Unusual Japanese ‘Rattler’ Yajirou Kokeshi by Niiyama, Keimi (b.1925)
This VERY unusual Kokeshi is rare because it it a ‘Rattler’ by a prize-winning woodworker who studied under Yajirou Kokeshi Master Sato, Meiji, who was associated with the Shirabu Spa/Onsen and Yamagata, Japan. Niiyama has won numerous recognitions and prizes for his accomplishments which begin in the mid-40s until the end of his life. There is no biographical information on this artist nor do we know the year he passed away.
The most recognizable feature of this “Rattler” Kokeshi, is its large head that is hollow and filled with rice, (gara iri), which creates a gentle sound when it is shaken. The top of the head shows red, purple rings with a red center spot on a black background that represents hair. The head has painted beret-like feature with side-hair fringes framing the face. The face is detailed with expressive one lid or double eyelids, cat nose and red lips. This Yajirou utilizes Rokoru moyo style horizontal lifework of veritable rainbow of colors, from the usual red and purple bands on the center portion of the body as well as circulating the neck and base of the body. The upper body indicates simple brush stokes in red simulating the kimono collar on the bodice. Finally there is a large abstract chrysanthemum on the bottom of the figure and abstract petals on the back of the doll. The doll is lathe-turned from one piece of Dogwood. The piece has the acknowledgement on the base in beautiful script and signed by the artist.
Condition: Excellent, original condition, with no fading or loss of color and consistent with age and standards retaining the original craft/workmanship showing a wonderfully-developed patina. The piece meets all the standards of Traditional Yajirou Kokeshi collectibles.
The creators of these dolls hail from the small farming village of Yajirou-machi near Kamasaki Onsen in Miyagi Prefecture, once a farming village between two, tall mountains. The kiji-shi (woodworkers), divided their time between farming and wood-craft. Those who made kokeshi in their spare time sent their wives to the nearby Kamasaki Onsen to sell their work to tourist shops and through onsens.
Collector's note – characteristics/painting style:
The majority of this style has distinct waists and wider bases, making them very stable. Yajirou dolls are some of the most brightly painted of the traditional family set. Utilizing a veritable rainbow of colours, from the usual red and black to green, yellow, and even blue and purple, they are available in probably the widest range of shapes. The upper body usually has a hand-painted collar with horizontal stripes encircling the body, as in the Rokoru moyo style, and vertical stripes running below the waist to the base of the doll. However, Yajirou dolls can also be found with a series of chrysanthemum petals running down the front of the body, or a branch of plum blossoms as the only decoration. Some, also have a painted beret-like feature or a bun on their heads, similarly painted with a red center spot. Less common are Yajirou that have conical hats known as Suge-Gasa. Typically seen is one lid or double eyelids, cat or pick shaped nose. Yajirou kokeshi have been made from cherry wood, camellia, and maple, but the preferred wood is white dogwood, (mazuki).
NOTE: Both Yajirou ad Togutta dolls are sometimes created with loose rings circling the waists. Literally carved from the same wood as the body, a very meticulous method! This treatment is referred to as 'Yamiyo' style kokeshi. It is also seen on Tsuchiyu dolls, though very rarely.
Notable artists:Satou Denki, b. 1909
Satou Dennai, Master
Ishikawa Tokujiro, b. 1915
Niiyama Fukutaro, Master
Sato Tatsuro, b. 1928
Sato Imasaburo, Master
Hamatsu Heizaburo, b. 1933
Niiyama Sanai, MasterYajirou
Niiyama Yoshinori, b. 1960
Niiyama Yoshitaro, Grand Master