Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kokeshis in San Francisco's Japan Town サンフランシスコ日本町のこけし

I mentioned in my last blog entry that moving to northern California was probably going to limit our kokeshi adventures. While I'm sure that will generally be true, I was amazed to find that it is still possible to have a kokeshi adventure at Japan Town 日本町 in the heart of San Francisco!
Japan Town is a lot of fun, and though it's not the same as being in Japan there are many authentic Japanese restaurants and shops selling Japanese products. Overall the atmosphere is definitely Japanese, and as we wandered around we found a couple shops selling Modern Kokeshis 近代こけし by Usaburo Kokeshi 卯三郎こけし from Ikaho 伊香保 in Gunma Prefecture 群馬県. Modern kokeshis are available everywhere in Japan, including Narita Airport, so I really wasn't all that surprised to see them here. Nevertheless Usaburo kokeshis are beautiful and make great gifts, and Japan Town would be an ideal destination pick some up.
Past some restaurants in Japan Town.
Usaburo kokeshis for sale in Japan Town.
As we continued on we stumbled upon a shop called Kohshi Master of Scents which specializes in incense, candles, essential oils and gifts. As I glanced at the store window something wooden and cylindrical with colorful red patterns caught my eye. Could it be? No, that would be impossible in San Francisco. But yes! It was a traditional kokeshi, and not just one but dozens of just about every kokeshi family out there, from Iwates to Narukos, Yamagatas and Togattas, and even a Tsugaru, plus some older modern kokeshis.
What are those wooden, brightly painted cylinders in the Kohshi window?
Naoko spotting the kokeshis in the Kohshi window.
Examining the kokeshis.
What an absolutely pleasant surprise for a couple of forlorn kokeshi enthusiasts who no longer reside in Japan. In a way it was like running into old friends. I took some pictures of the kokeshis in the window of course, and then went in to see what Kohshi had for sale.
Kohshi specializes in incense, candles, and other such aromatic items, but also happens to have a very nice selection of traditional kokeshis.
There was a great variety of used kokeshis in the shop and the owner, Mr. Sugimoto, told me that his family had originally sent some out from Japan on a whim along with a shipment of normal items. After he put them out they sold well and now they're a normal part of the store. I was happy to learn that there are other kokeshi enthusiasts in the Bay Area who make regular trips to Japan Town when Kohshi gets new ones in. Very interesting. We're going to have to find out who these people are and perhaps start a Bay Area Kokeshi Friends Association. Anyway Mr. Sugimoto said it would be fine to show his shop and the kokeshis he has for sale, so here are some views of the kokeshis from inside.
We were on a pretty tight schedule and had to leave Kohshi fairly quickly without making any purchases, but we'll definitely be back soon. After that we stopped at the Kinokuniya bookstore, a branch of one of Japan's large chains. It's extremely nice and well worth one's time for both Japanese and English-language books, and -- happy day -- as I looked around I found three publications directly related to traditional kokeshis as you'll see in the photos below.
I'm amazed that the pink Japanese-language Kokeshi こけし book is available in the US. It's great, and in my opinion it was a huge part of getting the current "Third Kokeshi Boom" going so everyone needs to add this to their library. As for the English-language book on the left with a Sakunami kokeshi 作並こけし by Mr. Hiraga Teruyuki 平賀輝幸さん (whose workshop we have visited numerous times), I can't say if it's any good. I'll have to buy a copy and do a review.
The July 2015 edition of Fujin Gaho 婦人画報 featuring some of Mr. Sato Yasuhiro's 佐藤康弘さん blue Togatta kokeshis. Nice!
It was pretty exciting finding traditional kokeshis and books and magazines about them in Japan Town, but I also noticed that within the artwork of a poster (below) for an upcoming J-Pop festival in San Francisco there is what appears to be a Naruko kokeshi in it. Can you see it sitting on top the tansu behind the girl's head?
In fact it is a Naruko kokeshi except that it has the face of a real person. Ha! I believe the poster artist is Japanese, but since this is for an event in America I will count this as American usage of a traditional kokeshi for design purposes.
And so ends another kokeshi adventure, but this time in San Francisco. If you love kokeshis but can't make it to Japan then you will definitely want to visit Japan Town.

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