EXPLORE A RANGE OF HANDMADE FOLK CRAFTS FROM JAPAN'S RURAL 'DEEP NORTH', NOW AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE ONLINE FROM THE SHOP AT JAPAN HOUSE LONDON
This spring, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake in Tōhoku, Japan’s north-eastern region, The Shop at Japan House London offers a range of rare, handmade Japanese folk crafts from the north east. Tōhoku has been a centre of folk craft production for centuries, producing items with many distinct styles and craft processes across the region’s towns and villages. Among these crafts are kokeshi (wooden dolls), akabeko (red cow figurines), Otaka poppo (talismanic wooden hawks) and Okiagari-koboshi (tumbling, self-righting dolls).
Kokeshi are wooden dolls that emerged as a folk craft from hot-spring mountain villages at the end of the Edo period (1603-1868 CE). They are characterised by their elongated, limbless bodies, large heads and delicate, hand-painted features. All six prefectures in Tōhoku have a heritage of kokeshi making, and there are 12 styles of doll made across the region, each hailing from a different hot-spring (onsen) town or area and differentiated by shape, facial features and decoration. Their enigmatic facial expressions leave us wondering if the doll is happy, thoughtful, annoyed, or even melancholic.
Everyone sees something different in the face of a kokeshi – an enduring appeal of these icons of Japanese folk art. Visit Japan House’s website to read more about kokeshi.
The akabeko (literally ‘red cow’) heralds from the mountainous Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture and tells the story of a local legend. Following an earthquake in the 17th century, the 9th-century Enzoji Temple in Yanaizu Town collapsed. Local builders sought the strength of cattle to help transport the heavy materials needed to reconstruct the temple, but the loads were too heavy. Legend states that the akabeko appeared to help the priests, before vanishing once the temple was complete. Statues of the akabeko in Aizu commemorate this legend, bring good fortune and ward off sickness. Today, akabeko figurines are made from papier-mâché and painted with stripes on their face and back to represent strength and perseverance.
OTAKA POPPO HAWKS
A region inhabited by the Ainu, an indigenous people of Japan, Tōhoku has a rich and unique folk craft heritage that can be seen in Otaka poppo talismanic hawks (‘poppo’ means ‘toy’ in the Ainu language). These are made by woodcarvers in Yamagata Prefecture from a single piece of wood from the deciduous koshiabura tree and using a sarukiri knife. The Otaka poppo are believed to hold talismanic qualities and embody the strength and power of the hawk, ensuring the safety and protection of one's household.
Okiagari-koboshi are a designated traditional craft of Fukushima Prefecture. Their production dates back 400 years, making them the oldest Aizu folk craft. Returning to an upright position when tipped over, Okiagari-koboshi symbolise the ups and downs in life, as well as health and perseverance and are bought for new family members as good luck gifts. Originally made to celebrate New Year’s Day, today they are
displayed on a Shinto altar to ensure the family’s wellbeing and good health for the year ahead.
Discover more about these handmade crafts on The Shop section of the Japan House London website and through our online content from Tōhoku available throughout March.
Also available through The Shop’s online service is a range of Japanese tableware and kitchenware, stationery, and other lockdown luxury items hard to find elsewhere in the UK. Visit japanhouselondon.uk/the-shop to browse the range and find out more.