Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A New Yajiro Kokeshi 新しい弥次郎こけし

Getting back to the group of kokeshis Naoko picked up while in Japan this summer, today I am looking at a beautiful Yajiro kokeshi 弥次郎こけし by Ms. Niiyama Mayumi 新山真由美さん of Shiroishi City in southern Miyagi Prefecture. In many respects this is a perfect kokeshi, from the use of colors to the balance of the face, the striping, and so forth while the squarish head balances with the body perfectly. It's somewhat small -- about the size of a Star Wars action figure -- and is just so pleasant. Enjoy the photos!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Togatta Kokeshi Event in Sugamo Part 2 巣鴨で遠刈田系伝統こけし製作実演 2

Continuing from my previous post about the Togatta Kokeshi event in Sugamo that Naoko and Emily attended back in early July 2016, here are some more photos showing the main display table. So many wonderful pieces available, and they really show how beautiful Togatta kokeshis can be.
Togatta kokeshis from large to small.
Kokeshi goods.
A kokeshi craftsman demonstrating the art of kokeshi making.
An area where kids could try out traditional Japanese toys.
The area where you could make your own kokeshi (1,000 yen).
Another view of the venue.
According to Naoko this was an excellent kokeshi event, and it's pretty obvious from the photos that there was a lot to see and do even though it was not held up in northeastern Japan, the home of traditional kokeshis. I can't wait to get back to Japan so we can go to these sorts of events all the time.

Togatta Kokeshi Event in Sugamo 巣鴨で遠刈田系伝統こけし製作実演

A few posts ago I stated with absolute certainty that Naoko only made it to one kokeshi event during her Japan trip this summer. Well, I had forgotten about the other kokeshi event that she went to; a big Togatta kokeshi 遠刈田系こけし event held at the Koganji Temple in the Sugamo section of downtown Tokyo from 1-5 July 2016. Naoko and our daughter Emily went on 2 July and had a great time. By the way Koganji holds two annual kokeshi events (July and November), so if you're going to be in Tokyo in the future please check to see if something is happening there.
The entrance to the Sugamo shopping street.
Below is the first set of photos from that event, and as you can see it was pretty awesome -- lots of kokeshis and guests in a beautiful venue in a fun part of the city. Naoko got our two new wooden Daruma dolls at this event (discussed in a previous blog), plus an ejiko kokeshi by Ogasawara Yoshio and a unique half branch, half kokeshi (if I could describe it that way) by Sato Masahiro. I'll discuss these new purchases in a couple of upcoming blog entries.
Event poster.
The entrance into the venue -- pretty obvious that it's a kokeshi event.
Giant kokeshi lanterns. I love these things!
The event was obviously well attended.

More to come!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

NHK Kokeshi Show On Line NHKこけし番組オンライン

Before I get back to the kokeshis that Naoko found this summer, I wanted to alert readers of this blog that NHK World has posted a fantastic 30-minute travel show called "J-Trip Plan" about visiting Naruko Onsen 鳴子温泉 in Miyagi Prefecture. I have often discussed Naruko and its amazing kokeshi culture, and J-Trip Plan presents it very nicely. Please click here to go to the NHK World site where you can see the program in its entirety. During the first ten minutes or so the announcers discuss hydrangea viewing in Kamakura during the rainy season (also interesting), but the rest of the show is devoted to Naruko, including a stop at the National Kokeshi Museum, a bath in an onsen (hot bath), kokeshi making, and buying kokeshis and kokeshi-themed gifts. Of course after you watch this program you will need to fly to Japan and see this place in person. Here are a couple of screen captures from the show which I hope will wet your appetite for a fantastic future kokeshi adventure!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Two Darumas 達磨

As many readers may know, traditional kokeshi makers often make Daruma heads. Like kokeshis, there is an infinite variety of Daruma designs, shapes and sizes. Naoko picked up two splendid pieces while in Japan, both by a relatively new craftsman named Kan'ichi-san from Sendai City whose last name we do not know. We do know that he is the student of Mr. Sato Masahiro, and in fact we met him at Mr. Sato's workshop a few years ago when he was probably still in the early stages of his training. When I track down his family name I'll update this blog.
The first piece I would like to discuss is a cylindrical Daruma with a red nose, slightly crossed eyes, and a faint smile. The real Buddhist monk Bodhidharma ("Daruma" in Japan), founder of Zen Buddhism, is normally depicted wearing a red cape and sporting a bushy beard. In this case Kan'ichi-san has heavily stylized the beard by using a thick black line. Overall this is very appealing, and like a kokeshi that expresses so much with one or two pieces of lathed wood and painted lines, the effect here is similar. The size is about three inches high.
The bottom of the Daruma with Kan'ichi's signature.
The second Daruma by Kan'ichi is this little fellow below, and the effect is completely different than the one above. It's quite tiny -- about one inch -- and the face is extremely expressive. For this piece Kan'ichi made the face less stylistic and more realistic, and the grumpy appearance is simple and appealing. Remember that the craftsman is painting onto a curved wooden surface using a fine brush, which must be tricky.

