Monday, March 24, 2014

Antique Kokeshis 1 中古こけし 1

The other day I walked into our local antique shop and noticed that there were a number of nice looking traditional kokeshis for sale, and for good prices too. I had been to the shop in the past and for the most part the kokeshis there were always old, faded, and not too interesting. However, this time I was in for a very pleasant surprise, and Naoko and I ended up purchasing five fine pieces. Before continuing I would like to say that I typically do not purchase antique kokeshis, mainly because I would prefer to get them new as this supports the craftsmen who have devoted their lives to the craft. Moreover, after a while our new kokeshis will get old and become antiques, so why bother buying used kokeshis? There are times, though, when purchasing an antique is the way to go. The obvious case is when a craftsman has passed away -- you either get his or her kokeshis used, or go without. The other instance when I might buy an antique kokeshi is in the case of hard-to-find kokeshis by actively working craftsmen. Some makers simply do not make that many kokeshis, and then supply and demand get out of balance. Having said the above, let me introduce two fantastic pieces that have entered our collection.

The first is a Tsugaru kokeshi 津軽系こけし of the Nuruyu Onsen  branch by the late Mr. Sato Zenji 佐藤善二さん. Naoko did a little research and found out that Mr. Sato was not known for making Nuruyu kokeshis, so this piece is apparently unique in that regard. Meanwhile, I love the body shape, the simple lines, and of course the face with the whimsical expression.
Here's the bottom which contains some good information. It's hard to see, but the writing in pencil is a date -- October 9th, 1984 -- and the kokeshi's size -- 8 inches (8寸). What does that date signify I wonder? When it was made, or when it was purchased? Mr. Sato retired in 1985, and died in 1986, so this is most likely a kokeshi made at the end of his career. The writing in ink, from right to left, says "Nuruyu" (the name of kokeshi's the sub-branch), then "Itaro-gata" 伊太郎型, which Naoko believes is this simple kokeshi style, and then Mr. Sato's first name Zenji. This kokeshi has required a bit of detective work which has been fun, and I'm sure we'll learn more about it in the future.   

The second kokeshi we discovered was a real find. It's another Tsugaru kokeshi, this time by still-active kokeshi master craftsman Mr. Kon Akira 今晃さん. Mr. Kon's kokeshis are extremely popular, but he doesn't make all that many. Moreover, he has been in poor health over the last couple of years which has limited his output even further. His style here appears simplistic, even primitive, but if you see his more refined pieces you know immediately that he is fully capable of creating perfect kokeshis. Rather, he chooses to make them look unrefined. Naoko and I are both big fans of Mr. Kon's work, but it's truly difficult to get a hold of his kokeshis.  
Mr. Kon's signature. The date written in pencil says October 25th, 1986, so it's nearly 30 years old. 
Here are our two new Tsugarus together for a size comparison.
Overall, this was a small but nice kokeshi adventure. I'll show the others that we found at the antique shop in the next blog entry.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Reading Matter on Kokeshis こけしの読み物

I'm pretty sure that in America and other countries outside Japan finding new things to read about kokeshis is difficult, so here are a couple of items worth mentioning. The first is a small, 22-page magazine-like publication entitled Narukoke no Tabi なるこけの旅 (Naruko-Kokeshi Trip -- In Japanese "Naruko" and "Kokeshi" have been combined into a coined word: "Narukoke") produced by the Gomba Company ゴンバ社 back in October 2012. In this little handbook the artist recounted her impressions of the kokeshi world of Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 using cute drawings, a style of travel guide that is fairly popular in Japan and suits the kokeshi world well. Naoko said she saw Narukoke no Tabi back in 2012 when it came out, but since it looked so much like another similar pamphlet on Naruko that we already owned she passed on getting it. Still, I would recommend Narukoke no Tabi and can vouch that it captures the feeling of Naruko Onsen and a kokeshi adventure perfectly. Here are a couple of images from it.    

