Friday, July 31, 2015

East Coast Kokeshi 2 東アメリカのこけし2

We are continuing our vacation in the eastern US, and as I was looking through my mother's kokeshi collection I was delighted to find today's example -- a beautiful Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系 by Mr. Sato Yasuhiro 佐藤康広さん of Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture 宮城県. Mr. Sato is a fairly young craftsman who only finished his apprenticeship a few years ago under his father, master craftsman Mr. Sato Masahiro 佐藤正廣さん. We visited the Sato's workshop during a big kokeshi adventure to northeastern Japan back in April 2012, so we know exactly where these kokeshis are made -- here's a link to the entry about our trip to see the Satos.
If my memory is correct about the date when we purchased this kokeshi as a present for my mother -- December 2011 -- it would be one of Yasuhiro's earlier pieces as an independent craftsman. Nonetheless, even at this time we can see his obvious talent for creating clean, smooth and very attractive Togatta kokeshis that have become very famous lately thanks to his indigo blue kokeshis that were on exhibit in Tokyo last year.
Togatta kokeshis, like Naruko kokeshis, are very archetypal in the sense that when one thinks of a traditional kokeshi this is probably the shape and design that they are thinking of. But within the Togatta framework there is great variety; for instance of how the face is painted. And it's here that I believe we can distinguish the Sato family's work. In particular the eyes are very long and crescent-shaped with the nose placed lower than the eyes rather than between them. Looking from straight on the hair design is pushed back to the edges allowing the facial features to dominate. Whether or not what I have described is exclusive to the Satos I cannot say, but as soon as I saw this kokeshi on the shelf I knew whose work I was looking at.
In the above photo we see a close-up view of the body design done with red and green brush strokes. It has a pleasant yet unfamiliar floral pattern that I need to learn more about.
A view from the top down reveals an intricate series of brush strokes typical of Togatta kokeshis.
Finally, this photo shows Yasuhiro's signature on the bottom. As mentioned in the previous blog Sato is a really common family name among kokeshi craftsmen, so it may be the case that it's pointless to write Sato on the bottom. Also, I'm pretty impressed with the price since 1,200 yen seems like a real bargain for such a beautiful little piece of hand-crafted art.
Oh, and I might as well direct whoever reads this blog entry to the Sato's web site (click here -- Japanese only) for more information plus a map to their workshop west of downtown Sendai.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

East Coast Kokeshi 1 東アメリカのこけし1

Naoko, the girls and I are currently at my parents' house on the East Coast of the United States, and it's been quite interesting going through my mother's kokeshi collection. She has been bringing back modern kokeshis from Japan since 1979, and over the last few years Naoko and I have introduced her to traditional kokeshis of which she now has a small but solid collection. For the next few blog entries I'll show some of those kokeshis and discuss each one in detail.
The first kokeshi I shall cover is a beautiful multi-striped Yajiro kokeshi 弥治郎系こけし by Mr. Sato Seiko 佐藤誠孝さん of Iwaki City いわき市 in Fukushima Prefecture 福島県. If you have read some of my first blog entries back in early 2011 you will recall that we visited the Sato family's workshop six days before the 11 March earthquake and tsunami disaster wiped out their beautiful port city and forced Mr. and Mrs. Sato and their two sons (all of whom are kokeshi craftsmen) to take refuge in a cabin on the side of Mt. Akagi in Gunma Prefecture for about a year. They could only return to Iwaki (a safe zone south of the Dai'ichi nuclear power plant) once the earth stopped trembling following the earthquake and aftershocks, and I will always associate the Sato kokeshis that we own with the above story. In fact we purchased this kokeshi for my mother when the Sato family was living in Gunma.
I've always liked the Sato's designs which are fairly different from the usual Yajiro kokeshis, especially in terms of body shape, color usage, and overall paint design. This includes the face which is distinctive and very pleasing, especially as this kokeshi is looking off slightly to the right rather than straight-forward with just a slight smile. Also notice the balance of the eyebrows, side hair, eyes, nose and mouth, all of which, while impressionistic, display a kind of realism rather than cuteness. On top of that Sato kokeshis, tend to have rosy cheeks, a charming feature I like that they or other Yajiro craftsmen may have pioneered in the kokeshi world.
A view looking down from the top reveals that this is indeed a Yajiro kokeshi since it has the signature bulls eye on the crown. The use of purple is also fairly unique to Yajiros, and while it's a bit difficult to see the largest head stripe above the hairline is a deep purple. 
Mr. Sato's stripes are also multi-hued, again revealing the use of purple along with with red and yellow (two more common Yajiro colors), but also blue which is a surprise since blue has rarely been seen on traditional kokeshis until very recently. I would like to point out the quality of the stripes with thin lines of exposed wood becoming white lines. Don't forget folks that this doll was entirely hand-painted on a lathe -- Mr. Sato obviously has a very steady paint brush!
For those who are unaware most Yajiro kokeshi bodies have a tapered waste with a base that flairs outward. Mr. Sato makes those too, but since this is unique compared to a standard Yajiro it must be his own creation. This type of kokeshi is known as a Hon’ningata 本人型.
An examination of the bottom of the kokeshi has Mr. Sato's signature, which he has signed with just his first name Seiko 誠孝. I didn't ask him why he signed it this way, but I've noticed that the craftsmen sign their work in various ways and this is but one example. Of course it would be pointless to put just "Sato" since not only might collectors mix up his kokeshis with his wife's and sons' pieces, but also with other kokeshi makers named Sato which is a very common family name among Yajiro and other craftsmen all over Tohoku.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Upcoming Kokeshi Exhibition in Akita 秋田県でこけし展のお知らせ

