Some sad news to report in the kokeshi world. On 4 August 2015 a fire started in, and destroyed, the workshop and home of 84-year old Owani 大鰐 (Tsugaru 津軽) kokeshi maker Mr. Shimazu Sei'ichi 嶋津誠一さん. Four neighboring buildings were completely consumed by the fire, and ten others received damage. Fortunately no one was killed or seriously injured, though Mr. Shimazu burned his arm trying to put out the blaze. The event made Japanese national news since it occurred next to a major north-south rail line passing through Owani Town resulting in train delays impacting a couple thousand travelers. You can read more about the fire in this link to a Japanese-language story in the national newspaper Mainichi Shinbun. The fire was extremely serious as you can see in this video on YouTube.
|Naoko and Mr. Shimazu looking through boxes of kokeshis at the Shimazu home and workshop back on 3 July 2012.|
We visited Mr. Shimazu in Owani City back in July 2012 and know the area pretty well -- click here to see the blog entry. While we did not get to tour the inside of his workshop it occurred to me at that time that the old building, plus the stacks of wood and the sawdust that I could see through the window had the potential to catch fire. I am sorry to see that my prediction was correct.
|The Shimazu workshop back in July 2012. Note how close it sits to the neighboring structures.|
Kokeshi makers tend to band together at times like these to help out colleagues in need, so I'm sure that Mr. and Mrs. Shimazu will be well taken care of. I did notice that the Tokyo Kokeshi Friends Association mentioned the fire on its web site, and kokeshi enthusiasts in Japan will likely purchase more of his kokeshis to show support. I'll report if we hear of a fund-raiser to help out the Shimazus. Meanwhile, I wonder if Mr. Shimazu will decide to retire at this point? After all, he is nearly 85 years old.
|An Owani-type kokeshi by Mr. Shimazu.|
If Mr. Shimazu does decide to retire that will be the end of kokeshis in Owani Town since he is the sole remaining craftsman there. Good luck to the Shimazus.