Saturday, April 21, 2012

Togatta Onsen 遠刈田温泉

Mt Zao. And look what else!
Well, we did it again! From 8-11 April Naoko, the girls, and I headed back up north to the Sendai area in order to get away from Tokyo and have another kokeshi adventure. It was loads of fun, and of course we picked up loads of kokeshis. I'll provide specifics about the trip and what we saw in some upcoming blog entries, with today just focusing on our arrival.
Since Sendai is about a 5.5-hour drive from our home we got up quite early Sunday morning in order to hit the open road before everyone else did. That tactic worked and we made good time on the Tohoku Expressway. Our first goal was Togatta Onsen 遠刈田温泉, which kokeshi scholars believe might be the birthplace of traditional kokeshis. Whether or not that is true Togatta is indeed a true kokeshi town like Naruko Onsen, and it's a must-visit location for any kokeshi enthusiast. Togatta, at 330 meters above sea level is part-way up to Mt. Zao 蔵王山, a major ski resort on the border between Miyagi Yamagata Prefectures. We had spectacular views of the mountain the whole time we were there, which made the trip that much better. As with previous trips, our goal was to find nice onsens as well as kokeshi makers. We stayed on the ninth floor of a huge Daiwa resort hotel which had reasonable rates, WiFi in the room, and a fantastic view of Mt. Zao. It also had a nice onsen in the basement, which felt great after our long drive. The only downside to staying in the Togatta area is that it's right on the edge of the northern reaches of the Fukushima Power Plant radiation disaster. That is, if someone were to pull out a Geiger counter in this area he might get some readings above background. As we all know low-level radiation like that is pretty harmless, but it didn't make me feel any better when a man we chatted with said he wouldn't recommend eating the mushrooms from local farmers. Therefore, I was a bit wary of the kids touching things the whole time we were in the area.
Togatta's kokeshi bridge.
Nevertheless, we kept a stiff upper lip and carried on with our kokeshi adventure, passing over the town's kokeshi bridge (see photo) and immediately stopping at a shop simply called Traditional Kokeshis 伝統こけし. It was not a kokeshi maker's shop, but rather a shop selling all kinds of traditional kokeshis owned by a fellow enthusiast so it was filled with fanatstic examples of kokeshis from throughout Tohoku. While Naoko examined the shop I took the girls outside to see the kokeshi bridge, and we found that there was also a kokeshi pedestrian bridge lined with small steel Togatta-style kokeshis -- really cool. There was also a terrific view of Mt. Zao and the river from the bridge, so I was able to get some nice pictures. We bought a nice kokeshi and got some further information about the town's kokeshi opportunities of which there were plenty!
Next Blog: The Togatta Kokeshi Village.  
Traditional Kokeshi shop.
Interior view.
Naoko was probably thinking "Our house is starting to look like this...."
A bunch of Togattas.
I found this one in the corner of the shop. This is a perfect kokeshi face. 
The pedestrian kokeshi bridge. Can you see why it's an official kokeshi bridge?
Because of these little guys, which line the entire bridge.
Togatta's main street's convenience store. That is a giant Tengu 天狗 mask up there.
A souvenir shop. If you look closely there's a sign that says "Traditional Kokeshis."
Right in the center of town is a beautiful public onsen, and it has a free outdoor foot bath.  The day we arrived was sunny but surprisingly chilly and wintery, so about 20 minutes of sticking our feet in here warmed us up enough so that we could go and get a tofu-milk ice cream cone! The upper section of the foot bath was probably 10-15 degrees hotter than the lower section, and nobody could keep their feet in it.

Zao Kokeshi Doll Museum... Yes! I'll blog about that soon.
The town's mascot character. What else but a happy kokeshi soaking in an onsen.
The street to Mt. Zao. The two-story gray building on the left was a closed kokeshi shop.
These kokeshi-shaped signs were all over the town. More evidence of Togatta's kokeshi-based identity.

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