Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hawaii Kokeshi Adventure 3 ハワイのこけし冒険3

It's true that this is a blog about kokeshis -- a Japanese handicraft-- but I cannot help recommending a trip to Hawaii's Big Island and the Volcanoes National Park. The whole island is alive and growing beneath one's feet, with recent lava flows visible wherever one goes. It is a truly wonderful place. None of this has anything to do with kokeshis of course, unless one happens to bring a kokeshi along for the adventure. I did, and I'm pretty sure our's was the first kokeshi to enter the National Park.
In front of Volcano House, the lodge within the Volcanoes National Park. It has a fantastic view and a great restaurant.
The back of Volcano House overlooks the main caldera at the park. It's venting right now, the result of a 500-foot deep magma lake that opened up recently. Humans and kokeshis alike are required to stay far away from the poisonous smoke.
On this day we hiked around the park's forest area, and then went for a drive on Chain of Craters Road which meanders down the side of the Kilauea volcano to the ocean, all on the National Park property. It's an amazing drive. Along the way we stopped to walk on a massive lava flow that formed a few decades ago.
A fairly recent lava flow open for exploration and adventure.
The first kokeshi to ever relax on a Big Island lava flow.

We picked up the kokeshi and continued down the side of the mountain on Chain of Craters Road where we saw more stunning vistas. Finally we passed through a cut made through an impressive lava flow, and were treated to a spectacular view of the island and the ocean.
This land is so new that there's almost no vegetation growing on it. However, it will be quite green and alive in a couple of decades.
The road cut through a line of lava.
The kokeshi enjoying the view. Those dark lines going down in the background is solidified lava.
This trail leads into the middle of nowhere for an all-day hike, requiring one to register with a park ranger before starting. Needless to say, this is as far as the kokeshi went.
While this was not a traditional kokeshi adventure, it was definitely an adventure for a kokeshi!

Hawaii Kokeshi Adventure 2 ハワイのこけし冒険2

The heart of our recent Christmas trip was a visit to the Big Island (Hawaii) where we spent a couple of days at the spectacular Volcanoes National Park -- more on that in upcoming blog entries. On the way up the mountain from Hilo we stopped by the home of Randy Fonseca, a ukulele craftsman whose business is called Rock Fire Ukulele. What a perfect name for a workshop located in a town called Volcano! We had a really nice time getting to know the Fonsecas, but what surprised me was how similar the worlds of ukulele and kokeshi craftsmanship are. That is to say, like kokeshi makers ukulele craftsmen choose their own wood and then work in solitary conditions where they shape and build the entire instrument through to completion. In Mr. Fonseca's case, he even makes many of his own tools. I am certain that the many kokeshi craftsmen whom we've met over the years would feel perfectly at home in Mr. Fonseca's workshop.
Mr. Fonseca's ukulele workshop undergoing expansion. This could just as easily have been a kokeshi workshop.
A Rock Fire ukulele being born.
Mr. Fonseca demonstrating how the koa wood is shaped.
Our kokeshi joined the tour.

The kokeshi posing with some of Mr. Fonseca's ukuleles in various stages of completion.
Lena and Emily testing out some Rock Fire ukuleles.
This was a fun trip and the Fonsecas welcomed us right in. When I pulled out the kokeshi for some photos Mr. Fonseca understood it immediately, having spent some time in Japan as a young man. In the big scheme of things I think there might be a natural connection between kokeshis and ukuleles.

Hawaii Kokeshi Adventure 1 ハワイのこけし冒険1

Back in December Naoko, the girls and I went to Hawaii for a little vacation. I brought my trusty Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系 by Mr. Agatsuma Nobuo 我妻信雄さん with us, the same one that joined me in Qatar last summer. This kokeshi has become quite a world traveller! Here are a few shots of our kokeshi at the Haleiwa Beach Park on Oahu's north shore. As with everyone who visits Hawaii, our kokeshi was warmly welcomed.

