Situated at the southern tip of Yamagata Prefecture, the City of Yonezawa is most famous for one of its traditional crafts, the Otaka-poppo. These intricate wood carvings in the shape of a hawk are individually handcrafted by artisan woodworkers. The word poppo comes from the Ainu word for “toy.” Otaka, meaning “hawk,” refers to Uesugi Yozan, a famous daimyo of Yonezawa, and symbolizes nobility and splendor. These carvings are imbued with prayers for success in life and the realization of ambition, and thus, they decorate the living rooms and hallways of many homes as talismans of good fortune.
Sagara dolls have been made by many generations of the Sagara family of Yonezawa city, Yamagata prefecture since 1790. These dolls can take on many forms, but here we have a “Child Holding a Sea Bream.” In Japan, the sea bream is a symbol of prosperity and good fortune, and this particular doll embodies the hope for a child’s good health and future happiness. (Takashi Nakamura)
Kokeshi dolls are said to have originated around 1800 in the northeastern Tohoku region of Japan, in hot spring districts known for their healing properties. The craftsmen of these densely wooded and mountainous regions fashioned bowls, trays and other household goods out of wood, and the dolls they crafted out of leftover wood scraps are believed to be the first kokeshi dolls. Visitors to the hot springs bought these dolls as souvenirs, contributing to their spread throughout Japan.