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.

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