Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sato Masahiro Kokeshi 佐藤正廣こけし

Tsunami's aftermath near the shore.
Our April Sendai adventure was more than just a hunt for kokeshis. Besides our time at Togatta and Sakunami, we visited an absolutely gorgeous planetarium and astronomy center in western Sendai, drove part way up Mt. Zao (which was still covered with snow), visited some old acquaintances, sampled authentic Italian pizza and Korean bar-b-q, tramped around the old Sendai castle grounds, luxuriated in onsens, and even went down to one of the coastal areas devastated by last year's tsunami (truly unbelievable). In fact, we probably spent more time doing non-kokeshi things than the other way around, which was just fine. I'll say this: Sendai is a beautiful, world-class city, and it's recovering amazingly well from the disaster. If you can swing a trip to Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture, by all means do so!
The final leg of the kokeshi-centric piece of our adventure was a second visit to Mr. Hiraga's kokeshi workshop (see previous blog). Right before that we spent a couple hours with Togatta-style 遠刈田系 kokeshi master craftsman Mr. Sato Masahiro 佐藤正廣さん, the subject of today's blog.
We actually went to his workshop on a whim, which I thought we should try after the odd experience of the Kokeshi Village こけしの里 in Togatta Onsen (discussed in an upcoming blog), as well as the depressing atmosphere of the tsunami zone. As it turned out this was an excellent decision. We actually had a connection with Mr. Sato, having met his son Mr. Sato Yasuhiro 佐藤康広さん at a Miyagi traditional crafts fair in Sendai back in December (see blog). As noted above the Sato's (just one family among dozens and dozens of Satos in the traditonal kokeshi world by the way) make Togatta kokeshis, and their work is some of the nicest I've seen in that branch: Really fine lathing, design, and facial expressions.
Two small (4-inch) kokeshis by the son Sato Yasuhiro.
Fortunately the elder Sato was at home, which we finally discovered after driving around in circles for some time. We had his address and knew the general area, but simply could not find his shop that was hidden away somewhere. It was fairly maddening! Advice to those who would  like to visit the Sato's: Once you see the sign in the photo below go down the driveway to the cement plant. The road will then circle back underneath that driveway to a couple of houses and agricultural fields along the Hirose River 広瀬川. That's where the Sato's workshop is located.
Mr. Sato graciously had us in even though we had dropped by unexpectedly. Naoko and he proceded to talk about kokeshis for a good bit while I brought the girls down to the river for a little exercise and fresh air. As it turned out Mr. Sato is also a kokeshi collector and enthusiast, which seems to be fairly rare among kokeshi makers. That was definitely a pleasant surprise since we could talk to him about both making and collecting kokeshis. While we were chatting Mr. Sato pulled out a couple of older pieces from his collection and explained their historical significance. Really interesting!
Overall, this was a great visit and we left with some beautiful pieces by both father and son. I have a feeling that when we return to Sendai we'll definitely be seeing the Satos again.
This small sign at the top of some stairs was the only indication that we were in the right area. But where's the shop?
The Sato's house was not easy to find.
A selection of kokeshis and other items for sale.
Mr. Sato was making these into trophies for a Sendai bike race.
A completed Sendai bike-race trophy.
A very clever brush holder.
Mr. Sato and Naoko in the painting area discussing kokeshi history. Cozy and pleasant.
Recently completed small kokeshis.
Naoko and the girls with a nice ejiko えじこ kokeshi that subsequently became part of our collection.
A variety of Sato kokeshis.
A very large kokeshi by Sato Masahiro. It's hard to tell the size, so I put a Star Wars action figure next to it for reference. It really is big.
Naoko's ejiko by the elder Sato.
It's a perfect place for our top collection.


  1. Hello! Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. I'm a huge fan of kokeshi and since I used to collect them when I was living in Tôkyô, I'm really glad to be able to keep up with these lovely arty dolls. ご活躍を☆ミ

  2. These are so cute, thank you for sharing your pattern, I am going to have a go at making these. I am about to perform in a version of the Miakdo and have been looking for the perfect gifts for my fellow performers, these will be perfect! I just hope I can match your lovely stitching. I have found that PIJ provide one of them. Just ordered it and can't wait to get this. http://bit.ly/kokeshi-doll