Miyagi #4: Kokeshi Dolls (こけし)

Kokeshi are wooden, painted dolls originally from the Zao onsen area of Miyagi Prefecture, but spread to several other onsen towns in the area, and on to the rest of Japan around the Edo Period. Their faces have changed and modernized through time, and now you can find many forms and styles of these dolls sold all over the country. However the original style of head and body is still produced in Miyagi today.

There are 5 onsen towns in Miyagi generally considered as the main producers, each with a slightly different shape and style: Togatta (probably the original), Naruko, Yajiro, Sakunami, and Hijori. This postcard appears most like the Naruko style, which most commonly features bangs and 2 pigtails of hair on the head, as well as reds and yellows on the body. The yellow became popular from around the middle of the Taisho period.

You can visit the Japan Kokeshi Museum in Naruko Onsen, Miyagi Prefecture, to see craftsman making the dolls, try painting your own, and of course, buy the dolls themselves. There’s also an All-Japan Kokeshi contest, a Kokeshi Shrine, and a Kokeshi Festival as well. This year marks the 57th Contest, held in Shiroishi, Miyagi on May 3~5. The festival is February through mid-March at the aforementioned Kokeshi Museum.

And of course, these dolls in different styles can be bought all over Japan. When I was a child, I had a Naruko Kokeshi, and the head does indeed squeak!

Edit 2015.11.13: I drove by these giant kokeshi dolls in Sakunami Onsen and took some quick pictures even though I didn’t have time to stop at the actual onsen. What a nice welcome!

Postcards and dolls

Sakunami Onsen entrance

Tohoku Sandai Matsuri Part 3: Miyagi #2 – Tanabata Matsuri (七夕まつり)

The final major festival of the Tohoku Region’s Sandai Matsuri is held in Sendai, Miyagi. If you missed it, I posted Aomori here.

Tanabata is usually called the “Star Festival” in English, although it is also called “Seventh Night”. Usually in Japan it is celebrated in July, but Tohoku follows the lunar calendar and therefore celebrates Tanabata in August instead. Actually, all three Sandai festivals are Tanabata celebrations, but Sendai’s is the most obvious. Tanabata celebrates the one day of the year where two lovers can meet across the milky way. It is a fun and interesting event where people write wishes on strips of paper and tie them to bamboo. You can read more about it on wikipedia’s page here.

Sendai’s Tanabata festival is the grandest in Japan. Not only is the sheer number of decorations awe-inspiring (there are thousands throughout Sendai), but the level of detail for each is hard to imagine without seeing one in person. We went to this festival last, and I thought it would be boring compared to the others… there are no dances or parades or anything like that. But instead, I found that walking through the forest of decorations was calming. Seeing each individual decoration and in groups was really nice, especially up close. It ended up comparing to the other two despite my expectations!

Sign welcoming visitors to the Matsuri area

Large decorations were everywhere

Walking through them was like walking through a colorful forest!

Each was proudly hand crafted by local stores and businesses

And the level of detail is truly amazing for each.

The Tanabata Matsuri is held August 6th to 8th in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

So those are the Tohoku Sandai Matsuri. There are other prefectural summer festivals also depicted on Gotochi cards from the Tohoku region, but I think this post is long enough! If you ever have a chance to see these amazing festivals, you will not regret it!