Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer Kokeshi Adventure Day 8 夏こけし冒険8日目

Our Hokkaido-bound ferry. No kokeshis.
It's now July 10th on our vacation, but don't worry -- I haven't left anything out in terms of kokeshis. Halfway through our trip we hopped on a car ferry at Aomori port and went to Hokkaido for three days. A great trip and highly recommended for anyone who hasn't been there, but I have to say that there wasn't a kokeshi in sight. Actually, there used to be a number of traditional kokeshi makers in Hokkaido, but today there might only be one left. Of course Hokkaido does not have it's own style, so I'm not sure what can be said about kokeshis from that island.
A 400-year old onsen -- older than the U.S.
Viewing Mt. Hakkoda. There was still snow on its peak.
We got up early, went and picked up some kokeshis we had ordered from Ms. Honma Naoko (whom we had visited a few days earlier) on the way, and then zipped through Shichinohe where we stopped briefly at the ruins of an old castle. After that it was up and over Mt Hakkoda 八甲田山, pausing briefly at a 400-year old onsen (I wanted to go, but the timing didn't work out), and also stopping for lunch somewhere in the middle of the mountain at Sukayu Onsen. We had perfect weather the entire drive by the way -- lucky us. After a couple of hours winding our way through mountain roads we were once again in Kuroishi and made a quick stop at the Kokeshi Kan to say hello. I'm glad we did, because master craftsman Abo Muchihide 阿保六知秀さんwas at the lathe, so we got to see him working and even purchased a beautiful purple Tsugaru kokeshi that he had created. His work is truly exquisite. We visited Mr. Abo at his workshop last year, and a number of his pieces happily populate our home. We said a final farewell to everyone at the Kokeshi Kan and then drove down the valley toward our final destination.  

Welcome to Kuroishi. When you see this monument coming out of the mountains you know you're in kokeshi territory.

Naoko and Mr. Abo at the Kokeshi Kan.
Some Abo creations. Perfect, beautiful work with a very recognizable face style.
These are their way to becoming kokeshis, I think.
As I talked about last year, the Tsugaru traditional crafts center is right next to the Kokeshi Kan. These large kokeshi lanterns are all over the place.
Here's the shop where the kokeshi lanterns are made. If we lived up in Aomori I'm sure we'd get one for our home.
Our ultimate goal for the day was to visit a lesser-known Tsugaru kokeshi craftsman named Mr. Kitayama Moriharu 北山盛治さん who lives about 15 minutes from the Kokeshi Kan. For reasons that are still puzzling to me Mr. Kitayama's work is not displayed at the Kokeshi Kan, and he is something of an outsider in the kokeshi community though he is indeed listed in the recent Kamei Museum's handbook of kokeshi craftsman. Anyway, Naoko had made an appointment for a visit but because I kept stopping the car on our drive through the mountains we were running a bit late. It turns out that Mr. Kitayama was up at his farm in the hills where he raises carp, so for him to come and meet us required some coordination and for us to be on time! Yet it all worked out ok, and soon we were at his home chatting with him and his wife about kokeshis, life in Kuroishi, the Tsugaru dialect, and so forth.
The Kitayama's shop: Traditional crafts and bicycles!
Mr. Kitayama and Naoko talking kokeshis. That blue face in the background is his creation.
As a Tsugaru kokeshi craftsman Mr. Kitayama follows certain strictures within that family of kokeshis, such as body shape, use of Daruma faces, and striping patterns. However, he has one characteristic that I believe is completely original, which is the kokeshi's hair falling down into its eyes. It's very appealing, and I'm pretty sure that if you find a kokeshi like that then it is a Kitayama piece.  
Some Kitayama kokeshis. Note the hair.

I especially like the striped ones.
Mr. Kitayama showing the girls a mandolin from his collection. The kokeshis in the foreground are the ones we bought.
I brought the kids to this nearby river while Naoko chatted with the Kitayamas. Most of Aomori is open and sort of wild like this.
This was in the Kitayama's living room. Mr. Kitayama, you see, was an artist for the big Nebuta floats in Aomori. All I can say is wow.
This, too, is Mr. Kitayama's work. A true artist.
On the way back from the Kitayama's house we drove up to Nuruyu Onsen 温湯温泉 (where we stayed last year) hoping to have dinner followed by a dip in an onsen. We didn't see any restaurants open, but we did go the Tsurunoyu Onsen 鶴の湯温泉 in the center of town. It's a beautiful facility, and man, the water was hot! After that we headed out of the valley and found a very authentic Taiwanese restaurant for dinner. It was a delicious end to a great day, and of course a great kokeshi adventure.
Nuruyu Onsen sign. You have to love the sticker at the top. Yep, it's a kokeshi town.
Tsuru no yu Onsen.

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