Monday, August 10, 2015

Togatta Kokeshi Village 遠刈田こけしの里

Way back in April 2012 -- almost 3.5 years ago -- we went to an important kokeshi location in the Togatta Onsen 遠刈田温泉 region of Miyagi Prefecture that I never posted a blog about. It was part of an early but significant kokeshi adventure in Sendai when we were searching for Togatta kokeshis 遠刈田系こけし, and in retrospect I'm sorry that I didn't do the post. Better late than never I suppose. 
The sign says "Kokeshi Road" こけしの道 which connects the Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan with the Kokeshi Village.
Up the hill behind the fantastic Miyagi-Zao Kokeshi Kan 宮城蔵王こけし館 that everyone needs to visit (click here to see the 29 April 2012 post) is something called the Kokeshi Village こけしの里. You can either drive there, or better, walk through the woods on the "Kokeshi Road" こけしの道 up the hill from the Kokeshi Kan. Wow! Like entering a kind of kokeshi land, right? Well, maybe. I've always tried to remain as positive as possible in this blog, but the Kokeshi Village was weird and, frankly, disappointing. Let me try to explain.
One of the kokeshi maker's house and workshop that was no longer active. 
From what I can tell Miyagi Prefecture developed this area a while ago as a kind of kokeshi artisans' colony, and since there is parking for buses it must have been done as an economic development project too. In theory the Kokeshi Village was good idea since it preserves a traditional art (which is important to Miyagi Prefecture's identity) and at the same time makes it easy for tourists to visit many craftsmen all at once. The year 2012 was definitely not its heyday, but we can hope it has come back to life since our visit three years ago. After all, the village has shop after shop that should be a fantastic experience for us enthusiasts. Here are some photos of the various craftsmen's signs that line the street.
Here's what happened. On the first day that we went to the Kokeshi Village, of the ten or so kokeshi workshops in the area only one was fully open (see below) and the rest looked strangely abandoned and dark. I saw one old man out puttering around on the main street and asked if his shop was open, to which he replied that he was no longer making kokeshis. That ended that and we decided we would come back to the Kokeshi Village later. On the second day we returned and found four shops that were open, one of which was filled with wooden toys and modern kokeshis 近代こけし from Gunma Prefecture rather than local traditional kokeshis. That was a shocking disappointment. We walked into another shop in which the lights were out, and then the wife of the proprietor came out and seemed very surprised, annoyed even, to have customers. She turned on the lights of the sales area and we found that the artisan had created a kind of hybrid kokeshi-sculpture style with Buddhist themes (I think) painted on them. They really didn't suit our tastes so we left empty handed. The third shop we found "open" was Mr. Sato Katsuhiro's 佐藤勝洋さん workshop. The door was unlocked but nobody was inside so Naoko actually had to go and knock on the door of his house (which was separate from his workshop and sales area), and again we encountered surprise that there was someone there to actually look at kokeshis. We were apparently the first customers who had been there for a long, long time, to the point that most of the kokeshis were either knocked over from an earthquake, or had spider webs on them. This is not an exaggeration. Nevertheless Mr. Sato was extremely warm and welcoming, and because we were his first customers in such a long time he gave us a very generous discount and I've thought  that was an interesting way of doing business. I highly recommend a visit to see Mr. Sato if and when you go to the Kokeshi Village.
The Sato's workshop was open for business.
In the middle of this sad situation was one ray of hope: It was the workshop of two Togatta kokeshi masters, the husband and wife team of Mr. Sato Kazuo 佐藤一夫さん and Mrs. Sato Ryoko 佐藤良子さん. It was open when we went and Mrs. Sato was there to greet us. As you'll see in the photos below their work (which I am unable to differentiate between Mr. and Mrs. Sato's) is exquisite.
The Sato's pieces pieces were also understandably expensive so we were only able to add one of their kokeshis to our collection during this adventure. Maybe we'll get more next time. In hindsight seeing this shop, along with meeting Mr. Sato Katsuhiro mentioned earlier, was definitely worth the trip. So after all these years why post a blog entry about the Togatta Kokeshi Village? True, it was a disappointment but I felt obliged to be honest about the experience and to also alert foreign kokeshi enthusiasts about its existence. On top of that it was still a genuine kokeshi adventure during which we met two craftsmen who produce beautiful work that has added nicely to our collection. Should you go? I think so, and I'll bet that thanks to the current kokeshi boom the Kokeshi Village has become much more lively than 2012. 

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