Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan 1 津軽こけし館1

There are a few kokeshi Meccas out there, and one of them has to be the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan in the hills outside of Kuroishi City in western Aomori Prefecture. First and foremost it's a museum with a fantastic collection 5,000 kokeshis, which I'll cover in the next blog. More importantly is that the Kokeshi Kan is a venue for Aomori-based artisans to sit at the lathe, demonstrate their craft, and talk to guests. In that sense Kokeshi Kan is also a cultural center. Finally, it has a fantastic gift shop that is in honor of Tsugaru and other traditional kokeshis. Naoko and I visited this place back in 1994 or so, and all I remember is a dark, stodgy, government-owned facility that merely housed the kokeshi collection. I do not recall a gift shop, nor do I remember such the bright, vibrant atmosphere that one finds at the Kokeshi Kan today. The current management has to be behind this change: They are young and innovative, and really understand what is appealing about kokeshis. This comes out in the tasteful design of the shop, and what is for sale. For more info (in Japanese of course) see the official web site: http://tsugarukokeshi.com/index.html. Next installment: A visit to the museum floor!

Exterior shot of the Kokeshi Kan, one of the Meccas for the kokeshi world. As far as I'm concerned all kokeshi enthusiasts must make the trip here at some point.
Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan memorial plaque. The building was constructed by the old National Land Agency as a local project from 1985 to 1987.
There were a number of these Tsugaru kokeshi lanterns around the Kokeshi Kan.
Naoko talking with the Kokeshi Kan's manager Mr. Yamada.
Some beautiful Tsugaru kokeshis from various makers for sale in the gift shop.
More Tsugaru kokeshis in the gift shop.
Abo family Darumas in the gift shop. What a really great design, and the primary colors make them stick out. Too bad I didn't get one, but then I could say that about a lot of kokeshis during this trip.
An explanatory display about Tsugaru kokeshis. Naoko provided the English translation a few weeks before we arrived.
Ah, the kids section. Many of these items are Tsugaru-related key chains and knicknacks. Some are kokeshi related too.
These little guys are attached to an address card and are for mailing through the Japanese postal service. I don't know if it's an old tradition, but it's a fun one.
Local Tsugaru foods -- look closely and see if there's a kokeshi on the label.
Kokeshis for sale. We managed to hold off on purchases (for the most part), instead waiting until we met the makers in their workshops.
Giant kokeshi-art mural in the Kokeshi Kan work room.
The biggest wooden kokeshi in the world standing with a giant wooden Daruma and Tsugaru kokeshi lantern. I didn't ask, but I wonder if this stayed standing after the 3-11 earthquake...
I loved this one. I don't know if this kokeshi was purposely stained orange, or it became orangish over time, but its coloring is unusual and striking.
Yep, there's one of these cut-outs for photos, and luckily the girls are always willing to become kokeshis.
I think the Kokeshi Kan exists as much to promote local kokeshi makers and the kokeshi tradition as it is a museum.  On this day master craftsman Mr. Mori Mitsuo 盛美津雄さん, a direct decendent of the originator of the Tsugaru kokeshi, was giving a demonstration. 
On the way up to the second floor and the museum is this cool kokeshi kite. Kites are a Tsugaru tradition, so it's doubly cool.

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