Monday, September 30, 2013

Sad Kokeshis 悲しいこけし

While I was off living in the Middle East Naoko of course continued to collect kokeshis, bringing a number of nice pieces into the house. The two I'll discuss today, which came from the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan 津軽こけし館, are Naruko kokeshis 鳴子系こけし by the late Mr. Igarashi Isamu 五十嵐勇さん who passed away in 2011. They're small, about five inches high, and I really like them. I would also like to point out that these may be our most forelorn-looking kokeshis, or perhaps they're pensive and slightly sad. There's nothing that says a kokeshi has to be happy and smiley, right?
According to the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan's blog, they contacted Mr. Igarashi about getting some of his kokeshis for an event, not knowing that he had died. Mrs. Igarashi responded and said she thought there might still be some kokeshis in the house. She did indeed find a bunch of her husband's kokeshis around the house and hoped that kokeshi enthusiasts would enjoy having them, sending them for the Kokeshi Kan to sell. Naoko was lucky enough to get these two. Price: 2,000 yen for the pair. Beautiful work.

Michinoku Kokeshi Festival This Weekend (5-6 Oct 2013)!

Dear fellow kokeshi enthusiasts: If you're in Japan right now and are free this weekend (5-6 October) then I highly recommend making a trip to beautiful Yamagata City 山形市 for the annual Michinoku Kokeshi Festival みちのくこけしまつり (hyperlinked). The web site is in Japanese, but I think you'll get the idea. Here's an image of the poster (click for a larger view). This is a great traditional kokeshi event that is well worth it, and there are usually a number of craftsmen on hand to talk to. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beware of Fake Kokeshis! 偽物のこけしに気をつけてください

Greetings fellow kokeshi enthusiasts. I am now back in Japan after my big desert adventure with the Togatta kokeshi. It certainly is nice to be home in the land of kokeshis!
Anyway, back in April Naoko, the girls and I had a very nice spring kokeshi adventure up at Naruko Onsen about which I forgot to write about. One thing, though, that needs be discussed immediately is in the pictures below. On the way to Naruko we stopped at the Sano 佐野 highway rest area in Tochigi Prefecture. My children are always drawn to the kids' vending machines as seen in the photo below. For 200 yen these things dispense worthless trinkets in clear plastic spheres, and I always say "no" when asked to buy something.
This time was interesting, though, because there was a traditional kokeshi netsuke 根付 being sold by the major Japanese toy company Takara-Tomy. They weren't really netsuke, a 300-year old Japanese tradition, but rather a cell-phone strap. Still, this was interesting and Naoko and I assumed that the kokeshi artists had been commissioned to do the work.

If you look closely you'll see that there were seven types available. You'll also noticed that they were very stylized "cute" versions of traditional kokeshis with recognizable faces by master craftsmen. They were kind of strange, but why not?
The girls finally got to buy something from one of these vending machines. Hurray!
The kokeshis came out in their very own plastic container. 
We opened up them up to see what they looked like, and they were just like the photo on the machine. One was a Hijiori style 肘折系 kokeshi, and the other was a Nambu style 南部系 kokeshi. And then we noticed where they were made. Not in Japan by a kokeshi craftsman, no. China. While Takara-Tomy undoubtedly made a deal with the kokeshi makers (or at least I hope it did), I was completely appalled. Kokeshis are a Japanese art that is hand made by individual craftsmen, not some faceless Chinese peasant working in a sweatshop with absolutely no connection to the craft of tradition.
Don't be fooled by these smiling faces.
This is the first time I've seen Chinese-made "kokeshis" so I'm not terribly concerned that we're seeing a trend. However, these things are not just an insult -- they show how easy it would be to bring in Chinese-made fakes and sell them as the real thing. I am sorry to have to have shown these things on a blog dedicated to kokeshis and their makers, but I wanted to let all that read this blog to know about this and to be aware. Basically, if you're going to spend your money on kokeshis then buy the real thing!      

