Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Michinoku Kokeshi Festival みちのくこけしまつり

A gate into Yamagata Castle.
On Saturday, 2 October we awoke early for an event at Emily's preschool which went on for most of the morning. After that ended we got on the Tohoku Expressway for a trip north to Yamagata Prefecture, one of the most beautiful places in Japan. From Tokyo to Yamagata City it took about 5.5 hours, so we were in Yamagata City by early evening and promptly checked into our Quality Inn right near the main train station. I like this hotel since you 1) pay for the room only rather than per person, 2) it comes with a continental breakfast, and 3) it has WiFi in the room. True, at Quality Inn one doesn't get the "Japanese" experience of sleeping on a tatami mat in an old ryokan, but since we tend to go out exploring all day that really doesn't matter a whole lot. Also, the "Japanese experience" tends to be quite pricy, and I'd rather spend the money we save on, what else, kokeshis.
Official festival poster.
The object of this adventure was the 31st annual Michinoku Kokeshi Festival, and at the time I felt that it paled in comparison to the National Kokeshi Festival in Naruko Onsen that we had attended just one month prior. Looking at the photos and thinking about this blog though makes me realize that it was a pretty fantastic kokeshi event that was part of a really top-notch kokeshi adventure.
The festival was held in the Nana Beans Building in downtown Yamagata, and we took the scenic route to get there by walking through the Yamagata Castle ruins and on various streets. Before continuing I have to say that this walk, and a couple of other strolls, showed me that Yamagata is a really nice, prosperous city that exudes charm, with citizens who all seemed welcoming and kind. Unlike Tokyo it is a manageable size, with clear skies and mountains close to the city. Yes, it's a highly recommended destination!
Three excited kokeshi fans.
Of course it's also a kokeshi town, hence the festival. We arrived around lunch time when a couple of the guest craftsmen had left for lunch, but there was still a lot to see as shown in the photos below. As usual there were award-winning pieces that weren't for sale, and I really wonder how the judges decided which was the best since all of them were beautiful. There was also a nice selection of traditional wooden toys, and a make-your-own kokeshi area that had a lathe for putting stripes on one's little work of art. Lena made a kokeshi and it looked really authentic! On this adventure we dragged a couple of friends from Kanagawa to see the rarified world of traditional kokeshis, and I think they were quite impressed. Naoko happened to bump into a fellow enthusiast she had gotten to know through a blog, and I chatted with an old kokeshi maker at one of the booths. Naturally we bought a few kokeshis though not as many as we might have since we were still recovering from the Naruko trip, and still had a couple of places in Yamagata to visit including Yamadera 山寺 that I discussed in the previous blog.
Overall, the 31st annual Michinoku Kokeshi Festival was great, and it's likely that we'll be back for the 32nd one as well.
Upon entering we were greated by a cool display showing a map of Yamagata Prefecture and where the kokeshis makers are located. As you can see, Yamagata is well-covered with craftsmen.
This was part of the Yamagata display -- a selection of Zao Kokeshis.
The display room was quite large with lots to see.

A nice Takobozu たこ坊主 Tsuchiyu-type 土湯系 kokeshi.
A box of kokeshis -- 700 yen each.
The craftsmen's area. I recall that there were about six or seven in attendence.

Two award winners. The Togatta kokeshi on the left won the Michinoku Kokeshi Association President's award, while the Naruko kokeshi on the left won the Yamagata Shinbun President's award. 
More award winners.
The traditional wooden toy area.
This amazing toy won an award from the Minister of Economy, Industry and Trade.
These were for sale, though I suspect that there were many more available at the beginning of the show. Takobozu kokeshis are really quite popular.

The sign says "On sale corner."
Some rather exotic Yajiro kokeshis.

I don't know what this is with the Daruma head, but my friend who accompanied us on this trip loved it.
Japanese nesting doll, an old tradition beleived to have inspired the invention of Russian nesting dolls. 
Lena on the lathe doing stripes.
Lena's kokeshi -- pretty good face.
Lena and her completed kokeshi. 

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