Hokkaidō Kubori Kuma

HUGE Vintage Japanese Ainu Ceremonial hand-carved Wood Bear | Hokkaidō kubori kuma


Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 19-0”l x 12-0”w x 11-0”h (weight: 24lbs)

The Ainu are indigenous people of northern Japan living and practicing their art and culture on the island of Hokkaido whose artisan hand-carved this realistic chum salmon and heavily carved wooden bear and made it in the 1940s. At the time these were first produced just after the war which had become an important part of their survival as a people. The size and detail of this Ainu bear are extremely rare, and not the typical three-dimensional wooden objects, flat reliefs, and folk crafts in the shape of bears are manufactured mainly in Hokkaido, known throughout Japan, and purchased by tourists worldwide. This LARGE bear was made as a fine original quality religious object and is carved from one wooden piece, its fur is rich and shows intricately carved hairlines made with a chisel, (Itta-bori technique) and it holds a salmon in its mouth: the most authentic design for the kubori kumaThe piece is made of heavy, light-colored zelkova wood, finished in a variegated colored enamel, and waxed to a beautiful patinated finish. This piece was purchased in 1985 in Hokkaido at a shop selling authentic Ainu artifacts and we were told that the bear was made by Umetaro Matsui, (1909-1949) who started carving bears in the Asahikawa-shi, and not as a souvenir-type replica. The piece is unsigned because at the time of making it was not custom to sign for it was made for the local population.

The Ainu had great reverence for bears and almost every home in Japan had a bori-kuma which represents their anchor to the past and their guide to the future. The large chum salmon held in the mouth of the bear represents a good harvest. Bears brought gifts from the deities and were regarded as the important mountain god in disguise. The Ainu have always worshiped the bear as a deity which resulted in a perfect match of carving their image to honor them. 

Being expert carvers as part of their way of life, it was a natural choice for them to supplement their livelihood by carving images of bears from wood. In the early part of the 20th century, the Ainu were forced to relocate to Hokkaido to cultivate the land and become farmers.  Due to the harsh winter conditions, they found it difficult in doing this and instead kept their way of life hunting, gathering, and carving small handheld images of the bear which are typically seen on the market and at auctions using modern methods of carving and scrap materials. During religious ceremonies and festivals, people donned their best clothes and there was a lot of drinking, dancing, and feasting. Prayers were said to the fire, house, and mountain gods, and the exhibition of the family and their bear was an honor to be shared. (see the attached image showing the bear festival; the ceremony to release the bear back into the wild; Ainu woman in full dress with the bear; and the interior and exterior of their structures).

Condition: Exceptional. “As is”, and retains the original craft/workmanship. No discoloration, chipping/cracking, or structural damage, with only slight surface wear on the edges of the paws. 

HISTORICAL NOTE: The Ainu are indigenous people of Japan. “Ainu” means “human being” in the Ainu language. When the Meiji government brought Hokkaido into Japan’s domain, settlement and development had a drastic impact on the Ainu ways of life and culture. In 2008, 140 years after the island's annexation and 109 years after they had their nationality taken away from them, Japan officially recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people. The Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act of 1899 declared the Ainu to be Japanese people — banning the Ainu from speaking their language, practicing their religion, and partaking in Ainu cultural activities. The Ainu traditionally practiced animism, (the belief that all-natural phenomena, including human beings, animals, and plants, but also rocks, lakes, mountains, weather, and so on, share one vital quality—the soul or spirit that energizes them—is at the core of most Arctic belief systems), and had no written language. The Ainu traditionally practiced animism and had no written language. Facing these challenges, the Ainu have persevered, carrying on their cultural heritage to this day. Official figures suggest that there are 24,000 Ainu living in Japan today, many of mixed ancestry, many more in denial of their roots for fear of discrimination.

... Read more

Customer Reviews

One of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years

I recently purchased one of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years. The information you provided was excellent, the piece is in mint condition as advertised, with a subject matter I did not have in my collection.

— dbl

Delightful and well written book

Just downloaded my ebook on Sosaku Kokeshi. Excellent and so excited to see that you transposed the hardbound version. Exceptional large color images with great descriptions and details. It is so nice to have a copy I can carry when touring and when I am on-line shopping for Kokeshi. Also nice not to have to pay for international shipping.

— Author's name

A great doll

As always, a carefully packed order arrived this morning. This Sosaku Kokeshi – Takeda, Nori Aki Kaze is a great doll. Her large attractive head and maple leaf pattern, along with the vibrant colour make this doll very intriguing. Another copy of your new book that I have ordered for my friend will be a great Christmas Present for him. Much appreciated. I have also enjoyed furthering my knowledge of Japanese Antiques and Collectibles through your website.

— Kathy

You did the subject justice

Vintage Kokeshi and its history is absolutely a topic thats close to my heart, so Im pleased that you wrote about it. Im also happy that you did the subject justice bringing the history of these creative artifacts to light. Not only do you know a great deal about it, you know the way to present the subject in a way that individuals will wish to read far more. Im so happy to know a person/site like you exists on the internet. I understand you are writing a book on Sosaku Kokeshi artists. That will be high on my list for there is nothing in English on the subject, and I am worried that the craftsmen and their creations will be lost as Japan becomes more western in attitude. Doomo arigato gozaimasu from Japan.

— Misugi

Truly opened my eyes

I recently purchased your book on Kokeshi and what a find after collecting for over 10 years with no information to base my purchases on. Now I have YOUR ILLUSTRATIVE BOOK and it has truly opened my eyes. All the associated stories and folk tales give such light to my collection. A curator at the Japanese American National Museum in LA told me about this great resource. Your book happens to be astonishingly precise although I can understand why someone else has not written a book on the subject, because all the artists producing Kokeshi remain obscure and little information available has not been translated. Your book truly did switch the light on for me personally as related to Japanese folk art.

