Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Akiu Kokeshi 秋保のこけし

Welcome to Akiu Onsen!
Just south of Sakunami Onsen (described in a previous entry) across a ridgeline lies Akiu Onsen 秋保温泉 (pronounced "A-ki-oo"), which compared to Sakunami is an enormous onsen resort area with hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and yes, kokeshis. Back in the old days (let's say 50-60 years ago) there was actually a separate category known as Akiu-type kokeshis, which today are lumped under Togatta-type kokeshis 遠刈田系こけし. In my amateur opinion Akiu kokeshis seem distinctive enough to be their own family, and apparently there are kokeshi enthusiasts who refer to them as Akiu Kokeshis, or Sendai Kokeshis, so I'm not the only one who has thought about this. The history of the categorization of traditional kokeshis is of interest to me, so I'll try to explore that in a future blog.
As for being a kokeshi adventure Akiu Onsen was, frankly, something of a dud. Of course we had just spent a couple days in Sakunami and Sendai, and had just visited the Akiu Traditional Arts Center, but compared to other kokeshi towns Akiu just doesn't have quite the same feeling. Perhaps this is because there weren't kokeshi-themed signage and manhole covers and lanterns and artwork throughout the town, though we did discover a pair of giant Akiu kokeshis leading into the onsen area. Of course all of this is pretty subjective, so by all means go and visit Akiu and see for yourself.
Beautiful craftsmanship.
While there we did manage to visit one kokeshi maker's shop, that of Mr. Sato Takeshi 佐藤武志さん who let us mill around taking pictures. We spent about 25 minutes in the shop and admired his amazing skill at making small kokeshis and tiny wooden toys. Mr. Sato is true master craftsman, and his ability to add wooden rings around his kokeshis was most impressive. However, there were no standard-sized kokeshis for sale apart from some older faded ones, so we bought a couple of his tiny pieces and were on our way. After that we tried visiting another kokeshi workshop that we had seen along the way, but unfortunately it was closed. That was OK though since it was getting late. We simply hit the road and drove back to Tokyo.
Even if Akiu Onsen was something of a disappointment, overall our Sakunami-Sendai-Akiu adventure was first class, and we came back with a nice haul of kokeshis and wonderful memories of that beautiful area. Best of all was meeting more kokeshi makers whose dedication to their craft makes our adventures possible!

Kokeshi shop -- closed.

Hey, a kokeshi sign! But the shop was closed.

Mr. Sato's shop. The sign says "Akiu Kokeshi." See, there is such a thing as an Akiu kokeshi.
Inside Mr. Sato's shop.
While not exactly kokeshis, these were very clever.
Mr. Sato's miniature collection. These were amazing.
An Akiu Kokeshi with wooden rings. The rings cannot be removed and are created as part of the lathing process. So, how does he do the painting under the rings?
We bought one of these little guys. It's tiny, but it's a traditional Akiu Kokeshi -- the only one in our collection.
These were actually kokeshi nesting dolls. As I recall, about 20,000 yen each.

I'm not sure I like this, but it is innovative.

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