TSUCHIYU'S KOKESHI MUSEUM
Located in a picturesque valley just outside of Fukushima City, the
little town of Tsuchiyu is well known for two things. Abundant with
hot springs, the town is a mecca for onsen lovers from around the country
who delight in taking a dip in the tranquil surroundings. However, not
just famous for its natural resources, Tsuchiyu is also synonymous with
kokeshi, traditional wooden painted dolls peculiar to the Tohoku region.
The centre of kokeshi making in the prefecture, Tsuchiyu is home to
a wealth of traditional craftspeople who are carrying on the traditions
of generations of artisans.
Testament to the depth of the craft in the area is the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi
Museum, a showcase for the many types of traditional kokeshi made not
only in Fukushima but throughout Tohoku. The museum, which boasts a
collection of over three thousand dolls, was built in 1982 and is run
by the Sato family, who have a long history of kokeshi making experience
behind them. Current head of the company Kyuka Sato represents the third
generation of kokeshi makers in the family, and is one of eighteen artisans
currently working in the Tsuchiyu region.
Sato is quick to point out the difference between Tsuchiyu's traditional
kokeshi and modern kokeshi, whichhave appeared in recent times. Traditional
kokeshi are made only in Tohoku, are characterised by their shape -
long, slender, limbless bodies with round heads - and are usually painted
only with the colours green, red, yellow, purple or black. In the past,
the makers of these dolls carried out every stage of the creation process
themselves, from cutting down the trees and drying the wood, to the
final carving and painting. Although nowadays the craftspeople buy the
wood they use rather than cut down trees themselves, they are still
basically the sole creator of each kokeshi. Modern kokeshi, on the other
hand, are each created by several people between whom tasks such as
designing and painting are divided. Made in areas outside of Tohoku
such as Gunma, they come in a variety of different colours and shapes.
no two kokeshi are alike, the dolls of each region have common distinguishing
characteristics. The kokeshi of Tsuchiyu are identifiable by the kimono
painted on their body which is almost always striped, and the tops of
their heads, where their hair is painted in a ring, the centre of which
is left uncoloured. The feature that distinguishes makers from each
other is the doll's face, the characteristics of which are usually passed
down through families with the odd "model change" along the way.
While the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi Museum's exhibits are primarily traditional
kokeshi, customers are able to purchase both traditional and modern
dolls at the museum's shop. In addition, visitors are able to try out
their artistic talent by painting their own dolls. Located on Route
115 at the entrance to Tsuchiyu Onsen, the museum is open daily between
9:00am and 6:00pm (except for between December and March when hours
run from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and it closes on Mondays), with the entry
fee a mere 100 yen. Enquiries can be made at 024-595-2351.