Monday, September 16, 2013

Desert Kokeshi 17 砂漠のこけし17

After our trip to the dunes my friend Atique took me out to lunch at a vegetarian south Indian restaurant. I have to admit that until this time it had not occurred to me that there were any variations in Indian food. But of course there are regional differences, and this restaurant's specialty was vegetarian dishes from the south, including some curries, a wonderful peanut dish, and fried cheese in a kind of sweet and sour sauce. Overall everything was unique and thoroughly delicious! 
The kokeshi agreed that south Indian cuisine is delicious.
After lunch Atique and I parted ways, and then the driver took me to the spectacular Museum of Islamic Art on the waterfront (Corniche) in downtown Doha. It was the famous architect I.M. Pei's last project, and words hardly do it justice. It is a world-class structure that will become (if it isn't already) a crowning symbol of Doha and Qatar. I cannot praise the museum building enough -- it really is amazing.
Part of Doha's waterfront. Those traditional boats are dhows, and are chiefly used for tourist excursions today. 
This sign greets visitors as they approach the museum.
That's the museum building in the background. The park-like grounds are surprisingly lush and green, the result of lots and lots of water.
The building is modeled on an old fort. If you look closely at the top you'll see two crescent-shaped slits that are meant to represent a veiled woman's eyes. A very nice touch. 
While the exterior of the Museum of Islamic Arts is spectacular, I would have to say that the inside is even more so as you'll see in the photos below. The interior was inspired by a mosque that Mr. Pei visited, which is fitting. It was so nice that I just wanted to sit and stare up at the ceiling. I could tell that many people were hanging out and enjoying the view from the large picture window, and simply being in such a beautiful place. I was able to see about half the collection on display, so I guess I'll have to return in the future to see the other half. Of what I got to see I was very impressed -- the Qataris have created a top-notch museum with a tasteful, well-curated collection of Islamic-themed art objects. Visits are free of charge by the way, and kokeshis are always welcome. If you'd like to learn more about the Museum of Islamic Art click here to visit the official web page.
The fountain in the atrium. 
The atrium stairs.
Another view of the atrium stairs.
Looking up at the ceiling in the atrium. 
This window looks out onto the water and provides a great view of Doha's new skyline. 
One of the display rooms on the second floor. Everything in the museum was interesting, and guests are welcome to take as many photos as they like.
Looking up at the ceiling and skylight. 
A Coke is always nice after a trip to the museum. 
After the museum I was taken on a quick drive to see the buildings in the new part of Doha. Honestly, it was as though I had entered into the old computer game Sim City. The architecture was amazingly futuristic and bold, and I'm certain the someday Doha is going to be a world-class city. In fact, maybe it already is.

And so ended a splendid trip during which the Togatta kokeshi and I got to see more of Qatar. It also marked the end of the big Desert Kokeshi Adventure that I've been writing about over the last few months. From now on I'll be back in Japan with Naoko and the girls, traveling around Japan and having all new Japanese kokeshi adventures. I look forward to writing about them soon.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Desert Kokeshi 16 砂漠のこけし16

Last week a good friend brought me on an all-day adventure, and yes, the Togatta kokeshi was with me  the whole time. We went to various places, starting the day seeing some sand dunes and Qatar's western shore. I've never seen real sand dunes before, and they are spectacular. According to one source I read, the dunes were created when the Persian/Arabian Gulf was a river valley during the last ice age (when the ocean levels around the world were much lower than today), and the sand from what used to be the bottom of the sea blew onto the land that is now Qatar. This area is also the location of some oil refineries and tourist spots offering camel rides into the dunes. Overall, absolutely fascinating and a highly recommended trip!
In the background is a stack for burning unusable gases from either an oil or natural gas well located out in the dunes.

Yep, those are camels.
On a massive dune.
Dunes as far as the eye can see.

A view from the top of a dune.
It's hard to tell, but I'm on top of a dune and right behind the kokeshi is a sharp drop down.
Hey look, the ocean!

Qatar's western shore has beautiful beaches that go on forever in both directions. The water is very warm and the sand is perfect. Koekshi, I have found, like going to the beach.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Desert Kokeshi 15 砂漠のこけし15

There's a lot to see in downtown Doha, and last week I saw some interesting things that were a complete surprise. Once again I brought the Togatta kokeshi along for the trip.
There is construction everywhere in Doha in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. All those cranes  in the background are part of a major construction project for train station and underground system (I don't think it's a subway except in the city). By the way, not only doesn't Qatar have a train station it also doesn't have any trains. They are going to build the country's first train line for the World Cup as well.
One thing I really like about Qatar is that you can go anywhere, it seems, and nobody bothers you. When I was downtown this time we wondered around from place to place with complete freedom. That was really nice.
Kokeshis are welcome everywhere in Qatar too.
Camels are part of Arabic culture, and they're of course here in Qatar.  There was a pen full of them right in the heart of the city, most likely for the security guards who occasionally ride camels through the old souk (Souk Waqif, which I've shown in previous blogs).
Our destination on this evening was the Falcon Souk and the horse stables, both of which are in the heart of downtown Doha. So what's a Falcon Souk you might ask? Well, it's a market where one purchase a falcon or falcon goods like the little hats they wear, or, I believe,  keep one's falcon. Yes, there is an entire market devoted to falcons and falconry here in Doha, and we went there were plenty of people sitting around chatting in the falcon shops. I had no idea that the Qataris loved falcons so much, but they do.
This handsome building is the Falcon Souk.
Inside the Falcon Souk -- a very handsome building indeed.
Some falcons. I asked if I could take this picture and it was no problem. I have found that nobody minds that I'm constantly taking pictures of things.
Examining falcons.
Outside another falcon shop.
Right next to the Falcon Souk is a large, beautiful horse stable. I'm not sure why it's located where it is -- perhaps they're the Qatari Emir's horses? Anyhow, it's freely open to the public, and so I introduced the kokeshi to a couple of nice Arabian horses.
The stable's exterior.
Kokeshi, meet horse. Horse, meet kokeshi. Interestingly, I have learned that Arabian horses are white when they're young, but take on a light gray patina as they get older. Therefore, this is an older horse, but still fully capable of appreciating kokeshis.
Inside the stable.
Behind the stable is Doha's Grand Mosque, which is lit up beautifully at night.
This other building may have been the Emir's palace, or perhaps parliament. I'm not sure, but it was nicely lit up.
And so ends another exiting Kokeshi Adventure in the wonderful country of Qatar.