Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gunma Kokeshi Sightings 群馬県でこけしの観測

On 21 June Naoko, the girls and I drove up into the mountains of Gunma Prefecture for a day in the country. By chance we ended up at Minakami Onsen 水上温泉, and it's a beautiful spot. Although I was not expecting this to be a kokeshi adventure, we did see some interesting things I'd like to report on in this blog. First, we discovered a kokeshi maker's shop on the main street of town. Based on the condition of the facade I would guess that the shop is permanently closed, though I can't say for sure. The craftsman, whose name neither Naoko nor I have been able to decipher, appears to be a traditional kokeshi maker, but I checked our kokeshi our handbooks (from 1993 and 2011) and the name is not in there. Here are a couple of photos of the shop. This is definitely a mystery, and if I find anything out I'll provide information.

Interestingly, when we went into Murakami's Michi no Eki 道の駅 (a chain of facilities along country roads throughout Japan that carry local produce, foods, and goods) I noticed a shelf full of kokeshis. On closer inspection I found that though they weren't exactly modern kokeshis, they also weren't traditional kokeshis either, but there's a connection. Furthermore, they are not related to the craftsman's shop mentioned above, and according to the display there is apparently another kokeshi shop in Minakami called Michinoku Kokeshi Ningyo-ten. みちのくこけし人形店. We didn't make it there, and it may not even be open any more. There were two kokeshi designs for sale: One was a kokeshi that looked similar to a traditional kokeshi, and the other was a Jizo 地蔵, one of the little stone gods seen along roads in Japan. Anyway, I thought these kokeshis were quite nice, though expensive (the Jizo kokeshis were 3,000 yen, and the "traditional" ones were 2,500 yen) so we didn't get any. Again, though, the Jizo kokeshis were really quite nice and striking, so perhaps we'll pick one up the next time we visit Minakami.  

Finally, at a highway rest stop on the way home I spotted this food product using a traditional kokeshi as its label! Kokeshis are definitely everywhere these days.

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