When going to Naruko to enjoy the stunning autumn scenery, you should never forget to buy some souvenirs. Hot springs + Tohoku means Kokeshi!
Kokeshi are traditional wooden dolls with pretty faces and floral designs. The style of kokeshi varies in different parts of Tohoku, some are simpler, some are more elaborate, but they all share their form - a simple body without hands and legs and a round head with black braids. Kokeshi from Naruko are relatively posh, with their big and bright chrysanthemum pattern. The sizes and shapes can be different, and nowadays we can purchase kokeshi straps, kokeshi key holders and even kokeshi pencil cases. There are many traditional kokeshi artisans’ shops in Naruko, situated on the both sides of Kokeshi street - the main street of Naruko. In this article, we will mention only one of them - Sakurai kokeshi-ten.
Sakurai Kokeshi-ten has a long history of kokeshi carving. In the late Edo period, Oonuma Matagoro started the tradition of Naruko kokeshi, and from a father to a son, this tradition was passed through the ages. Sakurai Kokeshi-ten, as several other kokeshi shops in Naruko, was started by the spiritual descendants of Onuma Matagoro. The owner Sakurai Akihiro says, that his grandfather, Sakurai Mannojo, was born Onuma, but changed his surname, taking his wife’s surname Sakurai. His wife, Kou, was a kokeshi craftswoman herself, and you can see some works from the Sakurai couple in a newly opened Kokeshi-do - a small museum dedicated to kokeshi.
Akihiro’s father was 3 times awarded the best kokeshi prize of Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the most anyone has ever received this prize. The kokeshi made by him are on display at the shop.
Sakurai kokeshi have a pretty, small face and a very detailed ornamentation. They embody the spirit and the skills of northern wood carvers, who lived in the mountains for centuries before coming to the local villages and becoming an important part of local communities, bringing with them new know-how and new inspirations. Isn’t it great to have a piece of this wonderful tradition by your side? Or maybe you can try to take part in this tradition by creating your own unique kokeshi.
This possibility is gradually offered by Sakurai kokeshi-ten. Sakurai Akihiro himself teaches those who want to try and paint kokeshi themselves how to create the design and how to actually apply it. It is not easy, as every stroke you make has it’s own way, but, at the same time, the explanation by the master is so nice, that even small children can follow it. And in the end you will have a priceless souvenir - your own kokeshi, a little piece of Naruko.
One more thing - definitely visit the Kokeshi-do upstairs to compare kokeshi dolls from different parts of Tohoku. Every hot spring resort has its' own face and spirit, and local kokeshi prove it very well.