— John G

Detailed textual information & beautiful photographs

We just received your new book, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition. Let us be the first to congratulate you on this superb follow-up to Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan. Your comprehensive text with its notes on the artists and the beautiful photography create a work that any collector of Kokeshi should have if they wish to develop an understanding of and knowledge about this Japanese folk art. We don’t know which is better (Does either have to be better?), the detailed textual information or the beautiful photographs. Both insist upon and rightfully demand spending time to enjoy and appreciate them. Thank you so much for adding to our appreciation of Kokeshi.

— Masakazu & Keiko Ota

Another great Kokeshi book edition

Another great Kokeshi book edition. I was thrilled to see many of the Kokeshi in my collection in your book. I even found a few that I still had not been able to identify, it was nice to finally know the artisans behind my wonderful collection.

— M. Molina

My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to

Whether you are a kokeshi doll collector like I am, or exploring Japanese folk art for the first time, Sosaku Kokeshi – A New Look at an Old Tradition is a wonderful, informative resource for collectors and a lovely visual introduction to Sosaku dolls. I just purchased a copy of the book, and I could not be more pleased! With its beautiful colour photographs, signatures and profiles of the artists along with titles of the dolls, it is a well-researched, comprehensive resource. While some dolls featured in the book were familiar to me, I was also introduced to artists and dolls that I have never seen or heard of before.

These two books have helped me to learn so much more about kokeshi dolls, and influence my thoughts on the process of doll selection. My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to. These two books have become an extension of and just as much a part of my collection as the dolls that sit on my shelves.

— Karen W.

WONDERFUL exposition.

The artwork on each doll is literally like a unique painting historically recording the Japanese culture. Thank you for your fine work and this educational experience.

— TM

After we purchased the first one, we fell irresistibly in love

We started collecting Kokeshi only a short time ago with the expert guidance of Michael and Robert. Beginning with a goal of three or four dolls for each of our granddaughters, we almost immediately changed our goal after we purchased the first one and fell irresistibly in love with this Japanese folk art.

We have amassed a small collection that we display proudly.

In spite of our limited background and only a little research to support our evaluation, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition is a magnificent work on the subject of these wooden dolls which make up a segment of the folk arts of Japan. The detailed background materials on the artists and the notes on the dolls can be an invaluable part of one’s collection. The marvelous photography is an excellent complement to the text, as we re-viewed the images many times, envying the owner of each doll.

— Koigirl

I love my new jewelry box!!

Just want to say MAHALO — love my new jewelry box!! I wanted this tobacco box to hold my modest collection of jewelry. I tend to march to the beat of a different drummer most of the time, and I often repurpose items. When I saw this lovely Japanese box you were selling, I thought “bingo!” — perfect!! So, many thanks… and I hope to occasionally purchase an item now and then now that I know about you!

— Kristi

Delightful Kokeshi book

I received your delightful Kokeshi book, and I am very grateful to have discovered this beautiful publication. The photographs are singular elegant portraits. It is wonderful you have included the calligraphy kanji signature of the craftsman, as important as the beautiful painted dolls. Your book gives provenance to my small treasured collection and a guide in my search for more. Exciting to also discover a few of mine already in your book. Many thanks again for gifting this special kokeshi edition and I hope to continue to share the joy.

— Tania

Oh my goodness! She has arrived and she is divine!

She was beautifully packed and arrived safe and sound. She is so gorgeous and I thank you so much for all that you have done along the way. You provide such a professional yet also personable business and it was a delight dealing with you.
Thank you for bringing such gorgeous items to our attention – these Kokeshis are ‘works of art’ and we are lucky to be able to purchase them and bring them into our lives and homes.
I had to send you a photo of her with her new family and I have to say, as you predicted, she fits in beautifully.
I shall keep an eye on your website for further ‘treasures’.

— Karen, the lucky owner of ‘Pigtails’ by Ishihara, Hideo

Mingei Arts can't be beat!

Thank you for your attention and guidance to a new mingei collector. Both your publication and mingei are outstanding, your packing is perfect and shipping prompt.

— Brenda

Really beautiful.

Got the vase over the weekend. Somehow this medium really speaks to me, at least the objects where most everything is in different shades of brown. Very appealing. Yes, too bad I missed out on the ginger jars you had for sale. Ah well, it’s all OK in the universe. And what clever use of materials for safe packing!

— Da-Shih

Shopping through the items in this store is like treasure hunting, without the hunting.

I have several items from Robert & Michael’s collection now and they all hold a special place in my home and warm my heart when I see them. Something about the art from Japan just makes me feel at peace and also comforted.

— Jessie

I could not be happier with my three new Kokeshi

Your time and personal attention was gratefully appreciated. I could not be happier with my three new Kokeshi – I have them displayed where I pass by often so I can stop and look at them – they always bring a smile to my face! They make me HAPPY! I also love your book and eBook. Thank you so much!

— Barb

Opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of an amazing art form

It wasn’t until I got your book that I realized what I had been missing these past years! Now I am totally addicted.

— B

Great spinning top

I purchased a vintage spinning top for a gift, and I absolutely love it! The ordering process was fast and easy, and the item was in the condition described on the website.

— Carmela

Thank you for sending this book to me

It is beautiful, so informative and stunning pictures. Well done to you both for producing this. Any wonder so many people around the world love it. I  will love using it as my reference book. You have both been so lovely to deal with……I look to you both as experts in all things Kokeshi and Japanese art, and look forward to our continued friendship across the world.
🙏🏻🐨💐🥂👘🌎🌏🍱 🥰

— Karen