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.

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