Although I did not see any other kokeshis during our trip, I did see a number of young boys carrying around kendamas 剣玉, those kokeshi-like wooden toys with a round ball on the top that's connected by a string. It's obviously a fad right now in Hawaii, which is something I would never have expected!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Historical Kokeshi Lecture at Kamei Museum カメイ博物館での歴史的なこけし講座

Last October we went up to Sendai on our way to Yamagata and attended a lecture about the early history of traditional kokeshis by Mr. Takahashi Goro 高橋五郎さん, a long-time kokeshi historian who wrote the 1983 book 仙台周辺のこけし:その源流 を探る Kokeshis of the Sendai Area: A Search for Their Origins. Obviously, then, Mr. Takahashi has been working for decades to discover the true origins of this marvelous folk-craft. His task has been easier said than done though, as kokeshis evolved naturally as toys in the 19th century in the Tohoku region and weren't "discovered" as a legitimate folk art until the early 20th century. Nevertheless, through Mr. Takahashi's research, along with that of various kokeshi associations and generations of work by individual researchers, a genealogy is coming into focus. While I am not ready to explain Mr. Takahashi's precise findings in this blog, suffice it to say that his research brought him to Yamagata Prefecture and Naruko Onsen for some of the earliest kokeshis as we know them today.
Mr. Takahashi's talk was introduced by Mr. Kamei, who owns the building that is home to the Kamei Museum. I chatted with Mr. Kamei for a few minutes afterwards and his two loves are kokeshis and butterflies, both of which are on display in the museum.
Mr. Takahashi holding up a really old kokeshi that he discovered a few years ago in Yamagata Prefecture. It's a real treasure.
Old kokeshis
A large crowd of kokeshi enthusiasts from Tokyo, Sendai, and elsewhere gathered at the Kamei Museum to hear Mr. Takahashi's lecture and see some authentically old kokeshis. While they are definitely antiques, their true value comes from their historical significance. The lecture was very well received, and everyone was quite interested to take a close look at and hold the old kokeshis.

Hands on time with the old kokeshis. I guess at this point it doesn't matter if people touch them with their bare hands.

Naoko chatting with Mr. Takahashi after the lecture.
Besides the book mentioned above, since 2012 Mr. Takahashi has been writing a series of history articles for the Sendai newspaper Kahoku Shinpo. They're of course in Japanese, but even if one doesn't read Japanese they're worth taking a look at on his web site here.
The Kahoku Shinpo newspaper building near the Kamei Museum. For those who don't know that's a map of Tohoku, the kokeshi homeland.
The first of Mr. Takahashi's recurring kokeshi history articles from the Kahoku Shinpo.
This was really a great event, maybe even an adventure, and it shows the level of research and interest that some of our fellow kokeshi enthusiasts are doing. While Naoko and I are not quite yet involved with this level of research about kokeshis, we're very happy to see that the history is being written.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Display 東京こけし友の会の展示

The event poster.
On the way to the Yamagata Kokeshi Festival last October we stopped at the Kamei Museum in Sendai to hear a lecture on the early history of kokeshis (upcoming blog). The museum's ongoing kokeshi exhibition, it turned out, was rare and special kokeshis from the collections of members of the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Association 東京こけし友の会 in order to mark the club's 60th anniversary. It was really great, and there were many older, unique kokeshis on display.

The other part of the exhibition were all of the mini kokeshis that have been given out during the monthly meetings that I occasionally report on in this blog. There have been hundreds over the decades, as you'll see in the photos below.

The Tokyo Kokeshi Friends also displayed a collection of vintage membership cards, as well as a chronology of the association's history. I've posted a photo of the chronology below, but it's in Japanese only so pull out your dictionary!
Vintage membership cards.
60 years of the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends’ history.

Interesting "Traditional" Kokeshis 面白い「伝統」こけし

Over the last couple of years Naoko has collected some cute, oddly shaped "kokeshis" called himedaruma 姫だるま from various traditional craftsmen.  They are definitely creative, and show yet again the amazing variety of possible kokeshi shapes.
This fantastic Togatta 遠刈田系 himedaruma is by Mr. Ogasawara Yoshio 小笠原義雄さん of Sendai City. Seemingly a mere kokeshi head, it is actually a toy that wobbles but will not tip over.
Another wobbling Togatta by Mr. Ogasawara.
Here's a bottom view -- hollowed and properly weighted.
A beautiful little Tsugaru 津軽系 piece by Ms. Honma Naoko 本間直子さん of Aomori Prefecture 青森県.
Another Honma piece.
Signatures on the bottoms of the above two Honma kokeshis.
This tiny piece of art is a Naruko 鳴子系 by Mr. Kakizawa Yoshinobu 柿澤是伸さん.
Bottom view of the Kakizawa.
A Naruko by Mrs. Hayasaka Setsu 早坂せつさん.
Here's the bottom view and signature.
Two Naruko beauties by Mr. Onuma Hideaki 大沼秀顕さん. Note the very slight color diference.
Bottom view of the Onumas.
A mushroom-shaped Naruko by Mr. Matsuda Tadao 松田忠雄さん. Really creative!