Monday, December 17, 2012

12 Kokeshi Faces 12面こけしの顔

All kokeshi enthusiasts have personal reasons why they find their little wooden cylindrical friends to be appealing. As I've explained before, I'm convinced that it's all in the face. Below we have twelve faces from twelve different craftsman from the eleven kokeshi families. They are all beautiful, and as you'll notice they all have completely different personalities. Examine the simplicity -- just a mouth, nose, eyes, and eyebrows. Absolute genius. There's no shading along the nose, no laugh lines or forehead lines, no eyelashes, no philtrum, no ears, no nostrils, no chin. Only one of them has cheeks, hinted at with a light dusting of red. Rather, what we are looking is really the purest essence of a face. This, in my opinion, is also the essence of the kokeshi, for you can have a kokeshi head and it's still basically a kokeshi, but if you just have the body you only have a brightly painted piece of wood. Well, see what you think.
This beauty is an Owani kokeshi 大鰐こけし, a branch of the Tsugaru type 津軽系こけし, created by Mr. Hasegawa Kenzo 長谷川健三さん. That mouth is really stunning.
A Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系こけし by Mr. Waguma Satoshi 我妻敏さん.
This handsome face is a Kijiyama kokeshi 木地山系こけし by Mr. Takahashi Yuji 高橋雄司さん. I like how the wood grain in the center has become part of the nose. 
A very striking, almost Buddha-like face on a Yajiro kokeshi 弥次郎系こけし by Mr.  Sato Yoshiaki 佐藤慶明さん.
Here we have a much more stylized face. This is a Sakunami kokeshi 作並系こけし by Mr. Suzuki Akira 鈴木明さん.
We don't have many Nanbu kokeshis 南部系こけし in our collection, but here's a nice one by Mr.  Takahashi Kinzo 高橋金三さん.
One of my all-time favorite kokeshi faces is this seemingly bored Zao kokeshi 蔵王系こけし by Mr. Ishiyama Kazuo 石山和夫さん.
This is the one with cheeks that I mentioned above. Actually, it's just a bit of ruddiness that suggests cheeks, so its within the kokeshi minimalism that we expect. This is a cute Yamagata kokeshi 山形系こけし by Mr. Aida Eiji 会田栄治さん.
This magnificent face looks severe to me. I love it. The mouth is wonderful, and look at how the eyes have been brought to life with the end of a brush stroke. This is a Hijiori kokeshi 肘折系こけし by master craftsman Mr. Sato Shoichi 佐藤昭一さん.
This face is whimsical, and somehow also looks chubby. It's a Tsuchiyu kokeshi 土湯系こけし by Mr. Jinnohara Yukinori 陣野原幸紀さん.
A perfect face. This is a Naruko kokeshi 鳴子系こけし by Mr. Kakizawa Koretaka 柿澤是隆さん.
And finally, while I already showed a Zao above I couldn't resist throwing in  a picture of an Abe Shin'ya 阿部進矢kokeshi. His faces are utterly unique within the traditional kokeshi world with their wide set eyes and tiny mouths.


  1. Hi John,

    I've been reading you blogspot site with interest following the purchase of my first traditional kokeshi earlier this year in Sendai. At first I thought it was a Togatta design, but the face just doesn't fit the profile. Looking at the above its more likely to be Hijiori. Unfortunately I can't read Japanese so cant read the signature either; although, I've found a similar signature online which belonged to an artisan by the name of Sata-san. I really could do with your expertise in helping me pinpoint the design and artisan. Could I possibly email you a image of my kokeshi?

    1. Hello Vernon. Thank you for your message and I'm glad to hear that you've entered the world of traditional kokeshis. I'm convinced that, like many things, one simply gets used to the different kokeshi styles. At a certain point even the way a craftsman paints his faces becomes a kind of signature that's easy to recognize. Meanwhile, I'll be happy to look at your kokeshi -- is it possible for you post a couple of photos of it here on the blog? If not we can do it via email. Thanks!

    2. Hi John. Thanks for replying and for the kind offer of help. I couldn't find a way of uploading images via comments, so I've set up a quick blog so that I could show you the kokeshi in question. As I say, the shape looks very Togatta to me but the face isn't. Hijiori is still my best guess. As for the artist: Kazuo Sato, maybe? Here's the link to the blog: Any insight would be appreciated.

  2. Greetings Vernon. My wife and I took a look at the photo you posted and it's a beautiful piece that you have. I can also see where your confusion comes from. After all, the mouth looks like a Hijiori, and the hair is reminiscent of some Yamagatas I've seen. Moreover, the pink Kokeshi Book shows that hair style with the dot in the middle as being part of the Yajiro tradition! Anyway, all of those possibilities were wrong. The key, of course, was the signature which made solving the mystery quite straight forward. The person's name is Mr. Sato Kazuo 佐藤一夫さん and he is a Togatta craftsman. We have one of his pieces, and while the mouth and hair are different from yours, the eyes, eyebrows, and nose are identical. In April 2012 we visited his shop up at the Togatta Kokeshi Village behind the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan, although he wasn't there at the time. Again, you have purchased a beautiful kokeshi -- congratulations!

  3. Hi John. What can I say, but a big THANK YOU for such a comprehensive reply. It really is very much appreciated. Please pass on my gratitude to your wife, too. So, Mr Sato Kazuo was the artisan after all. This is great news. The face led me into thinking that it couldn't possibly be a Togatta kokeshi, and I’m glad to be proved wrong. As you say, the signature tells all at the end of the day. I’m now looking forward to my next trip to Japan in the autumn of 2015 during which I'll target a few more different kokeshi while touring northern Tohoku. Hopefully finding those will be just as easy as this one: I was surprised at how quickly this particular doll grabbed and held my attention, despite countless other kokeshi being on display around it. The big draw for me was that face. Such an easy and rewarding buy. Kind regards. Vernon (Oxford, UK).

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