There’s something deeply satisfying about watching someone do their job incredibly well. Whether it’s a master chef putting together a mouth-watering meal, a talented musician making an instrument come to life, or a pro athlete performing at the highest level of the sport, you find yourself unable to look away, both because of how soothing watching things go perfectly is, and also for fear of missing whatever amazing feat they’re going to pull off next.
So if you’re craving that special mixture of relaxation and inspiration, take a few minutes to watch this video of a master craftsman transforming two hunks of wood into a beautiful kokeshi doll with a literally unique twist.
Yasuo Okazaki is the owner of the Kokeshi no Okajin doll shop in Miyagi Prefecture, located in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region.
Seeing him sit in his workshop along the roadside in sleepy Osaki City, you get the feeling that things in the town haven’t changed much since long ago. That sense of tradition extends to the dolls Okazaki makes, which are composed of only two pieces, the body and the head.
That low component count might lead you to assume that Okazaki’s kokeshi are easy to make, and that may be true for a man of his experience. For anyone else, though, the skill with which the artist works is a sight to see.
Starting out with a short stump, Okazaki strips off the bark, and then, like a rural Japanese Michelangelo, removes everything that isn’t a perfectly-shaped kokeshi headpiece.
Next, it’s on to the body, where Okazaki works so swiftly and deftly it’s more like he’s removing layers of soft clay or even liquid than solid wood.
Unlike Western dolls, kokeshi aren’t dressed in clothing. Instead, Okazaki paints the lines and patterns of the kimono directly onto the body, showing so much concentration and care he might as well be dressing his infant grandchildren.
The facial features are also hand-painted, as is the kokeshi’s hairstyle and ornaments.
▼ Having produced a true work of art, the craftsman signs the bottom with “Yasuo.”
All that’s left to do is a little final sanding, and the doll is done.
If you watched closely, you probably noticed Okazaki taking some extra time around the 1:45 mark while boring out the opening where he eventually connected the head and body. There’s a reason for that, because the doll he’s making is known as a Naruko kokeshi.
Naruko has a bit of a double meaning here. First, it’s the name of the part of Osaki City where Okazaki lives and works. The kanji characters for Naruko, though, 鳴子, literally mean “singing child.” As Okazaki demonstrates at the end of the video, giving the neck a little twist will produce a wooden chirp, something unusual for kokeshi, which ordinarily aren’t designed with any sort of moving parts.
Considering Okazaki’s impressive talents, you might expect all of his works to command some prohibitively lofty prices. That’s not the case at all, though, and his website lists numerous designs that are available for about 1,500 yen (US $13).
You don’t even have to go all the way up to Miyagi to buy one, since Kokeshi no Okajin takes orders by email. If you’re looking to add a Japanese accent to your home’s interior, or just want to be inspired by the end result of someone being really good at what he does, take a look through the store’s stock here and see if there’s anything you like.
Kokeshi no Okajin / こけしの岡仁
Address: Miyagi-ken, Osaki-shi, Naruko Onsen Shinyashiki 51
Source: Kotaro 269 , Kokeshi no Okajin