Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Visit to Aida Kokeshi 会田こけしへの旅

During our big Kokeshi Adventure to Yamagata Prefecture, the next day after visiting Mr. Shida we drove north for about 45 minutes to Tendo Onsen 天童温泉, a hot bath town best known for the Japanese chess game shogi 将棋 (the distinctive shogi obelisk-shape is everywhere), and, to a lesser degree, kokeshis. We visited two kokeshi makers while there, and today I'll focus on Mr. Aida Eiji 会田栄治さん who makes Yamagata Kokeshis 山形系こけし. We've been to the town a couple times before and always enjoy being there, but both times Mr. Aida was not in so we never got to meet him. Would we be luckier this time?
When you see this sign you know you're in Tendo.
The shogi-piece shape can be see pretty much everywhere in town. This one, and others like it, is at the central park.
Another shogi piece with the surrounding mountains beyond. As you can see, we had nice weather.
We first stopped by the city's tourist office, a beautiful facility with good information about the local area and a display of locally made crafts. Among the handcrafted items were three kokeshis, which was a good sign. After the kids ran around for a bit in the park outside we headed to the Shogi Piece and Folk Arts 駒と民芸 shop in the center of town.
Kokeshis on display.
The the Shogi Piece and Folk Arts shop is, as its name implies, a place to get shogi pieces and folk art of various sorts. However, the bulk of the folk arts is actually kokeshis by Mr. Aida. We got lucky this time, too, because Mr. Aida was in. We spent some time talking to him about history and of the  kokeshis from the area. It turns out that Mr. Aida is quite fascinated with the local kokeshi tradition, and he told us a bit about what he has discovered. That was very interesting.
This is the back entrance to the shop, where the parking lot is.
Mr. Aida's kokeshis are the ones on the bottom, and only those were for sale. One thing I've noticed about Mr. Aida's kokeshis is the unique shape of the head. It's neither round nor cylindrical, but somewhere in between.
Naoko and Mr. Aida.
Signing the guest book.
After that we found a kokeshi that we really liked, which now graces our collection. It's a rare non-striped Yamagata kokeshi, a style that Mr. Aida recently resurrected.
Naoko was pretty happy with the kokeshi we got.
A box of Aida kokeshis. Beautiful craftsmanship.
Mr. Aida's work area. As you can see, he is surrounded by a collection of kokeshis by many of his fellow craftsmen.
A photo of a photo of the kokeshi style we purchased.
This was a nice trip and easy to do since Mr. Aida's shop is right in the heart of Tendo. Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Visit to Shida Kokeshi 志田こけしの旅

During our big Tohoku kokeshi adventure back in April we first went to Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture as discussed in the previous blog. The next day we headed south to Yamagata Prefecture山形県, and from there headed west to Nishikawa Village 西川村 located in a valley in the center of some huge mountains blocking the way to the Sea of Japan. Even though it was April and spring had arrived in much of Japan, the mountains of Yamagata were still covered in deep snow and when we got off the highway to go Nishikawa I was amazed to find that we were driving through snowbanks higher than our minivan. Incredible!    
Still lots of snow.
That's Emily scrambling up the wall of snow in Nishikawa Village. 
Our destination was the kokeshi workshop of Mr. Shida Kikuhiro 志田菊宏さん who makes Yamagata-style kokeshis 山形系こけし that I explored in a blog post a few months ago. We arrived a bit earlier than our appointment so we found a small inn in the village where we ate a delicious lunch of cold soba and mountain-vegetable tempura -- the owner had just gathered the vegetables and had large bags of them sitting in the doorway! After lunch we drove to the kokeshi shop and Mr. Shida welcomed us in for some coffee and a chat about kokeshis and life in the mountains. 
The sign for Mr. Shida's shop which is a cafe and kokeshi showroom. 
Naoko chatting with Mr. Shida about kokeshis.
We then spent some time viewing his kokeshis, and once again I must say that his work, especially that of his faces, is absolutely exquisite and unique in the kokeshi world. He let us take pictures of all the pieces he had available so that I could show them here. The following, then, are the kokeshis Mr. Shida had available the day we went. I'm obviously a big fan of his work, and we found some fantastic pieces that have added very nicely to our collection.

These three are all stunning, and we got the tall one on the right.
I got that beauty on the right. I also like the white one on the left but did not get it on this trip. 
Besides his traditional Yamagatas, Mr. Shida has pioneered these cute mushroom and hat kokeshis below which have apparently been a big hit. And deservedly so -- they're really nice work. Naoko got a couple of them of course.

And there were others as well -- Darumas, big kokeshis, and even a giant kokeshi.

Yes, this was a genuine kokeshi adventure. We got to meet Mr. Shida, who was very kind and welcoming, but one can only get to his place via a country road that runs deep into the Yamagata mountains. I do have to say that Mr. Shida's shop is literally in the middle of nowhere and is a long drive from Yamagata City, and even Japanese drivers would have a hard time getting there without a navigation system. Therefore it's essential to plan the trip beforehand and let Mr. Shida know that you're coming. That said the Nishikawa Town area has stunning scenery and just seeing that is probably worth the trip, but of course we all go for the kokeshis.