I was just doing a bit of research at the Akita Kokeshi Association's 秋田こけし会 web site and found out that from 13-16 August 2015 there is going to be a Kijiyama kokeshi 木地山系こけし exhibition in Yuzawa City 湯沢市 in southern Akita Prefecture 秋田県. Here is the poster -- Japanese only, sorry -- which states that the exhibition will be held at the Yuzawa City Kawatsura Lacquerware and Traditional Arts Center 湯沢市川連漆器伝統工芸館 during the above dates. 
Naoko and I will not be able to make it to this event which is too bad since this would be a great chance to get back to Akita and possibly add some Kijiyama kokeshis to our collection since they are never easy to find. Nevertheless, I did want to alert other foreign kokeshi enthusiasts within and outside of Japan that this event is coming up soon and that it will be a great opportunity if you happen to traveling to Tohoku in mid-August. Kijiyama kokeshis are very distinctive and simple, and are well known for the body and head being lathed from a single piece of wood rather than being made from a separate head and body like most kokeshis. If you'd like to see what I'm talking about please check out this blog entry at the Aoba (Sendai) Kokeshi Association's web site which covered the 39th Annual Akita Kokeshi Exhibition that occurred back in February. Lots of good photos of Kijiyama kokeshis, and it looks like that would also be a fantastic kokeshi festival to attend sometime in the future.   

Naruko Kokeshi Event in Sugamo 2014 鳴子こけしin巣鴨2014

I recently wrote about the Naruko Kokeshi Festival in Yokohama that took place back in late November 2014. Two weeks prior to that Naoko visited and photographed the Traditional Kokeshi Making Demonstration 伝統こけし製作実演 in the Sugamo 巣鴨 section of Tokyo, which was similar to what we saw in Yokohama since it focused exclusively on Naruko kokeshis 鳴子系こけし. It went from 14-18 November, so there were plenty of chances to join the fun. As I think about it last year was definitely a good year for kokeshi adventures in the Kanto Plain!
A photo of the event poster.
For those who aren't aware driving in Tokyo, while possible, is impractical for attending this kind of event since there simply isn't any parking available. So Naoko took a series of trains and subways and soon emerged in Sugamo which is a really fun, pedestrian-only shopping area. While Sugamo has the reputation of being the Harajuku for middle-aged folks, I highly recommend it for anyone of any age visiting Tokyo.
Entry into the Sugamo subway station.
It was the sixth time for the Traditional Kokeshi Making Demonstration to be held in Sugamo at Togenukijizoson とげぬき地蔵尊, a hall attached to the famous Kogan-ji 高岩寺 Buddhist temple. While it might seem odd to think of a kokeshi demonstration being held at a Buddhist temple, the priest whose family owns and runs the temple is a big kokeshi fan who is happy to support the kokeshi world. This year six kokeshi makers came down from Naruko to participate, and based on the photos we can see this event was a good one for kokeshi enthusiasts of all levels, from neophytes just learning about the craft to seasoned pros searching for new pieces to add to their collections.     
A dark photo, yes, but the large kokeshi lanterns marking the exhibition hall at Tokenukijizo Temple on the main shopping street are nice and bright and welcome in passersby.
Inside Togenukijizoson where there were lots of kokeshis and lots of guests.
2-D kokeshi art, presumably by the six craftsmen participating in the show.
Kokeshi lanterns added a festive air.
A traditional foot-powered lathe on display.
Cases filled with examples of kokeshis. These might be the same displays used at the Yokohama event later in the month.
I've shown the exhibits, but I'm pretty sure the biggest draw for most people was to see and purchase new kokeshis. As we can see in the images below there were plenty of people when Naoko was there, so I will conclude that this was a great success for the craftsmen.   
These exhibitions are so interesting, and I think everyone enjoys seeing so many kokeshis available in one place. When traveling to a kokeshi town like Naruko of course you get to see them like this, but for Tokyo residents these shows are a rare opportunity to see a wonderful part of the Tohoku culture and meet the people keeping that culture alive.
A very nice t-shirt that was for sale.
Kokeshi cartoon art on display.
Tenugui 手ぬぐい with every kind of Naruko kokeshi on them. I've heard that some enthusiasts buy an entire set which would be about 25 different pieces. 
More tenugui and other kokeshi goods.
So as you can see this was a top-notch kokeshi event right in the heart of Tokyo. If I find out that it's taking place in 2015 I'll be sure to mention it in an upcoming blog entry. For foreign kokeshi enthusiasts visiting Tokyo in November this is an annual event that you will want to try and attend.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Upcoming Kokeshi Festivals 2015

