by Akiko Inoue
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 #24   March, 2002

Ode to the dolls, and to Komachi

Akiko Inoue
A Hakata-doll artist, who is as beautiful as her dolls.

Has spring come to you yet? Peach blossom in our back garden is in full bloom.
Probably you know something about the Doll's Festival of Japan. It is also called the Peach Festival. March the third is the day when we celebrate the festival to pray for the health and happiness of the girls. We decorate our Ohinasama dolls. About the tradition and history of Ohinasama, you can easily find quite a few web-sites on the internet. So I will skip explanation here.
Akiko Inoue, 2002(age81)

Instead, I would like to introduce you a Hakata-doll artist, who is a good friend of ours for a long time.

Her name is Akiko Inoue. She is 81 years old, and is still working vigorously. You can see how beautiful and graceful she is.

Akiko was born in 1921 in Kyuragi Town near Karatsu. Her aunt in Karatsu adopted her, so Akiko grew up in Karatsu.
When she was 19, she got married to Chojiro, a Hakata-doll craftsman.
She wanted to learn doll making, but Chojiro did not like it. Akiko touched the clay and studied at midnight secretly imitating her husband's procedure.

In 1943, Chojiro went to the war. While he was away, Akiko made dolls by putting colors on Chojiro's molds. Chojiro's main motif was "Beautiful women".
Chojiro's doll

Chojiro survived the war, but the battlefield had harmed his health.
Akiko had to struggle to support the family. At the same time, she had to take care of her children and the sick husband. Moreover, Akiko had to find her own style of doll-art.

After years of endeavor, Akiko's doll won a big prize. Chojiro was glad and satisfied saying,"Now you can make living by doll."
He passed away in 1964.

In 1965, Akiko was admitted to learn from the renowned Hakata-doll artist Yoichi Kojima.
Master Kojima advised Akiko to make dolls in the theme of "Noh Play". It was a great honor for a woman doll-artist. But it was a hard challenge. She had to study Noh itself, which was ever so difficult a task with many rules in every detail.

In her career of almost 40 years of Noh-doll making, Akiko was awarded Prime Minister's Award three times, and The Minister of Trade and Industry's Award twice. It is a very rare case for a female artist in the traditional world of Hakata-doll making.
Akiko was ordered in 1994, and designated as a "National Excellent Skill Holder of Traditional Art" in 1998.

Hidekazu Inoue, Akiko's son, has become a famous Hakata-doll artist too, and her grandson Kazuhiko is a promising young artist. Akiko is happy and proud.

When I asked her, "What made you strong enough to achieve such a wonderful career?", she answered quietly, "I have a friend who has always supported me."
"Do you mind if I ask who is the friend?" "No," she said, "She is Ono-no-Komachi."

I was so surprised. Ono-no-Komachi was a famous poetess in Heian period of thousand years ago (792-1192). She was one of the Rokkasen (Six Waka laureates) of the time. Her personal history is not fully known. She became a legend, and her poems were adored time after time.
Noh writers were inspired by Komachi's mysterious life, and many dramas were written with Komachi as a center character.
Akiko's life-work is "Komachi". The most beautiful woman ever lived. A woman with so many love-gossips with noblemen. The proud poetess who proved innocent when accused to have copied an old poem. The most tragic woman at the last stage of the long life. Akiko tries to express every aspect of Komachi's legendary life.

Akiko's Komachi dolls have brought her honors of prize many times. The dolls invite people into a Mugen World of Noh, which means somewhere between reality and dreams.

It seems to me that this graceful Hakata-doll artist is now living in her Mugen World. Her grandson Kazuhiko assured that Akiko would live and keep on making the dolls until she is 100 years old.
Akiko laughed, and her shining smile was as beautiful as her dolls.

Akiko's doll "So-shi Arai Komachi"
(Prime Minister's Award , 1997)
Ootomo-no-Kuronushi, a laureate,
added Komachi's poem in an old Anthology
and accused her
that she stole a poem from the old book.
Komachi washed the book in water
and the newly-added letters vanished.
Komachi proved she was innocent.

Akiko's doll "Sotoba Komachi"
(Prime Minister's Award,1974)
(Komachi on the Stupa)
Color of the flower
Has already faded away,
While in idle thoughts
My life passes vainly by,
As I watch the long rains fall.
Thank you very much for your visit .
I wish you all the joy of the spring time.
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