Thursday, January 17, 2013

December 2012 Adventure 3 12月の冒険3

On the afternoon of 27 December we decided to venture into unknown kokeshi territory and visit Mr.Ogasawara Yoshio 小笠原義雄さん of Sendai. We've been to Sendai many times, so how hard would it be to find someone's kokeshi workshop there? As it turned out, it was quite hard indeed. The key to this adventure working out was two-fold: 1) Having a car, and 2) having an iPad with maps (or GPS). Honestly, this kind of trip without these two things would basically be out of the question. Naoko called Mr. Ogasawara to make sure that he was available and that it was ok to pay a visit (it was), which is important for you to do fellow kokeshi enthusiasts, since you don't want to show up and find out that nobody's at home!
Our hotel had wi-fi so I put the address into Google maps, clicked on directions, and we were on our way down out of the mountains. Sendai has a separate highway that connects from the Tohoku Expressway toward the coast and Sendai International Airport, and that's the road we were directed to take. As we zipped along we realized that we had been this way before during a trip back in April 2012 when we visited a portion of the 3-11 tsunami zone in Natori City 名取市. Sure enough, we could see areas from the highway that had clearly been inundated, so Mr. Ogasawara's house, which according to the map was located fairly close to the highway, must have had a very close shave on that day. I have included one photo of what we saw in Natori back in April so you can get a sense of the devastation that occurred just east of where Mr. Ogasawara lives.
This is what we saw on 10 April 2012. The area behind Lena was once a residential and business area. If you look in the far distance you can see the Sendai skyline, and there's also a bridge span. That bridge, part of the highway, marks the line where the tsunami stopped, which is the general location of Mr. Ogasawara's shop. 
Looking toward the tsunami zone as we hunted for Mr. Ogasawara's house.
Lost in thought about the 3-11 disaster, we were also starting to feel lost! We got off the highway as directed and things seemed confused. However, trusty Google Maps and the iPad came through and the physical roads were still matching up with what was on the screen. We went under the highway and the terrain suddenly became agricultural (rice fields), and after a few minutes we hit some housing. Now, as you may or may not know Japan doesn't really have street names, especially in housing areas, and yet this was definitely the general area we were supposed to be in. But like so many Japanese residential areas it was an incomprehensible maze, and we realized that it would be pointless to simply meander about. Google Maps was only able to get us about 97% of the way, so I parked in what looked to be a an empty lot while Naoko called Mr. Ogasawara for assistance. Almost as soon as I turned off the engine a grumpy looking woman burst out the front door of her house, obviously to tell us to "no parking," but we preempted her by explaining that we were looking for the Ogasawara's shop. "Oh yes, it's right around the corner." I guess it was good that parked where I shouldn't have since that gave us the final directions. Sure enough, when we got around the corner there was a sign on the street that said Ogawasawara Kokeshi-ya ("ya" means shop) 小笠原こけし屋, so we had finally made it! 
All of the streets looked just like this.
Ogasawara Kokeshi-ya. That's their house in the background -- a really nice place!
If we had come from the other direction we would have seen this large sign for the Ogasawara Kokeshi Shop.
After our long drive the kids scrambled out of the car in search of some fun, and immediately noticed a nice, long strip of ice on the street that looked good for sliding on. There was also a small park around on the next street, so thankfully the girls had some physical activities they could do. Good. Meanwhile, we went to the door and Mrs. Ogasawara Nobuko 小笠原信子さん, herself a former kokeshi craftsman, welcomed us in. It turns out that Mr. Ogasawara was out driving around looking for us, so we made ourselves comfortable in the guest room, which was also the kokeshi showroom, and gazed at Mr. Ogasawara's amazing handiwork. He is of the of the Togatta-style 遠刈田系 tradition, which he's been doing since 1969. Interestingly, Mr. Ogasawara got his start as a general wood craftsman back in 1952, which probably explains the exquiteness of many of his pieces, especially those that are hollow or have connecting pieces. 

A selection of beautiful Ogasawara kokeshis. Although the heads are the same, note the variety of body designs.
The showroom. You'll notice that the kokeshis are displayed on tansu 簞笥, which is fitting.
More kokeshis.
After a few minutes Mr. Ogasawara arrived, and soon there was tea and snacks on the table and we dug right in. I immediately asked how things went during the 11 March disaster, and it turns out that the tsunami reached within about 300 meters of the house. Yikes! Apparently the highway acted as a strong barrier and protected most houses on its western side. We also talked about kokeshis for awhile, and Mr. Ogasawara showed Naoko a couple of very interesting pieces, one of which was a beautiful ireko kokeshi 入れ子こけし. Ireko kokeshis are hollow kokeshis that typically contain smaller kokeshis, and in order to fit together properly I suspect that they take an advanced level of lathing skill to make. As soon as Naoko saw the ireko she said to me "I'm getting that!" It wasn't cheap, I have to admit, but it is a truly beautiful piece of workmanship. It's head is hollow in which there are ten tiny kokeshis. The body also comes apart and inside is a smaller ireko kokeshi with another small kokeshi inside that. 

Naoko's ireko kokeshi. The body also comes apart.

These cute figures are really Modern Kokeshis 近代こけし.
Some more kokeshis. 

Within the Togatta kokeshi world there are certain signature styles that individual makers have created. One in particular is this one by Mr. Ogasawara. It has a black and red-striped body, but if you look closely there's a pattern chiseled into the wood. I'm not sure how he does it, but the effect is extremely pleasing as you can see below. From what I can tell Mr. Ogasawara considers this his signature piece, and he even won an award for it back in 2006.
Mr. Ogasawara's special design.
The award certificate.

After chatting a while we finally decided to get the pieces we had been eyeing, including the ireko kokeshi that Naoko had fallen in love with. It was getting late and we had a long drive back to Sakunami ahead of us, so we thanked the Ogasawara's for their welcome and said a fond goodbye. It was, indeed, a good kokeshi adventure.
I don't want to forget to these kokeshis. They are Hina kokeshis for Girls Day. I didn't ask, but I presume they are Mr. Ogasawara's design.


  1. Hi John,

    We would love to visit Ogasawara -San as we are travelling on a kokeshi adventure ourselves this weekend- do you have his contact details?

    Thank you, Victoria

  2. Hi Victoria. I'm glad to hear about your upcoming adventure. Here's Ogasawara-san's info:
    Ogasawara Yoshio
    78-5 Showa Naka, Shiromaru Aza, Taihaku-ku, Sendai-shi, Miyagi-ken

    1. Hi john.
      My wife and I have taken many trips to tohoku to buy kokeshi and visit the artisans, and the one style she has lamented not finding (there is always one more...) is the type below the picture of your comment of Naoko's ireko kokeshi, the short one with smaller ones around it.
      Do you happen to know the name of this type? And also do you know of any artisans who make and sell them?
      Thanks in advance

  3. Victoria, is romaji ok? If not I can send you the Japanese.

  4. Thank you for the information John. We ended up following your footsteps to Naruko and Tsuchiyu Onsens. We hope to visit Ogasawara-san soon. Keep up the blog!