Posts Tagged ‘Tohoku’

Kokeshi back in style with a new look

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Visitors to Roppongi Art Night at the end of last month were greeted by Hanako, a 13-meter-tall kokeshi doll who towered above the crowds. Despite its size, the doll’s happy, smiling face with its pink cheeks was cuteness incarnate and exemplifies how this traditional wooden doll has been given a kawaii (cute) makeover to appeal to a new generation. Once thought to be rather sinister-looking, out-of-date souvenirs, kokeshi, according to an article in Nikkei Trendy, are now trending among young women.

Hanako holds sway over Tokyo Midtown during Roppongi Art Night

Armless wooden kokeshi dolls, with large heads displaying rigid expressions and bodies decorated a little more cheerfully with floral designs, have long been sold as souvenirs in hot spring resorts throughout the Tohoku region. However, a few years back, the lack of interest among the young in these dolls  meant they began collecting dust on the shelves. An aging population of kokeshi artisans did nothing to cheer up the features of these wooden figures.

The Great East Japan Earthquake, of course, has shaken things up further. While the number of souvenir-shopping tourists in Tohoku has dropped, public consciousness of the crisis has stimulated interest in the dolls. To do her bit to lend support, Genki Numata, a representative of Kokeshika Kamakura, launched the magazine Kokeshi Jidai. Even though it’s only available to order on the net and a few select stores, sales of the magazine have been brisk.

Kokeshika Kamakura, located far from Tohoku in Kamakura, Ishikawa Prefecture, sells kokeshi and attracts a lot of custom from women in their 20s to 40s. But to appeal to this new market, many kokeshi have been given a cute facelift, that make their features somewhat resemble the jolly matryoshka dolls that are also sold in-store. This kawaiification appears to have started before the quake with the modern illustrated “Kokeshi Book” being published back in 2010. But cuteness isn’t the only way to ensure the traditional craft does not die out. Artist SUZUKIKE has created abstract renderings of the doll with fluffy, spiked or totally blank heads, called COKESHI.

Highlighting the fact that kokeshi are back in style, the “Kokeshi Pop” exhibition took place in Shibuya’s Parco department store last month. The aim of the exhibit was to further fuel interest in the craft amongst the fashionable young set and also to encourage people to visit the beleaguered Tohoku region and give local economies there a much-needed boost.

Weekend volunteering just got easier

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

“Have you been up north yet?” is a common question, six months after the compound disasters of March 11. Over 700,000 people have not only seen first-hand the devastation wrought by the tsunami in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, they have volunteered.

Tohoku Walker's volunteer directory: Let your fingers do the clicking

While volunteers may have met with confusing and even contradictory information at first, there are now quite a few online resources to help match potential volunteers with work that still needs doing. Different government offices are running sites with volunteer information, including the graphically appealing Tasukeai Japan from the Cabinet Secretariat’s Volunteers Coordinator Office, which has general information about how to help and which towns are accepting volunteers. The NPO umbrella organization Japan Civil Network has information about buses that can take groups to the affected areas. Saigai VC has links to government stats and info on volunteer activities as well as links to local volunteer centers.

On the commercial side, Tokyo Walker has set up a site that makes planning a volunteer mission as easy as planning a weekend at a hotspring. The Tohoku Volunteer Yellow Pages lets potential volunteers seek work by clicking on calendar dates and then refining their search by location and by type of  labor. There are buttons for heavy labor like clearing rubble, scraping mud and moving furniture and for less physically demanding work like cleaning and caretaking.

The site provides some things to keep in mind when volunteering, like the importance of making an informed decision about where you’ll go and what you’ll do and leaving emergency contact information with a local volunteer center. It gives the general order of things you need to do, like getting volunteer insurance, double checking that planned transportation routes are accessible and packing your trash out with you. And would it be complete without a sorta cute illustrated guide to the gear you need to bring?

Continue reading about weekend volunteering →

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