At this summer's All Japan Kokeshi Festival in Naruko I picked up this nice kokeshi item -- a sign for hanging outside one's bath. We know that's what it's for because the green hiragana is ゆ "yu," which always indicates a bath when used by itself like this. This is a simple yet beautiful piece that shows how kokeshi art can be quite decorative. And notice how the artist used the wood's center ring to give the impression of the head -- very clever!
Figuring out who made it, however, proved to be somewhat challenging. The craftsman's first name is on the left 宣直. However, it's an unusual name and Naoko wasn't sure how to read it. Moreover, when I looked for it under the listing of Naruko kokeshi craftsmen in the most recent craftsmen's guide the name does not appear there. I tripled checked it, but sure enough, 宣直 was not listed as a current kokeshi craftsman. But then if he's not a current craftsman then how was I able to get this as a new item in 2012?
Naoko finally found the name listed in a family tree of the Takahashi family as the son of long-time craftsman Mr. Takashi Shogo 高橋正吾さん, but again, 宣直 did not appear in the craftsman's guide, and was not shown in the Naruko edition of Kokeshi Jidai magazine either, though Shogo was. Curiouser and curiouser.
Well, Naoko finally found 宣直 in the 1994 and 2007 editions of the craftsmen's guide (showing why the older editions have value), so we finally knew how to pronounce his name: Yoshinao. We were also able to verify that he had been active as a kokeshi craftsman until fairly recently. We don't understand what his current status is, but the fact that Mr. Takahashi Yoshinao made this sign suggests that he's at least somewhat active in the kokeshi world.
As to where you can get one of these items, you'll need to go to Naruko!