Monday, October 15, 2012

All Japan Kokeshi Festival 2012 part 2 全国こけし祭り 2012 第2

The night before the All Japan Kokeshi Festival was a small but important ceremony held at Naruko's Kokeshi Jinja こけし神社. Yes, that's a Shinto shrine for kokeshis, though whether it's solely for kokeshis, or for kokeshi makers, or both, I cannot say.
In warm and pleasant weather we headed up the hill above the tourist area and found the shrine. There was a quiet, solemn atmosphere at the shrine, and a number of kokeshi enthusiasts and craftsmen were sitting in chairs facing two tables covered with old kokeshis. There was also an elevated platform with more used kokeshis behind the group. It was dusk, and as it got dark the ceremony began.
Much of the ceremony consisted of individuals from the Naruko kokeshi community saying a few words to the group. Then a Shinto priest did a few waves of the ceremonial paper thing (I don't know what it's called) while an American film crew from Seattle was on hand gathering footage for a documentary they were making (as was a Japanese videographer).
The shrine grounds before the ceremony began. Those torches were cool.
Old kokeshis. Why are they on this platform?

The Shinto priest doing the ceremony.
See the American film crew?
The Japanese videographer.

Saying a few words. I have to admit that I was pretty much lost by this point.
What came next was a complete surprise. Everyone moved around the kokeshis that were on the platform behind us, and then the whole thing was lit up in a great bonfire. Anyone who was new to this ceremony had to be stunned -- I certainly was -- as the beautiful kokeshis went up in flames. This is probably a good example of where Japanese and American sensibilities about the nature of things diverge, as the Japanese side feels that unwanted objects (ones that look like humans) such as kokeshis should not be merely thrown away. Rather, the ceremony seems to be a way of putting them to rest. Honestly, I cannot imagine something like ever happening this in the US, but I certainly did not find it offensive in any way.  
Lighting the kokeshi bonfire.
There they go.

The event was extremely moving, both because it was sad to see the beautiful kokeshis burning, and also because the dolls do indeed look like small people. The bonfire was enlarged as people came up with more boxes of old kokeshis and threw them on the pyre. As this went on a group of older ladies began singing a kind of dirge, which made the event that much more poignant. Occasionally a smoldering kokeshi would fall off the platform and someone would chuck it back into the fire. I'm at a loss for words on this, except to say that it was sad.

A couple of smoldering kokeshis rolled off the pyre. 
These ladies were singing what must have been a dirge.
Adding more kokeshis.
When the ceremony was over we went up to the shrine and threw in a few coins in the offering box. I no longer felt melancholy, and Naoko was chatting with some friends rather cheerfully. Whatever the deeper meaning of the ceremony is, perhaps it has a purging effect. I'll say this as well: While a burning kokeshi might be a sad sight, so is an old, neglected, unwanted kokeshi gathering dust in corner. This ceremony deals with that problem rather nicely.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this event. I have read of these ceremonies but quite honestly, the impact of visually seeing one is greater than just reading about it. Stunning pictures, and very moving. I would probably have been brought to tears witnessing this ceremony in person.