Friday, January 20, 2012

New Year's Kokeshis 新年のこけし

Happy New Year fellow kokeshi enthusiasts! While I struggle to finish the long, drawn out tale of our summer 2011 grand kokeshi adventure I have decided to throw in a bit about our kokeshi new year. On 15 January 2012 we headed to Mt Akagi 赤城山 in Gunma Prefecture 群馬県, just north of Maebashi City 前橋市. As some of you may know Gunma is the center of Japan's modern kokeshi 近代こけし world, but as a result of the March 11th disaster one traditional kokeshi-making family has become part of the Gunma kokeshi scene: The Sato family (Seito-san, Mikiko-san, Hideyuki-san, and Yusuke-san) from Iwaki City いわき市 in southern Fukushima Prefecture was forced to relocate to Akagi because of the on-going aftershocks. We visited the Sato's just six days before the disaster (see blog from March 2011), and have watched their situation with concern and interest. Despite adversity they have managed to continue their art, and it has been a pleasure visiting them up in Gunma from time to time. During our trip to Mt. Akagi the other day we bought the two Sato pieces shown in the photo below and Naoko called them "Hatsu kokeshi" 初こけし, or "First kokeshi of the New Year." I loved that! So yes, these two Satos are our first kokeshis of the new year. I think "Hatsu kokeshi" will become a tradition.
Our "First Kokeshis" of the new year. The one on the left is by Seiko-san, and the one on the left is by Hideyuki-san. As you can see the quality of the craftsmanship, from the paint to the lathing to the finish, is exquisite. The time on Mt. Akagi has influenced Hideyuki's art -- the flower on his kokeshi is a local flower found around his home on Mt. Akagi.
Although not connected to New Year's, while I'm talking about the Sato family I did want to mention this amazing piece of artwork that we asked Mr. Sato Seito 佐藤誠孝さん to make for us. It's about one meter high by about 30 centimeters, and as you can see is just wonderful; a sort of 2-D kokeshi. There is a sub-category of kokeshi art such as this that I'll have to cover in a future post.
Meanwhile, since I'm talking about the new year I can't pass up a chance to talk about a couple of New Year's kokeshis that Naoko pulled out for display recently. The first is a Shishi-mai 獅子舞 (lion dance) kokeshi, made by Tsugura kokeshi craftsman Mr. Hasegawa Kenzo 長谷川健三さん of Hirosaki City. We met him and his son at the Hirosaki Neputa Kan 弘前ねぷた館 last summer, and this was easily his most unique creation. Is it really a kokeshi? I don't know, but it makes a nice New Year's decoration.
Naoko got this Shishi-mai at the Hirosaki Neputa Kan in Hirosaki, and it has a surprise...
Voila! The head is a top, the body is hollow, and inside is a small ejiko えじこ kokeshi.
But wait, there's more! Mr. Hasegawa hollowed out the head and put in two tiny tops. Remember, this is all hand-crafted.
This is also a New Year's kokeshi made by Mr. Suzuki Akira 鈴木明さん of Akiu Onsen 秋保温泉 in the hills outside Sendai (I'll talk more about that trip in an upcoming blog). This small piece (about one inch) really blurs the line between a modern and traditional kokeshi, though Mr. Suzuki was careful to keep the face traditional.

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