Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Kokeshi Adventure Day 1 夏こけし冒険1日目

A swan water fountain at a highway rest stop in Iwate Prefecture.
Early on Sunday, July 1st Naoko, the girls and I hopped in the minivan (an essential vehicle for kokeshi adventures by the way -- perfect for hauling lots of kokeshis back to Tokyo) and once again headed north on the Tohoku Expressway toward the great land of kokeshis. It was day one of an eleven-day trip up to Tohoku and we had pleasant weather the entire drive. As usual we saw all the kokeshi-related signs and exits for famous kokeshi onsens along the highway, but we resisted all urges to get off and continued on to Aomori Prefecture 青森県, our home base for much of the trip. Admittedly, day one really wasn't a kokeshi adventure. However, that night we went to a beautiful onsen and in the gift shop were boxes of kokeshi-themed snacks! I guess our adventure really had begun.
Little kokeshi-wrapped crackers to bring back home as a present.
Kokeshi-themed mini-baum kuchen slices, another good present.
The next day we went to visit Tsugaru-style kokeshi 津軽系こけし craftsman Ms. Honma Naoko 本間直子さん of Kamikita Town 上北町 in eastern Aomori. As readers may recall, we met her last year and were smitten by her whimsical designs. Like the other masters, Ms. Honma has progressed beyond the standard Tsugaru design and developed her own face style that is easily recognizable. In essence, she has created a face and body design that is incredibly cute.
In Ms. Honma's workshop, examining wares.
Some of Ms. Honma's finely crafted pieces. You'll notice kokeshis of course, but also a daruma-otoshi, hair clips with with her unique kokeshi faces, and other small wooden crafts. 
Some recently completed Honma kokeshis.
Naoko saw this fun character on Ms. Honma's work table and couldn't help but take a picture.
Hair clips. Yes, they are adorable.
Absolutely beautiful kokeshis with Ms. Honma's trademark maple leaf. She also likes to give her kokeshis big, rosy cheeks.
This wasn't for sale, but it's a tiny peach kokeshi designed for a post-tsunami disaster fund-raiser.
Most kokeshi makers seem to make Hina kokeshi, a boy and girl brought out at each March on Girl's Day. These are Ms. Honma's version of the tradition, which have bibs.
A traditional Tsugaru kokeshi, and as you can see Ms. Honma is a master. Apparently once the traditional design is mastered then a craftsman can start their own variations.
After discussing kokeshis for a while Ms. Honma brought us to a large nearby park so that the kids could run around and we could enjoy a beautiful, cool Aomori summer day chatting and eating snacks. There are many parks like this up in Aomori I've noticed, as they have the space to build them. It was certainly a refreshing way to spend the early afternoon. 

The lower part of the park.
A king-sized lady bug of some sort.

When it was time to go we bid a fond farewell to Ms. Honma and Kamikita, and then drove through rolling garlic and tobacco fields toward Shichinohe 七戸町, and old castle town that has a brand-new and quite spectacular Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station. Next to the station is a Michi no Eki 道の駅, a chain of roadside shops found throughout Japan that are part farmers' market, part local crafts shop. We went in and what did we find but a very nice selection of Honma kokeshis! Kokeshi adventure part 1 complete!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summer 2012 Kokeshi Adventure 1 夏休み2012のこけし冒険1

From 1-11 July Naoko, the girls and I repeated our great kokeshi adventure from last summer and headed north to Aomori and Yamagata (and Hokkaido, a sadly kokeshi-less island) to meet with craftsmen and see what they've been creating. It was a great trip that took us to Kuroishi, Kamikita, and Owani in Aomori, and Zao and Yamagata City in Yamagata Prefecture. While not as exclusively devoted to kokeshis as last year, it was still a great vacation and we of course picked up some fantastic traditional kokeshis. Below are a few uncaptioned photos from various times on the trip, about which I'll explain in some upcoming blog posts. Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2012

July Friends of Kokeshis Meeting 7月こけし友の会

On Sunday, 22 July Naoko and I made our usual trek to Kanda for the Tokyo Friends of Kokeshis meeting 東京こけし友の会. We had a great time, saw our friends, and of course picked up some really nice vintage kokeshis at very fair prices. Overall, a very pleasant Tokyo-based kokeshi adventure!

