'favourite things' - kaminarimon girl
This very special 'favourite things' girl was inspired by my old friend, the kaminarimon lantern in the entrance gate to Sensōji temple. When I first thought about making a girl for this lantern I presumed I had hundreds of photos as I have passed under it so many times, but in fact I only have a few - I so enjoy the experience of seeing this beautiful object, I often forget all about photos! Fortunately my sketchbook has many pages devoted to notes about it, along with sourced photos and sketches...
In the low-lying Tokyo district of Asakusa, a memorable object welcomes visitors into the grounds of Sensōji temple - the giant red lantern that hangs in the centre of the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate). You might be surprised by the fact that many things in Tokyo aren't as old as you think - between fires, earthquakes and fire bombing, the city has been rebuilt from the ashes so many times that originals have long since been replaced, but each renewal allows for traditional crafts to be put into action, sometimes with modern technologies added. This outer gate to the temple complex, although first built in 941AD and a few blocks south of its current position, was rebuilt in its current incarnation in 1960 and in recent years has had new roof tiles added, not in the original material of fired clay, but in the more lightweight titanium, moulded into the shape of the traditional tiles.
The enormous red chochin lantern, measuring 3.9m tall and 3.3m wide, weighs 700kg and very much has its own presence. Passed under by thousands of people every day, it is renewed roughly every decade or so to keep it in good condition. The current lantern was installed in April 2020, in readiness for the influx of visitors anticipated for the (now postponed) Olympics. The Kyoto based company now in charge of its renewal sources mulberry paper from Fukui prefecture and bamboo for the frame from Kyoto's Tamba district, long in advance of when required. The metal parts at the top and base are kept, along with the carved dragon on the underside of the base (the full name of the temple is Kinryūzan Sensoji, kinryū means golden dragon, and the enshrined deity of Sensōji, Kannon Bosatsu, is said to sometimes appear as a golden dragon). Dragons are also associated with water, so can be seen as a protective emblem for a temple affected by fires so many times.
The lantern's characters on the front now read 雷門 - kaminarimon, or thunder gate (the front side of the gate houses two wooden figures of brothers Raijin (the god of thunder) and Fūjin (the god of wind), although in an 1884 woodblock by Hiroshige that shows the gate 'in olden times' the lantern has the characters 志ん橋 (shinbashi) on it - another district of Tokyo whose residents contributed to funds for the lantern at the time. On the back of the lantern is written the gate's official name, Fūraijinmon (風雷神門), along with the date of its most recent re-installation.
Since the 1960's, the lantern has received upkeep funding from the company now known as Panasonic, and has the old name for that company written on the plaque on the gold base. The lantern is tethered by ropes to prevent it swaying about, and is collapsed upwards when large storms or typhoons are expected or to allow the matsuri floats to pass through. There is also netting around the paper body of the lantern when in situ to help prevent damage.
Artist's notes on style, materials and inspiration:
My 'favourite things' wood girl series, new for 2021, will share the places and things I love, a repeated object or theme, or be inspired by a microseason. Turned from American Tulipwood, a sustainable and interestingly grained timber, the pieces are turned by a production wood turner in the UK to my designs, then painted by me, a British artist. They are approximately twice the size of my regular wood girls, and finished in a semi-matt acrylic protective top coat. Approximately 27cm in height.
My pieces are painted in a naïve and simple style, with visible brush strokes and differing paint consistencies. It is important to note that these dolls are made from real wood which will have naturally occurring markings and grain, and sometimes there will be small amount of bleeding along the grain, or knots, which is to be expected when using untreated wood - please make sure you consult the pictures carefully before purchasing.
My wood girls are made in the 'spirit of kokeshi', being originally inspired by the 'creative' kokeshi branch of the traditional Japanese folk craft of wooden limbless dolls which are turned on a lathe and hand painted. Dentō kokeshi are the traditional kokeshi, deeply rooted to their places of manufacture (often onsen towns) within Japan and made with very specific body shapes and pattern designs, often by generations of a same family. Dentō kokeshi can today be classified under eleven different types: Naruko, Tsuchiyu, Togatta, Yajiro, Sakunami, Yamagata, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu, and Hijiori. By contrast, 'creative' or shingata kokeshi are not associated with any particular region or style and often made by artists unconnected to craft families, and apart from the fact that they are still turned on a lathe, their styles and decoration are pretty much limitless.
PLEASE NOTE: Wood girls should be kept away from water which can damage the wood and painted surface, and also away from direct heat/ sunlight which also can affect the surface colour and the timber itself.