in these areas have amazingly healthy looking skin, no matter what their age, which I attribute to spending a lot of time in onsens. Our younger daughter has eczema, and we noticed that by the end of this kokeshi adventure (that was equally an "onsen adventure") her eczema had cleared up entirely. Although this is anecdotal, it does suggest that hot spring water is indeed good for human skin.
|The gate you go through when entering the Nuruyu Onsen area. For those who don't know, an onsen can either be a single hot bath, or a larger area with multiple hot baths.|
|We stayed in this old inn called Izuka Ryokan 飯塚旅館.|
|The public onsen in the middle of town. It's a beautiful brand new building with near-scalding hot water coming right out of the ground, necessary for surviving the harsh winters in western Aomori Prefecture.|
There were signs of kokeshi heritage around Nuruyu Onsen. The restaurant where we ate dinner listed its menu on kokeshi-shaped boards hanging on the wall, a local barber shop had a nice kokeshi-shaped shop sign, and by the river was a large modern sculpture that could be nothing other than a kokeshi. The best bit of kokeshi-ness was located in a nearby park -- a massive Tsuguru kokeshi slide! The identity of this area is undeniably intertwined with kokeshis.
|This meaning of this kokeshi sign says "Jumping out caution"; i.e., "Watch out for children."|
|A barber shop in Nuruyu.|
|The bridge leading to the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan had this marvelous Tsuguru-type kokeshi bust on it.|
|Kokeshi sculpture on a path along the river.|
|A beautiful park near Nuruyu Onsen. A giant kokeshi slide dominates the playground area.|
Sitting right next to the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan is the Tsugaru Densho Kogei Kan 津軽伝承工芸館, a place for local artisans (crafts and food) to make and sell their wares. I highly recommend it as part of a trip to the Kokeshi Kan, if nothing else for the free ashiyu 足湯 (foot hot bath), but also for the human-sized kokeshi lanterns decorating the facility. The lanterns are lit up at night, and look especially charming in snow.
|Another kokeshi lantern.|
|The foot bath, the hot water from which flows throughout the facility creating a nice atmosphere.|
|These nice hanging things (maybe also lanterns) reminded me of pinatas. But who would want to smash something like this, even if it was filled with candy?|
|A good view of some kokeshi lanterns at the Tsugaru Densho Kogei Kan.|