We took the Seibu-Ikebukuro line for the first leg of the trip. The train was quite full, even in the middle of a Sunday.
When we got to Kanda we found this thin little building which has nothing to do with kokeshis. It's just cool and the sort of thing one sees sometimes in Tokyo. I think many full-sized Americans would likely struggle in a building like this...
As always we received a welcome kokeshi with the entrance fee (or I sould say, there's probably an entrance fee because there's a kokeshi involved). The kokeshis this time were Nambu-style 南部系こけし from Iwate Prefecture 岩手県 made by Ms. Tayama Izumi, 田山和泉さん a 30-year old craftsman from Morioka City 盛岡市. Beautiful work, and since one rarely sees Nambu kokeshis these somehow feel rare.

Discussion of news and events at the opening of the meeting.
There were new kokeshis available for the buying part of the meeting. From left to right, Yajiros, Togattas, Narukos, and Tsugarus. Interestingly, the Tsugarus were by Mr. Kitayama Moriharu 北山盛治さん whom we met just a couple of weeks ago during our big summer kokeshi adventure. What a coincidence, and blogs will be forthcoming about that trip.
Some of the vintage kokeshis up for sale. Naoko wanted the little Nambu in the front (the unpainted one with red around the neck just above the green bottle in the foreground). However, someone else whose number was chosen before Naoko's snatched it up.
New kokeshis with wooden rings around their middles. I wasn't sure what these were for, but they were gone by the end of the meeting.
More of the sale kokeshis. Lots of good stuff in there, and it seemed that most were about 1,000 yen or less.
An NHK director was at the meeting working on a story.
Naoko during the buying portion of the meeting: "John, is this the one you wanted?"
A shot taken during the buying frenzy. Fortunately Japanese people are polite and patient, so it always goes smoothly.
Two new additions to our collection. The small one on the left is a Nambu by Mr. Sasaki Kakuhei 佐々木覚平さん, and the one on the right is a Tsuchiyu-type kokeshi 土湯系こけし from the Sabako area of Fukushima Prefecture.
Close up of the Tsuchiyu -- perfect, refined lines for the face. 
We also got this terrific Hijiyori-type kokeshi 肘折系こけし by Mr. Sato Shoichi 佐藤昭一さん. His pieces are typically very expensive, so this was a good deal.
Another Tsuchiyu by, Naoko believes, Mr. Watanabe Tadao 渡辺忠雄さん. I really liked the face on this one.
See, this is a really handsome face!
This little beauty is an unusual Togatta-type kokeshi, one done with a dark wood.
We also got this cool binder for the Tomo no Kai's monthly journal. That color is definitely puce, a color we just don't see enough of.
After the kokeshi buying frenzy (for round two everything was 50% off) we saw a slide show of the Friends of Kokeshi's recent adventure up to Yamagata and Sendai. That was a real treat.
The last event was a rock-scissors-paper contest for about eight giant kokeshis such as this one. We were wondering how the winner was going to get this behemoth home on the train.
Naoko talking with a fellow enthusiast after the meeting. Note his cool kokeshi t-shirt from the Tsugara Kokeshi Museum.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New-Type Kokeshis 新型こけし

At some point a non-traditional kind of kokeshi arose in Japan, the so-called Shingata kokeshi (新型こけし "New Type"), which are referred to as either Modern or Creative kokeshis. According to Evan and Wolf's book Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan these kokeshis were made all over Japan and first appeared in either the 1920s or 1940s. While Naoko and I do not really collect these per se, we recently received five older Shingata kokeshis about which we know little. They're beautiful works of art, but unlike those of the traditional world it's not easy to figure out who created them or where they're from. I checked Evan and Wolf to see if I could find any matches, but none of these were in the book. Therefore, I'm simply posting these pictures for fun and as examples of how wonderfully creative Japan's modern kokeshi makers have been since the old days.
This beauty is about five inches high and does not have the craftsman's name on the bottom. My uneducated guess is that it was made in the 1950s.

The above is also about five inches and is fascinating -- it's so stylized it doesn't even have a mouth! The image on the right is the artisan's name. 1950s?

The kokeshis above and below were made by the same artist. Note how close the below is to a traditional kokeshi. When these were made is unkown. The 1970s?


The final kokeshi below is also by an unknown artist from an unknown time period. Very appealing.