Sunday, October 14, 2012

All Japan Kokeshi Festival 2012 part 1 全国こけし祭り 2012 第1

Akiyu kokeshis for sale at a rest stop.
Japan's premier kokeshi event has got to be the All Japan Kokeshi Festival 全国こけし祭りheld annually at the end of August and beginning of September at Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 northwest of Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture. As many of you might already know, Naruko is an extremely important kokeshi-making town and its onsen image is intertwined with kokeshi culture. We attended this event last year and had a great time, and decided that we had to go again.
I am certainly glad we did, and over the next few blog entries I'll detail our adventure. I have found that driving up to Tohoku is an integral part of our adventures, so this blog is about what we saw on the way up to Naruko. On Friday, 31 August Naoko, the girls and I got up early for an early departure in order to beat the traffic, picking up my father-in law along the way. Despite being a weekday it was smooth sailing all the way north and soon we were on the outskirts of Sendai. We stopped at a beautiful highway rest area to stretch and get some food, and there we saw some nice Akiyu kokeshis 秋保系 (a branch of Togatta-style kokeshis) for sale. Naoko believes that the craftsman is no longer making kokeshis, so these were probably a good find. However, they were a bit pricey, and besides, we were on our way to kokeshi nirvana so we passed on getting one. Oh well. I have to admit that while at the rest area I did try some cow tongue as a snack since it's Sendai's speciality item 名物. That was the first and likely last time I'll be eating cow tongue...
A beautiful rest stop in Sendai with a traditional Japanese architectural feel. The crescent shape that you see was on the helmet of Date Masamune 伊達政宗, the medieval Daimyo (lord) of the feudal domain that eventually became Miyagi Prefecture. Date is still extremely popular in Sendai nearly 280 years after his death.
Pretty soon we exited the highway and were driving through the beautiful countryside on our way to Naruko. We stopped for lunch at a pizza restaurant which was a converted old Japanese farmhouse 民家. That in itself was real treat, and the pizza was very tasty!
This is a pizza restaurant.
As we drove along we stopped by a national farmers' market chain called Michi no Eki 道の駅 and I spotted a poster for the kokeshi festival -- we were definitely getting close.
Event poster -- we were getting close!
Last year we stayed at an inn in Naruko Onsen and were fairly disappointed with our lodging, so this year we decided to stay at an inn that was about 15 minutes outside of Naruko in Kawatabi Onsen 川渡温泉. Actually, we were just outside the gate for the onsen area right along the main road staying at a place called Chubachi 中鉢. It was reasonably priced, and according to a sign in the bath was a natural onsen that the owners had dug down about 1,000 feet to get to. That was pretty impressive. Anyway, we were very pleased with the place and would definitely go back. If you'd like some more information click here for Chubachi's web site.

The gate leading into Kawatabi Onsen.
Our inn.
The back of Chubachi overlooks a rice field and the nearby hills.
After getting settled into the onsen we headed up Naruko to see what was going on and to attend a very special ceremony that I'll discuss in the next blog. Before that we walked around the town to see what was what and saw the following sites. It's really such an interesting town, so by all means go see it for yourself!
Tohoku University was doing an energy experiment with methane coming out of the ground. Note the kokeshi mascot on the sign.
A drain cover.

Across from the train station was this sign featuring Naruko's official mascot.
A display of kokeshi sake goods in the train station.
The Naruko train station's ticket window.
Looking into the Naruko station window.
A kokeshi display located on the second floor of the train station.
Truly the land of hot baths, this small foot bath was right outside the entrance to the station and was free.

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