Sunday, February 23, 2014

Nambu Kokeshis 南部系こけし

During our many kokeshi adventures Naoko, the girls and I have travelled throughout much of Tohoku and met craftsmen of many traditions. There is, sadly, one big hole in those adventures. On a couple of occasions we've zipped though Iwate Prefecture on the highway, but we've never stopped there, and therefore have never become familiar with Nambu kokeshis 南部系こけし that come from Iwate. Having said that, there are some good reasons for not having yet gone to Iwate, not least is which there are hardly any kokeshi makers left in that huge prefecture. Looking at the 2011 kokeshi makers guidebook there are only 14 people listed. Of those fourteen, four do not even make Nambu kokeshis, and of the ten listed as Nambu craftsmen three have already passed away and one has stopped making kokeshis. That means there are just six Nambu craftsmen still actively making kokeshis in Iwate. The good thing is that over the years we have managed to find a couple new ones, and Naoko has patiently gathered a few nice used kokeshis, but frankly those seem to be as rare as the new ones. And that's too bad, because as you'll see below the Nambu tradition has produced some very nice designs with very nice faces. The other thing I need to mention is that some Nambus have a unique feature not seen anywhere else -- a head that swivels 360 degrees. Today (from what I can tell) there are three types of Nambu kokeshis: One that's a completely blank body, one that looks like a candle, and one that has a swiveling head known as kina kina キナキナ that is only found in Nambu kokeshis.
This terrific piece is by Mr. Sasaki Kakuhei 佐々木覚平さん who passed away a few years ago. Naoko bought this one used last year. 
A close up of the head, which swivels by the way. I've never seen that head design anywhere else. 
Another nice kokeshi by Mr. Sasaki.
... which also has a swiveling head.
Another used piece by Mr. Sasaki with that rounded chest style and the rare use of blue and yellow. It's hard to tell in the photo, but little guy is only about three inches tall.
This close up shows the hair well -- very unique.
We purchased this Nambu by Mr. Sato Tadao 佐藤忠雄さん of Hanamaki City 花巻市 a couple of years ago at a kokeshi festival. Mr. Sato is an active kokeshi maker.
As you can see, its head swivels. 
This beauty was made by someone from the Susumago 煤孫 family, though I cannot say exactly who. It's a quite tall and thin kokeshi.
It, too, has a swiveling head. 
Old and new. The big kokeshi in the middle is by Mr. Takahashi Kinzo 高橋金三さん who made this in 1984 (written on the bottom). An antique?  The small ones that look like candles are brand new and were made by 32-year old kokeshi craftsman Ms. Tayama Izumi 田山和泉さん of Morioka City 盛岡市.
These days this blank kokeshi style by Mr. Matsuda Hiroji 松田広次さん is considered to be emblematic of the Nambu tradition. The craftsmanship is impeccable, though I have to admit that I prefer my kokeshis to have faces. As shown above, though, there used to be, and to a certain degree still is, a large variety within the Nambu tradition.
One good source on Nambu kokeshis is issue 2 of Kokeshi Jidai こけし時代 magazine seen in the photo below. It came out back in October 2011, but it still might be available out there somewhere on the Internet.

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