My Japan Journey Interview No 01: Marie and Her 110 Kokeshi Collection
We are excited to announce a new blog series on Zusetsu called My Japan Journey. Here at Zusetsu, our aim is to build a community of people - both in Japan and elsewhere- who are passionate about Japanese culture. We are so inspired by so many of you whom we’ve met through Zusetsu so what better way of sharing these fascinating stories than featuring them on our Zusetsu blog!
Our first guest is none other than Marie, our dear friend in Paris!
Read on to learn about Marie’s incredible kokeshi collection and her love for ikebana.
Zusetsu: Marie, tell us a little bit about your background! Marie: I grew up in Strasbourg, a town located East of France on the German border. I speak 5 languages – French, German, English, Italian, and a bit of Russian. I was actually a language teacher at the start of my career at a translator school in Germany. I then became a translator myself at the Council of Europe.
Zusetsu: How did you become interested in Japanese culture? Marie: After my translator job at the Council of Europe, I moved to Paris in 1987 and started working for a Japanese company called NEC (known especially for computers). My boss was the CEO of the firm, which was so small when I joined – around 15 people. When I left the job 10 years later, the company had grown to about 250 people! I took care of the CEO’s office such as VIP invitations and event planning, especially anything related to the DAVIS CUP as NEC were major sponsors. Because of the nature of my job, I was invited to visit Tokyo about twice a year. During these private visits, I had such a fantastic time – amazing food at ryokans… the memories are still so vivid in my mind! That’s how I fell in love with Japan. Zusetsu: Wow, how did your Japan visits while at NEC then lead to your interest in kokeshi? Marie: That part actually came later, when I was working for a non-Japanese company called Nestlé Waters in Paris. My boss was a Dutchman who happened to be Nestlé’s Market Head in Kobe, Japan before he transferred across to the Paris office as CEO of the worldwide Water Division. One day he invited me over for dinner at his house with his wife. His wife is Filipino and she had a massive collection of 150 kokeshis, all of them 60cm tall. When I saw her kokeshi collection, I instantly fell in love. Zusetsu: Can you tell us a little bit more about what kokeshi are? Marie: Kokeshi are essentially wooden dolls without any arms or legs. They originated from the Tohoku region in Japan during the Edo Period. Kokeshi served several purposes; they were toys for children, souvenir gifts at hot springs (they are great for massaging) and also offerings when a child was either born or passed away. There are mainly 2 types of kokeshi. Dento kokeshi are the more traditional ones . The second type are called sousaku, or creative kokeshi. While dento tend to have distinctly recognizable features, creative kokeshi are completely free form in terms of colour, shape, and design.
For more info on kokeshi dolls, please visit www.soulportals.com
Zusetsu: Tell us more about your kokeshi collection! Marie: Yes, I have 110 kokeshi right now! Here are some photos of just a few of them:
1) This cute kokeshi was crafted in Marie's home region by Patrick . She wears the traditional costume of Alsace which Marie's grandmother would wear on Sundays.
2) This kokeshi was commissioned for Marie's birthday and fabulously crafted by Alexa, a French lady living in the Shetlands . Showing the Cathedral of Strasbourg and the stork as the emblematic bird of this region
3) Two examples of dento kokeshi.
4) These kokeshi are music boxes, crafted by the USABURO workshop, which is very famous in Japan.
5) The above three photos feature Marie's pigtail family - her collection of kokeshi with adorable pigtails!
6) The two photos above are of kokeshi by the maker Ryozo Tsujita. The models shown in this photo (directly above) won the prestigious Prime Minister Award.
7) These very recent additions to Marie's collection are by Sato Sachiko. There are not many women producing kokeshi.
8) This kokeshi is amazing and rare owing to the carved washi paper.
Zusetsu: Besides kokeshi, you mentioned you’re passionate about ikebana? Marie: Yes, I am. My grandmother was a florist and I also attended the Florist School of Paris – so it’s quite natural that I’ve gravitated towards Ikebana. I became interested in ikebana about 12 years ago, when I read a book about samurai and learned that ikebana played a pivotal role in samurai culture.
Zusetsu: What are you looking forward to the most when you visit Japan next time? Marie: I would love to go during winter to see snowy landscapes, perhaps in Northern Japan. Zusetsu: Do you have any recommendations for books about Japanese culture? Marie: Yes, I am currently reading a lovely book called the Tsubaki Bookshop (Tsubaki bunguten) by OGAWA Ito. Zusetsu: Are there any interesting exhibitions on Japanese culture that you attended in Paris recently? Marie: I visited the Guimet Museum (the National Museum of Asian Arts) to see an exhibition called The Bow and the Katana: World of Samurai. I found it fascinating to see how samurai culture has inspired so much of Western modern culture – such as Star Wars! Also I visited the Japan House of Paris to see the exhibition called “The Children of the Meiji Period” presenting many ukiyo-e featuring children in their daily games, schooling and life at home.
We want to thank Marie very much for introducing us to her marvellous world of kokeshi and her fascinating collection, and for her interesting conversation about her passion for Japan.
We have learned a lot about kokeshi thanks to Marie's introduction, and we have a better understanding of
the skill and craftmanship that go into this traditional Japanese craft.
Marie’s Instagram: @marie_tomminette Marie’s flower Instagram: @ikigai_happy_flowers
Thank you for reading, and see you next time,
Cathy and Yukki