Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Akita Kokeshi 秋田のこけし

Farewell Kokeshi Kan!
Ok, now back to our summer 2011 Kokeshi Adventure. On June 26th, our sixth day up north, we bid a fond farewell to Nuruyu Onsen, but not before making a stop at the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan to say a final goodbye to the staff. They were so welcoming and kind -- the people of Tohoku are like that in general. While at the Kokeshi Kan we met master Tsugaru kokeshi craftsman Mr. Kon Akira 今晃さん, and Naoko had a chance to chat with him a bit. His kokeshi painting style is, in a word, primitive, but his lathing work is exquisite. According to Naoko many other kokeshi makers really admire his ability and style.
Mr. Kon Akira working on the lathe.

Three pieces by Mr. Kon. The unpainted ones show his word working style.
We snapped this shot while driving out of the Nuruyu Onsen area.
Torrential rains and swollen rivers in Akita.
Our next destination was Akita Prefecture 秋田県 where we hoped to find the kokeshi workshop of Mr. Takahashi Yuji 高橋雄司さん. It rained pretty hard for most of the drive, in stark contrast to the blue skies we had had up in Aomori. After a couple hours driving south through the central part of the Honshu we finally discovered Mr. Takashi's workshop, which like most kokeshi makers, is also his house. Naoko had called on her cell phone so Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi were expecting us. They invited us in to their living room where we sat around a large floor table chatting and playing with small tops that Mr. Takahashi had made. They also served some snack, one of which looked just like makizushi (rice wrapped in seaweed), but lo and behold it was actually noodles that had been wrapped in seaweed and cut just like sushi. I had never seen that before, but that's apparently what they do in this part of Akita. Delicious!  
Akita farmland after the deluge. Beautiful.
This sign out front was the only indication that we had found the place: Yuji Kokeshi.
Mr. Takahashi showed us his surprisingly spacious workshop, tools, and wood supplies, and then we spent some time examining his kokeshis that were for sale. Kijiyama kokeshis are fairly unique in that the head and body are lathed from one piece of wood, and also that they tend to wear "clothing" rather than being painted with stripes or floral patterns. In that sense Kijiyamas tend to look much more doll-like than their cousins from other kokeshi schools.
The quality of Mr. Takahashi's kokeshis is readily apparent.
There's some variety among Kijiyama kokeshis, though the kimono style is dominant.
This perspective makes it hard to tell that these kokeshis are rather large but squat --  very appealing!
A selection of very nice Takashi kokeshis.
Mr. Takashashi showing us the variety of his work.
Mr. Takashashi in his workshop.
Mr. Takahashi gave us the full tour of his workshop, including a large supply of rough timber that will eventually become Kijiyama kokeshis.
Partially prepared wood.

Specialized kokeshi tools.
A well-used lathe that's undoubtedly turned out thousands of kokeshis. 
After a nice time and a purchase of different sized (small, medium, large) Kijiyama kokeshis we bid a fond farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Takahashi. We found our inn located in the onsen town of Yuzawa 湯沢温泉, located in central Akita in the middle of nowhere. It might seem as though there could be no such thing in Japan, but look for it on a map and you'll understand. Our hotel, a relic from the 1960s, was just ok, as was its onsen of which I can barely remember a thing. Oh well. Frankly, this place was a letdown after the spectacular Aomori leg of our vacation, and the rain didn't help either. Interestingly, our hotel was also home to a number of refugees from the 3-11 disaster, and we saw some kids running around who had likely been forced from their home just a few months prior. Meanwhile, our next stop was going to be Yamagata -- how would that be I wondered? Well, I'll discuss that in an upcoming blog as our kokeshi adventures continue! 
Oh, one more thing to mention. As we were driving back from the Takahashi's we saw this kokeshi workshop which shows that Yuzawa is something of a kokeshi area.  It was getting late but Naoko went up and knocked on the door. No answer. A failed kokeshi adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Kijiyama style kokeshi are my very favorite! I would love to see this artist's work. Thank you for sharing your images.