Monday, September 14, 2015

2014 Rokuro Festival 2 2014 ろくろまつり 2

Continuing with the October 2014 Rokuro [Lathe] Festival ろくろまつり held in the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan parking lot, we parked and jumped out of the car to see what was going on. I didn't know who was going to be there (though Naoko might have), and I was happy to find that there were a number of craftsmen whom we have visited and gotten to know over the years: Ms. Honma Naoko 本間直子さん from Aomori, Mr. Hiraga Teruyuki 平賀輝幸さん from Sakunami, and Mr. Shida Kikuhiro 志田菊広さん of far western Yamagata. When we arrived there wasn't a huge selection of kokeshis compared to what we saw the previous day at the Michinoku Festival, so I think sales had been brisk on the first day. That said, there were still plenty of kokeshis available, and we of course added a few more pieces to our collection before the day was over.  
Looking at the venue. Kokeshis on the left, food on the right.
Mr. Shida chatting with Naoko and the girls.
The Rokuro, or Lathe Festival lived up to its name with a working lathe on which the craftsmen were giving demonstrations. They were also painting kokeshis, so for those who aren't able to get to the often rural homes of the kokeshi makers this was a good chance to see a variety of craftsmen at work. For instance there was a group of tourists from France while we were there, so they had picked the right place to not just buy kokeshis and meet lots of craftsmen, but also to see how they are made.
The following photos are an overview of what we saw at the event, and it was excellent. Enjoy!
Naoko and the girls taking with Mr. Hiraga.
Mr. Hiraga's kokeshis.
The mascot of the Togatta -Zao Kokeshi Kan , Zao-sama, was also seen at the event.
Some of those kokeshis are actually tiny Zao-sama kokeshis.
Rare Iwate kokeshis by Mr. Susumago Morizo.
Ms. Honma Naoko's Tsugaru kokeshis.
So that's what the Rokuro Festival looks like, and I hope we're able to get back to see it in the next few years. This year is going to be the 26th and 27th of September, so if you're in Japan or will be visiting go up to Miyagi Prefecture and spend the day at this important annual kokeshi event. In the next blog I'll take a look at the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

2015 Rokuro Matsuri Announcement

Since I'll be talking about the Rokuro Matsuri (Lathe Festival) at Toggata Onsen over the next couple of entries I might as well announce that the 2015 Rokuro Matsuri is scheduled for 26 and 27 September at the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan みやぎ蔵王こけし館. On Saturday 26 September it will run from 10 to 4, and on Sunday 27 September it goes from 10 to 3. According to the event poster below there will be twelve kokeshi craftsmen taking part -- amazing! What a great chance to meet a large number of craftsmen in one place, add numerous kokeshis to one's collection, and even visit the the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan which has free admission on those days. There's not a whole lot of information on line about this event, but I'm sure it will be great.

2014 Rokuro Festival 1 2014 ろくろまつり 1

Poster for the Rokuro Matsuri.
Following the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival on 4 October last year (2014) we spent the rest of the day in Yamagata City, which is also where we spent the night. We got up the next morning feeling refreshed, grabbed some breakfast to go at a nice bakery, and then got on the highway for the other major event that weekend -- the the 26th annual National Traditional Kokeshi Lathe Festival 全国伝統こけしろくろまつり, or Rokuro Matsuri held at the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan みやぎ蔵王こけし館 near Togatta Onsen 遠刈田温泉. Rokuro means "lathe" in Japanese, and Togatta is one of the major kokeshi homelands, so suffice it to say this festival is an important one. As I mentioned in a previous blog the Rokuro Matsuri is typically held on the exact same weekend as the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival so we were never able to make it until this year. In the next couple of entries I'll show what we saw, but I did want to point out that one reason this festival is more challenging to
attend than Michinoku is that it's only accessible by car. Furthermore, as we shall see below the route will take you on small country roads in the middle of nowhere with limited signage, so a GPS is essential. That said the payoff is worth it, and if you can make it to the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan then you can also visit the Togatta Kokeshi Village and the workshops of various kokeshi makers located in town.
Going east on the Yamagata Expressway we got off at the Miyagi-Kawasaki exit. From there it became extremely rural.
We headed due east through the mountains out of Yamagata Prefecture and into Miyagi Prefecture. Interestingly the prefectural border is actually marked in the middle of a long tunnel. As we headed back down towards sea level we exited at the Miyagi-Kawasaki exit and then found ourselves on rural prefectural roads going through rice fields and woods. Fortunately Naoko had her iPhone and trusty Google Maps, so we were pretty sure we were going the right way. If you're driving north or south on the Tohoku Expressway then get off at the Murata Interchange.
We turned at this old stone monument.
The funny thing was that after exiting the highway Google Maps had us turn onto narrow, unmarked roads, so there was some guesswork involved as to whether or not we were on the correct road. But we could sense were going in the right direction and we got to see some beautiful countryside along the way.
At one point we were driving on this 1.5-lane country road.
Early October is when the rice is ready for harvest, and Miyagi Prefecture is a big rice-producing region. As such we were treated to magnificent golden fields of ripe rice letting us know that fall was imminent.
After many turns and a pleasant drive through the countryside we finally entered Togatta via a bridge that has large kokeshis that appear to be standing guard. It is aptly named Kokeshi Bridge こけし橋. The kokeshis appeared to have been freshly painted and stood out nicely against the gray sky. Note: Once you reach this bridge you are almost at the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan.
Gateway to Togatta.
The festival being held outdoors.
By the time we arrived the festival was in full swing and since the weather was nice it was being held outside. There were a lot of cars and since the regular parking lot near the Kokeshi Kan was being used for the tents we had to park in the grace. But parking wasn't a problem and soon we were strolling up to our second major kokeshi festival in two days!
One of the festival banners.
In upcoming blogs I'll show some photos of the festival and the Kokeshi Kan.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Yamagata Traditional Kokeshi Kan やまがた伝統こけし館