The entire publication is filled with this kind of art -- very nicely done. 
Another view. Believe it or not this drawings capture the Naruko experience perfectly.
The second publication I'd like to mention is the March 2014 edition (issue 638) of the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Association's 東京こけし友の会 monthly journal Kokeshi Techo こけし手帖. I've mentioned this journal in past blogs and it's a great source for academic writing about kokeshi history, news about the association, and even occasional articles about kokeshi adventures by members. It's all in Japanese, but I think foreign enthusiasts can easily appreciate it. After all, since kokeshis are a visual medium non-Japanese readers would really only need to be able to recognize the kanji of the names of the different kokeshi families. This month's cover art is by Tsugaru craftsman Mr. Hasegawa Kenzo 長谷川健三さん, and it's quite handsome. How do you get this journal you might ask? Easy -- become a member of the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Association, and they'll mail it right to your door.  

This image shows one of the articles about the early days of the Kijiyama kokeshi tradition 木地山系こけし. I am fascinated by the photo here -- the conditions in which kokeshis evolved were unbelievably remote and poor.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

New Owani Kokeshi 新しい大鰐こけし

At yesterday's kokeshi event at Tachikawa Station I got Naoko this fantastic Owani Kokeshi 大鰐系こけしby craftsman Mr. Shimazu Sei'ichi 嶋津誠一さん. We visited Mr. Shimazu a couple of years ago at his home at Owani Onsen 大鰐温泉 during a summer adventure to Aomori, so I was very pleased to see this available in Tachikawa. Owani kokeshis are one of two branches of the Tsugaru Kokeshi family, and in my opinion they are the most primitive-looking of all the traditional kokeshis. That primitive quality is done on purpose of course, giving these kokeshis their charm. Owani kokeshis tend to use lots of bright yellow on the bodies, and have big, surprised-looking eyes. This is a very nice piece that will add nicely to our collection. 

Mr. Shimazu's signature is on the left, and a simplified version of "Owani" on the right.

Kokeshi Event in Tachikawa Station 立川駅でのこけしイベント

Yesterday I was passing through the Tachikawa train station when I glanced over and noticed a bunch of traditional kokeshis! I couldn't believe it -- it was like a bunch of old friends were greeting me. It turned out that a bookstore within the concourse to the train platforms had a large-scale kokeshi display set up by an organization or company called Paper Wall. I had to catch a train and didn't have much time, but the nice ladies at the shop said I could take some pictures so I managed to get a few shots as you'll see below. I also bought one kokeshi that I'll talk about in the next blog entry. 
Here's the shop. That group of women milling around the entrance are looking at part of the kokeshi display.
With this poster display there was no doubt I was in kokeshi territory. Everything was lovingly done.
Some of the kokeshis for sale. It was a top-notch collection.
Another view. There were even some Hina Kokeshis (girls day).
Although there were many different kinds on display, I would say that the majority of the kokeshis were Tsugarus 津軽系.
For some reason these were behind glass. I wasn't sure why.
There were also plenty of kokeshi goods available.
Wooden tableware with little tiny kokeshi heads on them. I believe I've met this craftsman before, and that his workshop is in Tokyo.
More kokeshis and goods. The ones wearing clothes are Nambu kokeshis 南部系こけし.
Another angle showing the display in the front entry containing books and kokeshis. I had to fight to get a good view -- it was very popular.
So that was the Tachikawa Station's Paper Wall kokeshi fair. It started back in February and ends on March 16th, so one more day at the time I'm writing this. I wish I would have gotten to see it earlier -- Paper Wall did a great job with the display, and I can tell that they genuinely love the graphic design side of kokeshis. I also asked the ladies in the shop how the kokeshi fair had been going and they said it was very successful and "lively." That was good to hear.

As noted above, I did purchase a kokeshi and when I got home I found these three pamphlets in my bag. There were two from the Tsugaru Kokeshikan 津軽こけし館 up in Kuroishi City in Aomori Prefecture, so I suspect they participated in this event. The third pamphlet (the small dark blue one in the photo) was really quite nice, giving an introductory lesson view hand-drawings about the different traditional kokeshi families. 

