[Wooden Carved Bears]
Among the many souvenirs of Hokkaido, many people may think of "wooden carved bears". Some of you may think, "I have a carved wooden bear at my parent's house, or my grandparents' house!" I'm sure some of you have one at your grandparents' house. The powerful appearance of the bear reminds us of the high skill of wood carving.
Do you know the origin of such "wooden carved bears"? Don't you think that they were originally made as a traditional craft of the Ainu tribe and sold as souvenirs in various parts of Hokkaido? However, the Ainu people were originally hunter-gatherers, and although they made tools necessary for hunting and living, they did not make crafts for sale or trade. The Ainu belief is that elaborately crafted objects have a soul and can be mischievous, and there is no realistic modeling in Ainu traditional crafts. As you can see when you think of the traditional Ainu dress, the patterns engraved on it are all abstract. Among them, the brown bear is worshipped as a mountain god called kimun-kamui, and bears, which are kamui (god-like beings), were never made by the Ainu people.
The origin of the wooden carved bears is said to date back to 1924, when Yoshichika Tokugawa, the 19th head of the Owari Tokugawa family, encouraged farmers at the Tokugawa Farm in Yakumo Town, Hokkaido, where settlers were working, to make a wooden carving of a bear, which he then made into a prototype. Yoshichika Tokugawa often visited the Tokugawa Farm, and since the people working there had a hard life, he wanted to improve their life and was looking for something to support their life during the off-season of farming in winter. Then, when he visited Switzerland on a trip, he bought a carved wooden bear as a souvenir and sent it to Tokugawa Farm to encourage his neighbors to try making one. Later, in 1924, Tokugawa Yoshichika held the first Rural Arts and Crafts Fair, where a wooden carved bear modeled after the Swiss bear carving was exhibited. This is believed to be the first wooden bear carved in Hokkaido.
In addition to exhibitions, the Rural Arts and Crafts Show was also held for the sale of works, and by the early Showa period, the "Yakumo carved wooden bear" had become well-known throughout the region. Although Yoshichika Tokugawa continued to seek various peasant artworks representing Yakumo from then on, the public came to widely recognize Yakumo as the carved wooden bear. In the process, he took his wooden carved bears to the Ainu people living in Asahikawa to have them seen by the Ainu people, who are closely related to actual bears in their daily lives. The Ainu people also began to produce carved wooden bears as a business, which were then sold at tourist attractions in various parts of Hokkaido, and the name Yakumo Town for carved wooden bears shifted to Hokkaido.
Thus, it can be said that wooden carved bears were created to support the settlers and have taken root in Hokkaido. Although the wooden carved bear once dominated as a souvenir of Hokkaido, its sales have declined and the number of producers has dwindled, making it difficult to pass on the technique.
In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of the "Yakumo carved wooden bears," and last year the apparel brand Beams Japan began selling goods with illustrations of the bears as a motif. We will be happy if wooden carved bears become an exciting souvenir of Hokkaido for the generations who do not know about the former boom.