Monday, June 30, 2014

Hanamaki Kokeshi Adventure 花巻こけしの冒険

Back in April Naoko, the girls and I headed up north and deep into Tohoku for a big kokeshi adventure. We had a great trip overall, which started out in the hills of Hanamaki City 花巻市 in Iwate Prefecture 岩手県 where we visited the kokeshi workshop of Mr. Susumago Morizo 煤孫盛造さん. The fact that we were in Iwate was interesting in and of itself, but Mr. Susumago is one of the last Nambu-style kokeshi 南部系こけし makers, so we got to see and purchase some very unique and rare kokeshis in their native habitat. Nambu kokeshis are probably the easiest traditional kokeshi to recognize as they are the only ones that are left unpainted. Well, the most famous Nambus are the unpainted ones, and frankly I didn't really really care for them as kokeshis until we visited Mr. Susumago's workshop. It was then that I finally came to understand that besides being a beautiful example of a pure representative form, the way Mr. Susumago does his unpainted kokeshis is to draw attention to the beauty of the wood used to make the kokeshi. When you see the variety of colors of natural wood, as well as the grain, it becomes a completely new kokeshi experience. We even bought one made from wood that Mr. Susumago said is likely hundreds, and possibly thousands of years old! Here are a few shots of what we saw.    
The workshop.
The shop sign says "Nambu  Susumago Kokeshi  Susumago Morizo."
Inside the workshop it was cluttered, warm, and welcoming. 
Some Nambu kokeshis for sale.
A group of Nambu kokeshis. One thing all Nambus have in common is the kina kina きなきな head that bobbles around, something that was originally designed for babies to teethe on. You can see a couple of heads tilted in this photo. One of of Mr. Susumago's unique additions to the kokeshi world, and for which I believe he is famous, is the unpainted kokeshi with the hat and overcoat. For some reason I used to think it represented a Catholic priest, but it's actually a doll of Mr. Miyazawa Kenji 宮沢賢治さん, a famous chidrens' book author from Hanamaki who died in 1933 at the age of 37. In fact, just up the hill from Mr. Susumago's workshop is a museum dedicated to Mr. Miyazawa and his works.
Some painted and unpainted kokeshs for sale.
Mr. Susumago explaining about Nambu kokeshis to Naoko. 
A Nambu head waiting to be joined to a Nambu body.
Bodies destined to become Miyazawa Kenji kokeshis.
Naoko, Lena, Emily and Mr. Susumago.
It was very nice to visit Mr. Susumago who is just one of two kokeshi makers remaining in Hanamaki. After saying farewell we went to the Miyazawa Kenji museum that I mentioned above, and then drove up into the mountains to our onsen where we spent the night. Yes, of course there was an onsen, and it was great! Overall I definitely recommend a  trip to Iwate and to visit Mr. Susumago's workshop, but if you go it would be best to call ahead of time so he'll know that you're coming.

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