Wednesday, September 10, 2014

2014 National Kokeshi Festival part 1 2014 全国こけし祭り 1

Last weekend was the beginning of September and that meant it was once again time for the annual National Kokeshi Festival 全国こけし祭り held at Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 in Miyagi Prefecture 宮城県. We attended two years ago, and also three years ago, and felt that we ought to go back this year since it was the event's 60th anniversary. So we pulled the kids out of school a couple of hours early on the afternoon of 5 September and headed north on the Tohoku Expressway. Destination: Naruko Onsen!
If you drive you are welcomed to the Naruko area by this giant kokeshi.
As you drive a bit further you're greeted by another one.
We had a smooth drive into Tohoku and arrived at Naruko by about 5:30 so the sun was still up. The reason we left Tokyo early was to attend that evening's ceremony for "departed" kokeshis held at the Naruko Kokeshi Shrine こけし神社. Basically, it's a ceremony in which unwanted kokeshis are put onto a bonfire and burned. I'm not sure how a kokeshi becomes "unwanted" considering that most readers of this blog would undoubtedly be happy to take all of them, but that's how it is. Kokeshi makers from Naruko, a small group of non-Naruko kokeshi makers who were participating in the festival, plus other special guests participated in the ceremony headed by a Shinto priest. There was also a fairly good-sized crowd of onlookers including us.  
Ceremony participants.
The kokeshis are integrated into the Shinto ceremony, and I believe all of these were also thrown onto the pyre.
The atmosphere was solemn yet pleasant, and people were taking pictures and video of the proceedings. Once the ceremony with the kokeshi makers and guests was over our attention turned to the kokeshis that had been placed on a pile of wood in the center of a squared-off area next to the shrine. I believe that area had been purified since it was roped off with the zigzag Shinto paper symbols called shide 四手 or 紙垂. Once the guests were ready some traditional music started and a couple of men lit their torches, entered the square, and started the fire.
The mountains and the sky from the shrine. As you can see, we had perfect weather.
Special lanterns for the kokeshi festival lined the walk to the Kokeshi Shrine.
These kokeshis are about to meet their end.
Torches are lit.
 The fire is started.
The bonfire of the kokeshis.
And so it went. True, it was sad, but at the same time I like the idea of kokeshis having a kind of funeral rather than simply ending up in a landfill or burn pile. This is much more respectful of the art, and of the individual kokeshis themselves. 
I know that kokeshis are just painted pieces of lathed wood, but it's still a moving experience to see them engulfed in flames like this.
Embers going skyward.
So that was that, and I'm very pleased that we made the effort to see the ceremony. While this was about the "death" of old, unwanted kokeshis, the following morning there was a ceremony for the newly "born" ones, which I'll discuss in the next blog. 

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