Kokeshi made in Gunma is called modern kokeshi, and is differentiated from dento (traditional) kokeshi produced in the Tohoku district (northeastern Honshu). It is also characterized by freedom from the conventional shapes of kokeshi. The change in the basic design of kokeshi from traditional ones with a round head into those of little girls with bobbed hair symbolize the flexibility of Gunma kokeshi.
The basic designs of kokeshi developed by Usaburo feature this bobbed hair and a plump round body. “Cherry Blossoms in the Dream,” “Spring Sunlight,” “Fall of the Provinces,” and “Wind Flower,” express natural scenery in each kokeshi doll. The simple lines of his products had the somewhat archaic beauty of the Orient, and their characteristic designs were highly regarded in overseas market, too.
About The Company
Usaburo Okamoto, the founder of Usaburo Kokeshi, started to make kokeshi in 1950. He invented new styles by introducing techniques that use special machines as well as a manufacturing method using a wheel, and combined painting with a brush with carving and poker drawing methods. In 1979, he built a new studio equipped with modern facilities at the present site and established a mass-production system that combined hand-crafting processes.
As a result, Usaburo Kokeshi can now meet demand nationwide and from overseas. It has the capacity to make 15,000 kokeshi a month using ten processes, which include processing with a wheel, polishing, painting, coating, and assembling. At present, the studio has six woodworkers responsible for design, all of whom studied under Usaburo and who are enthusiastic about handing down the techniques of kokeshi artisans to the next generation.
Gunma Prefecture is the top producing area of sosaku kokeshi in Japan. In the decade from 1955 to 1964, the Gunma Prefectural Cooperative Association of Kokeshi Producers was established with nearly 100 members, including wood-turners. Usaburo kokeshi is now exported to 18 countries, including European nations.
The first All-Gunma Kokeshi Contest was held in 1961, and participants in this annual event compete with one another to develop kokeshi designs and kokeshi-making techniques. Usaburo Kokeshi has taken part in the contest every year, and products carved by their kokeshi artisans have won many prizes not only at this contest but also at the All-Japan Kokeshi Contest.
Visit: Usaburo Official Website