Written by Catrina Sugita
Date: 3 – 4 September 2022
Location: Naruko, Osaki City
The National Kokeshi Festival 2022
A Celebration of Tohoku's Traditional Handicraft: Kokeshi Dolls!
Head to the National Kokeshi Festival for a chance to see, create, and purchase kokeshi dolls, the traditional handicraft of Tohoku. Believed to have emerged during the late Edo Period, Kokeshi are categorized into eleven types based on their region of origin: Tsugaru, Nanbu, Kijiyama, Zaotakayu, Yamagata, Hijiori, Naruko, Sakunami, Togatta, Yajiro, and Tsuchiyu. All eleven types are represented at the event!
The National Kokeshi Festival displays traditional kokeshi dolls from all over Japan in the "City of Kokeshi," Naruko. Formerly known as the "Naruko Kokeshi Festival," which began in 1948, the Festival was renamed to the "National Kokeshi Festival" in 1953. This year marks the 67th anniversary of this festival celebrating Tohoku culture!
The festival opens with several religious rituals on the Friday evening preceding the main event, including a a Kokeshi memorial service and a kokeshi dedication ceremony. The farewell memorial service and ceremonial burning of damaged kokeshi dolls takes place at the Onsen Shrine, to express gratitude to the old kokeshi and wish for the continued success of the kokeshi craftspeople. The main event allows visitors to purchase and create their own kokeshi, observe professional craftspeopeople demonstrate their skilled craftsmanship, and admire exhibitions of unique kokeshi dolls. Other events include kokeshi painting workshops, kokeshi discussion sessions, and a kokeshi competition. The highlight of the event is undoubtedly the eve of the main festival, where a parade of traditional Naruko Odori dance, Kokeshi-patterned yukata summer kimonos, and people dressed up in lifesized kokeshi doll costumes make their way through the streets of Naruko Onsen. The Kokeshi Festival is truly a surreal event that you must expereince at least once!
Naruko Kokeshi are the traditional handicraft from Naruko Onsen, and are amongst the most famous kokeshi in the whole country. When arriving in the town, visitors are greeted by the many kokeshi dolls scattered across Naruko Onsen, such as in the shopping street named "Kokeshi Street," in post boxes, and even in public telephone booths!