Friday, July 17, 2015

New Kokeshi Jidai 新しいこけし時代

Last October the most recent issue of Kokeshi Jidai こけし時代 magazine came out, and I must say that Mr. Numata Genki 沼田元氣さん who produces it really put his heart and soul into this one. It cost about 2,800 yen, which is steep, but it was quite substantial and when I took off the cellophane wrapper we realized that issue number 11 was actually two volumes. There have been other double volumes before, but nothing of this scope.
The two covers of Kokeshi Jidai number 11, a double issue.
The main volume is dedicated to Tsugaru style kokeshi 津軽系こけし craftsmen, most of whom reside in Aomori Prefecture 青森県 at the northeastern-most end of the island of Honshu. That is one of my favorite parts of Japan, plus I love Tsugaru kokeshis and since we have gotten to know a few of the craftsmen there this volume was a real treat. Mr. Numata covered Aomori in the very first Kokeshi Jidai back in 2011, but this recent issue is 328 pages and covers the towns, onsen 温泉 (hot baths) and craftsmen much more extensively. In fact it's as much a travelogue about adventures in Aomori as it is about kokeshis. And in my opinion this is the right approach to covering kokeshis, especially in a magazine. One thing I've learned over the years is that traditional kokeshis are very much tied to the land they come from and the people who make them. As such, showing this connection allows for a deeper appreciation of the kokeshis and the culture of northeastern Japan. Mr. Numata understands this implicitly and is able to convey through photography what it actually feels like to be in a hot spring/kokeshi town way up in rural Aomori. Anyway, here are a few images from the first of the two volumes of the magazine.

The second volume of issue number 11 is devoted entirely to the life and work of Mr. Kon Akira, a Tsugaru craftsman who is one of the most popular of the traditional kokeshi makers. It is also the case  that his work is extremely difficult to come by. Naoko and I are big fans of Mr. Kon's work, and if his pieces were readily available we'd probably have fifty of them in the house. However, during our 4.5 years of serious collecting we've only been able to acquire a couple of his pieces including two unpainted ones that Mr. Kon gave to Naoko when we met him at the Tsugaru Kokeshi Kan 津軽こけし館 back in summer 2011. Therefore this extra volume of Kokeshi Jidai is especially welcome! 
The back cover of the Kon volume.

Finally, the latest Kokeshi Jidai also included a set of five postcards with more art by someone named Terry Johnson who did the cover for issue 11 volume 1. I'm not sure what to make of these, but what the heck!
As for when the next issue of this fantastic magazine will be coming out, who knows? But I will certainly write about it on this blog when it does.
An advertisement for the Kon Box.
Meanwhile, I just discovered that apparently in conjunction with the special Kon Akira issue the Kokeshi Jidai folks also produced a limited edition "Kon Box" ("Kon Akira Kokeshi Box Set") for nearly 20,000 yen. And yes, it was truly limited -- just 150 Kon Boxes were available and it looks they are already all sold out. Inside what looks like a giant matchbox were ten items including a couple of kokeshis by Mr. Kon along with a some interesting paper and cloth items. For Mr. Kon's many fans this box must have been a dream come true. Click here if you'd like to see some of what was inside the Kon Box.
A book exclusively devoted to Mr. Kon's kokeshis. Expensive, true, but worth every penny.
While I'm on the topic of Mr. Kon, I must mention the above book entitled 木おぼこ・今晃 -- 今晃こけし図譜 (A Pictorial Book of Kon Akira's Kokeshis), a 354-page volume dedicated entirely to his work. I've seen the book and met the author, but I've never really flipped through it nor did I purchase it since it was 10,000 yen. In hindsight I wish I had bought it since Mr. Kon's kokeshis are so fantastic, and also because we'll never be able to add too many of his pieces to our collection. Sigh. This is one of those books for the true connoisseur that's beautifully bound and lovingly produced, and designed to be passed down from generation to generation.  If you'd like to get a better feel for the book, as well as see a number of Mr. Kon's kokeshis (including photos of a huge collection of nothing but his pieces), then click here for a really nice web page.
I know that books and magazines such as what I've discussed in this post are difficult to get outside of Japan, but if you are able to get a hold of them you won't be disappointed.

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