The bottom of the smaller Daruma. Kan'ichi-san wrote just "Ka" rather than his whole name.
Below are the two Darumas together so you can compare not just the size difference, but also Kan'ichi-san's approach to doing the faces, beards, eyebrows, noses and mustaches.  
As noted above, there is a huge variety of Daruma styles in Japan, not just among those created by kokeshi makers but also among the traditional paper-mache Darumas that are so famous. Kan'ichi-san's work is a nice addition to that tradition.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Black and White Tsuchiyu Kokeshi

The second of the nine new kokeshis that Naoko collected during her summer trip to Japan is this beautiful Tsuchiyu kokeshi 土湯系こけし by Mr. Abe Kunitoshi 阿部国 from Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture. We went to Tsuchiyu a couple of months after the March 2011 earthquake disaster and visited Mr. Abe's shop, but he wasn't in that day.
This kokeshi is 4 and 7/8ths inches high and is the first black and white (or really, black and wood) one that I believe I've seen. It has a light coating of wax to protect the paint, and it is a perfect example of a Tsuchiyu face, body design, and striping. If you look closely at the stripes on the body you'll notice some waves, and as I recall Tsuchiyu craftsmen create that effect by quickly forwarding and reversing the lathe as it spins. 
This top-down shot shows the circle pattern on the crown, the hair on the forehead, and a very nice floral pattern that bridges those elements nicely.
Tsuchiyu kokeshis tend to have a U-shaped nose, and Mr. Abe uses a noncommittal expression that I find appealing.
And finally here's Mr. Abe's very stylized signature on the bottom-- I must admit that it is completely indecipherable to me!

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Black and White Yajiro Kokeshi

In the previous blog entry I discussed Naoko's trip to Japan and her one kokeshi adventure in downtown Tokyo. Today I am going to talk about a beautiful black and white Yajiro kokeshi 弥治郎系こけし by Mr. Niiyama Yoshinori 新山吉紀さん that Naoko purchased. We met Mr. Niiyama back in December 2012 (it was very cold that day) at his workshop located on the grounds of the Yajiro Kokeshi Village in Shiroishi City in southern Miyagi Prefecture, so that is a pleasant connection with this kokeshi.
Black and white kokeshis are not all that common, which might be one reason why I like them. I especially like the fact that Mr. Niiyama made the hair ribbons red, the only bit of color on this piece other than the mouth. As we can see this is actually a very simple design with some thin black lines along with thicker gray lines, all of which serve to accentuate the shape of the wood. The doll's height is about four inches, or ten centimeters.
Looking down from the top we can see the "snake eye" pattern on the crown, but this would usually be painted in bright colors on a typical Yajiro kokeshi.
The next image is a close up of the face where we can see a wisp of hair in the middle, the collar of the kimono, the slight nose, the sparing use of red, and the delicate brush work for the locks of hair that frame the face. In my opinion this is a very well done Yajiro kokeshi.
Finally, turning the kokeshi over we can see Mr. Niiyama's stylized signature. I must say that Naoko found an excellent piece for our collection.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Some New Kokeshis

This summer Naoko and the girls went to Japan, and of course the trip included a kokeshi adventure. On 17 June Naoko hopped on the train to Uguisudani Station in downtown Tokyo to attend the 5th Shitaya Kokeshi Festival 第5回 下谷こけし祭り. The event was held at a cool shop called Hikimono Gangu Negishi 挽物玩具ねぎし which is owned by a kokeshi collector whom we know. Naoko knew about the festival thanks to a post card that came a few weeks before departing.
The back of the post card for the festival.
The front of the post card for the festival.
The platform sign at Uguisudani Station.
Unfortunately photography wasn't allowed inside the shop, but Naoko reported that it was a successful event with lots of people. She also saw some of our friends from the Tokyo Kokeshi Tomo no Kai, and was even interviewed for NHK TV (though Naoko didn't make the air -- oh well). Six kokeshi craftsmen were on hand selling their wonderful work, and Naoko brought nine pieces back to California as shown in the photo below. I wish I could have been there too.
Our nine new pieces: Seven kokeshis and two Darumas.
The craftsmen who came to Tokyo for the festival were Honma Naoko 本間直子さん, Niiyama Mayumi 新山真由美さん, Niiyama Yoshinori 新山吉紀さん, Onuma Hideaki 大沼秀顕さん, Abe Kunitoshi 阿部国, and Hiraga Teruyuki 平賀輝幸さん. I'll talk about of the kokeshis that Naoko bought in the next few blog posts.