A quick blog entry to let fellow international kokeshi enthusiasts living outside of Japan know that the 61st annual National Kokeshi Festival 全国こけし祭り at Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 in Miyagi Prefecture is scheduled for September 4th, 5th and 6th 2015. This is the biggest and longest running kokeshi festival and I cannot recommend it enough. We went last year and it was fantastic. Six craftsmen are scheduled to attend this year, plus there will be thousands of kokeshis and other wooden crafts for sale along with hundreds (thousands?) of fellow kokeshi lovers, plus there's the annual kokeshi competition, the giant kokeshi parade, a kokeshi forum, and so forth. If you are going to be in Japan in early September then definitely try to work this into your itinerary!
Festival poster -- click to see full size.
Click here to see the festival web site, which is mostly in Japanese but fun to see anyway. The National Kokeshi Festival also has its own Facebook page (click here) that not only provides updates but also has numerous photos of kokeshi craftsmen and ongoing local kokeshi events up in Tohoku. It almost makes me want to join Facebook!

Yokohama Kokeshi Event こけしイベントin横浜

As Naoko, the girls and I were wrapping up our time in Japan at the end of 2014 we had a flurry of kokeshi adventures, some up in Tohoku, with others closer to Tokyo. I'll show pictures of those events over the next few blog entries, starting with our very last kokeshi adventure on 29 November 2014. We did not know that this would be the end of our Japan-based kokeshi'ing before moving to California which I guess makes it a bittersweet memory, but it was still a very pleasant day. We had spent the morning in Yokohama's Chinatown with family, and then walked over to the kokeshi event where we saw friends from the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Association 東京こけし友の会 and also got to talk with three kokeshi makers.
The Yokohama Doll Museum building -- very impressive, and in a great location down near the waterfront.
The event was called the Naruko Kokeshi Festival 鳴子こけしまつり held at the Yokohama Doll Museum 横浜人形の家 on 29 and 30 November, and all three kokeshi makers were from Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉. I think the event planners had the right idea to focus on just one type of traditional kokeshi and keep things small and manageable.
The poster for the Naruko Kokeshi Festival.
We actually had to pay to go into the museum, and from there went into the kokeshi venue that was inside the main museum. I don't think having to pay was a hindrance since there were plenty of people enjoying the kokeshis when we were there, but perhaps more would have come if it had been a free event.
The hall leading into the main kokeshi room had this nice display.
Upon entering the main room was this display of the championship kokeshis from the recent 60th All Japan Kokeshi Festival 全日本こけし祭り in Naruko.
A Naruko kokeshi lantern in the foreground, and Naruko kokeshi art on the wall in the background.
For those new to the world of kokeshis there were some displays containing all the traditional kokeshi types along the entryway into the main venue. Inside the main hall were tables filled with Naruko kokeshis crafted by the following kokeshi makers who had come down to Yokohama from Naruko: Mr. Takahashi Yoshikazu 高橋義一さん, Mr. Kakizawa Yoshinobu 柿澤是伸さん, and Mr. Onuma Hideaki 大沼秀顯さん. They all do wonderful work, and it was a pleasure seeing what they had to offer. Enjoy the photos.
A couple of very innovative large kokeshis.
The kokeshi craftsmen milled around the room chatting with fans.
Mr. Onuma's table.
A closeup view of Mr. Onuma's table.
Some of Mr. Takahashi's creations.
Some of the pieces were quite pricey, but I've concluded that even with a higher price tag the craftsmen are not getting rich from selling kokeshis.
Mr. Kakizawa's table.
Another angle of Mr. Kakizawa's table.
Guests paid for the kokeshis at the front desk where there were also t-shirts and posters available. 
There were also kendamas 剣玉 for the kids to play with.
Mr. Takahashi demonstrating his craftsmanship on a portable lathe. It is always fun to see kokeshi masters at work like this.
And that was that, and I think the Yokohama Doll Museum did a great job with the event. Perhaps they will even consider some sort of permanent kokeshi exhibit at the museum in the future? Naturally we came home with some very nice kokeshis that turned out to be the final addition to our kokeshi collection before we packed up and moved to the US.