Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Return to the Tsugaru Kokeshi-kan

Last month Naoko, Lena, Emily and I made our way north on a ten-day driving trip around Hokkaido, Aomori, and the Japan Sea. It was a terrific vacation, and of course we had some kokeshi adventures along the way. The first adventure was to the wonderful Tsugaru Kokeshi-kan 津軽こけし館 in Kuroishi City 黒石市 as you'll see in the photos below. We've been there a couple of times before, and it is always worth a visit. There's a very nice kokeshi museum on the second floor, but we stuck to the first floor where master craftsman Mr. Abo Muchihide 阿保六知秀さん was demonstrating his craft, and where there's a huge collection of traditional kokeshis and kokeshi goods for sale.
The sign says "Welcome: Kuroishi." Nothing says "welcome" like a giant Tsugaru kokeshi!
From the outside nothing has changed since our last visit, but the inside has been remodeled nicely with even more emphasis on new kokeshis from Aomori and around Tohoku. Everything looks great!

Naoko chatting with the Kokeshi-kan's manager Mr. Yamada. 
Hina kokeshis. 

While not exactly kokeshis, many kokeshi craftsmen also make wooden Darumas and the Kokeshi-kan has a nice collection available.  

Some kokeshis by Mr. Shimazu Sei'ichi 島津誠一さん. I got the yellow one on the right. 

Some kokeshis by a new maker named Honda who doesn't even appear in the latest kokeshi makers handbook. Really nice work!
A close-up of one of Honda-san's kokeshis.

The Kokeshi-kan is also a great place to get Kokeshi Jidai magazine, either the latest edition or back issues. Here you can see the ones on display, and Mr. Yamada will send them out through the mail if you make an order. 

This book is devoted to the kokeshis of Mr. Kon Akira 今晃さん. Mr. Kon has a lot of fans who probably wouldn't mind the 10,800 yen price.
And it turns out that the folks who brought us the influential Kokeshi Book have recently brought out a similar book on Darumas that's available at the Kokeshi-kan. 
Usually there's a craftsman on hand at the Kokeshi-kan, and the day we visited it was Mr. Abo Muchihide whose workshop is right up the valley from the Kokeshi-kan. We visited him back in 2011.
The next thing I knew my daughters were making their own kokeshis under Mr. Abo's patient tutelage.
A job well done.
And there were plenty of kokeshi goods as you'll see in the photos below.
A kokeshi-apple towel. Kokeshis and apples are two symbols of Aomori.

This is a great place to learn about and purchase kokeshis, and it's right in the heart of a major kokeshi-producing area. I cannot recommend the Kokeshi-kan highly enough!


  1. Hi John, love the blog. I'm in the UK and info on kokeshi is very sparse.
    how would i be able to get some idea of the age of some of my dolls.
    some have been dated by artisan others show nothng?

    1. Teddyt -- thanks for your note. It's true that dating kokeshis is not easy, and that's an area I know little about. The experts in groups such as the Tokyo Kokeshi Tomonokai (http://www.tokyo-kokeshi.jp) might be able to help if you sent them some pictures. Just click around the web site until you find an email address. There's also a good book named Tohoku no Kokeshi 東北のこけし which is in full color and shows lots of sample kokeshis with names and dates. It's 100% Japanese though. Here's a link to Amazon Japan: http://www.amazon.co.jp/伝統工芸-東北のこけし-高井-佐寿/dp/4769401337/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408746120&sr=1-1&keywords=東北のこけし
      Good luck!  

    2. Many thanks john , very helpful. I will chase the books and let you know how i get on. keep the blogs comming