After finishing up with the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival at the Nana Beans Building in Yamagata City we decided to check out the Yamagata Traditional Kokeshi Museum やまがた伝統こけし館 (Yamagata Dento Kokeshi Kan) since it is located on the 5th floor of the Nana Beans Building. It's true that we were pretty worn out from the festival, and we had been inside the museum before, but how could any self-respecting kokeshi fan pass up the chance to visit a kokeshi museum? Besides, it was free admission and there was a display of kokeshi art that really piqued my curiosity.
Entrance to the Yamagata Traditional Kokeshi Museum. 
Lugging our heavy bag of kokeshis that we bought at the festival Naoko, the girls and I entered the museum for about 20 minutes. There was a lot to see including a large collection of traditional kokeshis (made up of four separate personal collections), plus wooden toys and other various exhibits. I think we were the only people there as everyone else was still in the festival hall. While there isn't a gift shop selling kokeshis, each Sunday between one and four o'clock you can try and paint your own kokeshi for 300 yen.   
A case filled with traditional wooden toys.
What I really wanted to see, though, was the kokeshi art exhibition which consisted of two types of art. The first type was paintings by various kokeshi craftsmen of their own kokeshi styles. In essence these paintings are like 2-D kokeshis and are a popular part of the kokeshi culture. Here are some images of what was on display.
The other type of art on display I actually found more intriguing, though I do not know who created it. Perhaps one artist? Or many artists? It was a series of woodblock prints, and the simplicity of the kokeshi design really lends itself to being portrayed in this art style. I would love to get some of these to display in my house! Please enjoy these images.
Oh yes, one other thing that I found interesting was the mounted collection of historic posters for the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival back to its beginning. Event posters are yet another aspect of the kokeshi culture that I am happy to see are being preserved.
So that was the Yamagata Traditional Kokeshi Museum, a highly recommended destination for all kokeshi enthusiasts who plan on being in the Yamagata area. Click here for information (in Japanese).

Monday, August 31, 2015

2014 Michinoku Kokeshi Festival Winners 2014 みちのくこけしまつり入賞作品

Continuing our adventure to the 2014 Michinoku Kokeshi Festival in Yamagata City, I have posted below a series of photos showing the winning kokeshis. It turns out that the ones on display were actually the winners from 2013, something I only realized as I was preparing to post this blog entry. Regardless, as I noted in a previous blog this and the other major annual competitions are a big deal for the craftsmen. For us enthusiasts, we get to see and photograph the pieces that the craftsmen submitted as what they believe to be their very best work. 
The main hall with the winning kokeshis along the left wall.
The competition judges range from the prime minister of Japan, to various national and prefectural ministries, newspaper and media companies, etc. It's likely that these people are not kokeshi experts or even enthusiasts, so they probably choose what they like in terms of the craftsmanship and simply what they enjoy looking at. If you think about it that's undoubtedly a good way to do it since the judges wouldn't be swayed by a famous name or particular type of kokeshi.
I just noticed as I was preparing this photo that, according to the sign on the wall, the winning pieces on display were actually the winners from 2013.
The rest of the photos show the winning kokeshis, the names of the craftsmen, and the prizes won. It's all in Japanese but I'm not going to translate them since it would take too much time. If a reader has any questions about these kokeshis and the award they received just leave a comment below.
The Michinoku Kokeshi Festival competition also includes wooden toys. I'm not particularly interested in these but I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making them. Here are a few pictures of some winning pieces that were on display.
So that's what we saw at the 2014 Michinoku Kokeshi Festival. It's obviously not as festive or crazy as the National Kokeshi Festival at Naruko Onsen, but it's an major event and a great opportunity to meet kokeshi makers, greet fellow collectors, and add a variety of new pieces to one's collection. This year's event looks like it will occur on November 7th and 8th, but I haven't been able to find any solid information about it yet. That said, if you are a kokeshi enthusiast and will be in Japan in early November then by all means try to get up to Yamagata for this festival.