09/05/18 | My Travel Log : Kokeshi Festival

Traveling southbound from Aomori to Tokyo, I visited a famous Onsen resort called Naruko Onsen, which boasts having one thousand years of history and four hundred types of spring resources for healing and relaxation. Nonstop summer rains have washed away the summer heat and dust, and even stopped the local train from Furukawa Station to Naruko Onsen. A usual fifty-minute train ride from Furukawa train station became a two and a half hour bus ride.  C'est la vie! 


The lengthy bus ride allowed me to chat with a salary man sitting next to me. I take whatever life gives to me, and this was my opportunity to learn about local foods, restaurants, and history.  He told me not to miss Naruko Onigiri (rice ball) as rice is very delicious there, and to buy a Kokeshi ( こけし), which I had never heard of before.  


By the time the bus pulled into this small town, people were decorating their shops for Kokeshi matsuri.  I quickly walked into town after checking in and immediately realized what Kokeshi is.  Of course, I have seen these cute-faced, wooden dolls without limbs in my Japanese friends' homes and museums, although I still did not know what was the big deal about them ... other than being part of Japanese craft traditions.


A local shop girl learned that I was stopping in town for one night, and insisted on taking me to the local Kokeshi shrine (jinja), where the ceremony of the two-day festival begins. By dusk, a group of people has gathered in the shrine, there were forty some Kokeshi in various sizes placed on wooden racks, ready to be burnt. A young lady in black dress stood poised, ready to play her flute. At 6:30, a priest came to deliver a short speech and to bless the commencement of Kokeshi Matsuri. The melody of the flute began, a fire was lit, and the Kokeshi on the rack burst into a large flame. People lined up to throw their own Kokeshi into the fire. The rain silently continued, and it was quite a touching scene. I asked a lady standing next to me about the reason for burning these wood dolls. She tried to explain, and an old gentleman came to offer more insight. I learned that it is a ceremony of offering gratitude. People buy Kokeshi throughout life to commemorate various occasions and stages such as marriage, child birth, sickness, and relocating. These wood dolls are no longer needed once they have done their duties, and rather than selling them to make a profit, their owners annually burn them and offer prayers. Their ashes return to nature. This gesture moved me to tears...No wonder it was raining, as I believe the heavenly souls were also moved to tears as well.



In our life time, we have so many things to be grateful for, and what a sweet and touching way to say THANK YOU. By burning these used and aged Kokeshi, we send our earthly gratitude to our heavenly gods! 


C.S. Jiang