Friday, August 28, 2015

2014 Michinoku Kokeshi Festival 1 2014 みちのくこけし祭り 1

Seeing that the 2015 kokeshi festival season is almost upon us I might as well show some photos from our final major kokeshi adventure in October 2014 when we headed back to Yamagata and Miyagi Prefectures for the Michinoku and Rokuro Kokeshi Festivals respectively. These two big festivals are, inexplicably, on the same weekend every year, and we have always chosen to go to the Michinoku Festival since it's easy to find a hotel in downtown Yamagata City where that festival takes place. This year though our goal was to attend both festivals which I'll cover in the next few blog entries. Before I get into that though I'll describe the process of getting up north and where we stayed the first night.
Because our kids were in school and I had to work we got a late start out of Tokyo on the afternoon of 3 October. Fortunately we had good conditions and the Tohoku Expressway was relatively clear, so it was a smooth drive that got us up to Yamagata by early evening. Our destination, though, was a ski hotel located in Zao Onsen 蔵王温泉 that had very reasonable room rates at this time. Zao Onsen is a hot spring town that is fairly close to Yamagata City and that sits on the side of Mt. Zao, an active volcano that has been showing signs of activity lately. But you can't be scared of volcanoes if you're looking for kokeshi adventures, so we made the drive up the windy road in the dark and finally got checked into our room at the Zao Center Plaza Inn (click here if you'd like to see what it looks like) around 8 pm. Nothing special, but as I say, the room rate in early October was good. There was also a small collection of kokeshis on display in the lobby which I took to be a good omen. We enjoyed the hotel's onsen and then quickly fell asleep, anxious to see what was going on at the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival that started the next morning.
The kokeshis on display at Zao Center Plaza Inn.
Exterior view of the Zao Center Plaza where our inn and onsen was located. To my right was a convenience store where we got coffee and pastries for breakfast.
While Naoko and the girls were still asleep I got up early to take some pictures and see the town which has been a hot spring destination in Japan for 1,900 years! Zao is also the home of one of the eleven kokeshi families, though there are only a couple of craftsmen still working in the town. One of them is Mr. Okazaki Ikuo 岡崎幾雄さん, a Zao kokeshi 蔵王系こけし maker whose shop I strolled by in order to take some photos. Of course it was closed at six on a Saturday morning, but I wanted to see the building since it's a very handsome structure. We've been here before and I like his style of kokeshi and the quality of his work.
Mr. Okazaki's kokeshi shop is also beautiful architecturally.
The front window to the shop.
I wandered around Zao for a bit longer enjoying the cool morning air, the steam billowing from multiple hot springs, and of course the smell of sulfur that never lets you forget that there's a dormant but possibly active volcano lying almost beneath your feet.
Zao Onsen's main street early morning on a Saturday.
This is a waterfall of hot spring water.
Another interesting kokeshi-related spot in Zao is the Kokeshi Inn こけしの宿 (Kokeshi no Yado -- click to see the website and the stone kokeshi in onsen) that I took a quick picture of. Despite its obvious kokeshi theme we've never stayed there, but have walked past it wistfully numerous times. I really hope that we get to lodge there sometime in the future. Zao is a neat place with lots to see and do, but at its core it is an onsen and kokeshi town.  
The sign for the Kokeshi Inn こけしの宿 
One of the many public onsen buildings that can be found throughout the town.
In front of that small onsen was this fountain which has hot sulfuric water pouring out of it. To its right are two small benches on which you can sit while soaking your cold feet in the hot water.
Looking into the fountain.
In the next blog I'll get into the Michinoku Kokeshi Festival in Yamagata, but I did want to show what Zao looks like in order to let fellow kokeshi enthusiasts who might be traveling in Japan know  that it is indeed a kokeshi town and very interesting place that you might want to consider paying a visit.

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