This was a really pleasant and unexpected kokeshi adventure. I'm sorry the event is ending so soon, but if anyone reads this and can get to Tachikawa by March 16th, it is highly recommended.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sakunami Kokeshis in a Car 車の中の作並こけし

Yesterday I noticed that some of our Sakunami kokeshis had disappeared and I figured that our younger daughter Emily had been playing with them. I was right, and when I found them this morning this is what I saw. This scene gave me a good laugh!
Emily often plays with the kokeshis by dressing them up or putting them to bed, but this is the first time I've seen them riding in her Barbie car. Is this a possible trend for young girls? 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Kokeshis by Mr. Shida Kikuhiro 志田菊宏さんのこけし

Among the kokeshis in our collection, a group of Yamagata kokeshis 山形系こけし by Mr. Shida Kikuhiro 志田菊宏さん has recently caught my eye. Mr. Shida's kokeshis show superlative craftsmanship, from the lathing to the painting, and his faces are exquisite -- somehow he makes them look quite lifelike. I remember casually liking his kokeshis, but I'm not sure how I failed to notice such superior work until now. Furthermore, I've noticed two things about his kokeshis that I'm pretty sure are unique among Yamagata kokeshis. First, he makes at least some of his kokeshis such as the first one below where the head and body are connected, something usually only seen in Tsugaru 津軽 and Kijiyama kokeshis 木地山系こけし. Secondly, Mr. Shida paints a line of hair on the back of his heads (shown in the images at the bottom), which I have not seen seen on other kokeshis. I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do.

When I first started looking at Mr. Shida's kokeshis I had a hard time figuring out what was written on the bottom (image above). He only writes his first name -- 菊宏 -- in very stylized script, next to which he also writes Oisawa -- 大井沢 -- the area in the mountains in central Yamagata where his workshop is located.  


Here's a rear view of the kokeshis above so you can see the line of hair the back of the heads. It shows a nice attention to detail.

Hopefully we'll be making a kokeshi adventure to Yamagata and Mr. Shida's workshop soon.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Four New Kokeshis 新しいこけし (四体)

As serious enthusiasts Naoko and I routinely add new kokeshis to our collection. A side effect of this is that the number in our possession has grown so large that I don't always have the chance to pay close attention to every one that comes into our hands. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find the following four kokeshis living in our house.

To be honest, since Naoko gave me this beautiful piece as a present the other day I know exactly where it came from and when I got it. It's a Naruko kokeshi 鳴子系こけし with stylized cosmos flowers (I believe) painted on the front, something I've never seen on a Naruko before. Eagle-eyed readers out there can probably tell that this was made by someone in the Kakizawa family, but who? The craftsman is Mrs. Kakizawa Mariko 柿澤真理子さん, whom we have met in the past at the Kakizawa workshop. We have acquired kokeshis by the father and son, but not by her for some reason. Anyway, as you can see it's a really fantastic kokeshi.

The next one is a Yamagata kokeshi 山形系こけし by Mr. Shida Kikuhiro 志田菊宏さん. Apparently we got it last November up in Yamagata, but somehow I never quite paid attention to it. And that's a shame because it's absolutely delightful  I'm especially struck by the hair, and Mr. Shida's eyes are also extremely realistic (which I like) while the body design is unique and fetching.

Next is a 4-inch Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系こけし that Naoko received at a Tokyo Kokeshi Friends meeting as an omiyage kokeshi. I like this smug little guy by Mr. Sato Eihiro 佐藤英宏さん. At least, I think his face is smug, or even arrogant. It's definitely not smily, or serene, or content -- the sorts of emotions typically expressed by traditional kokeshis.

The last sample is another Togatta kokeshi, this one by Mr. Sato Yasuhiro 佐藤保裕さん whom we met last November up in Yamagata. All I can say about this exquisite work of art is "wow." The face, the body shape, the head shape, the eyes and eyebrows, the pattern of paint on the kimono. Yes, it is wearing a kimono is you look closely at the neck area. Overall, a kokeshi I could look at again and again.