Japanese kokeshi dolls are made of wood
It must have been foreboding when she was married to a police officer from Negros with a Japanese sounding surname but with no known Japanese ancestry. Mrs. Aida Kitane, a Mindanaoan, started collecting her first kokeshi dolls which later on transformed into a love affair with a lot of things Japanese five years ago. Like most, she began with Barbie. Wanting to share her passion, Mrs. Kitane finally decided, just a little over a year ago, to open a store called Genshiken Anime in Cubao Shoe Expo which became the refuge of collectors of things Japanese from the smallest kokeshi dolls to a complete fifteen set hina dolls.
She started with selling her own collection which would probably be surprising to most. Mrs. Kitane admits that parting with some of her collections was not the easiest thing to do. At first, separation anxiety set in when she sold her precious collection. Fortunately, that feeling of loss was gradually overcome by this warm and hospitable lady. She said that a collector, to be able to share the collection, must not be too attached to those or else he or she will just end up acquiring merely for the sake of owning. In fact, sharing and friendship are the cornerstones of her vision for her business.
When asked what particularly made the kokeshi dolls attractive to her, she simply replied that she is partial to a lot of things wooden and, alas, the dolls are made of wood. Kokeshi dolls which are characterized by their large round head attached to a long and narrow cylindrical and usually limbless body are the traditional toys of Japanese kids who are, mostly, sons and daughters of farmers.
Her clients whom she endearingly calls the ‘big boys’ and ‘big girls’ buy all sorts of Japanese stuff from the traditional kimono, lanterns and parasols to the pop Voltes V and Trolls and Marvel Superheroes encased in elegant glass which, unsurprisingly, are also manufactured in Japan. Ironically, what fulfills her most about her business is not at all the business side of it but, rather, the human side of it. Shares Mrs. Kitane, “it is the friendship that I build with my clients that gives me satisfaction”. In fact, never will a visitor feel obligated to buy anything from her shop in return for the cordial assistance given by Cris and Lerma who have been assisting Mrs. Kitane in the daily operations of the shop.
Affinity with not only things Japanese but with Japan herself was strongest during the latter part of the 19th century up to the middle of the 20th century in the Philippines prior to the period of the terror de amarillo (yellow scare) which culminated bitterly in the Second World War.
Although José Rizal was critical of humans used like horses in pulling the rickshaws in Tokyo he had, in general, a very favorable assessment of Japan and the Japanese. Wrote José Rizal in his diary, “Japan has pleased me. The beautiful scenery, the flowers, the trees, and the inhabitants—so peaceful, so courteous and so pleasant.” Most probably, the peak of his personal affinity was falling in love with O-Sei-San whom he described as a woman unlike no other with respect to the manner she cared and sacrificed for him.
To the reformists and the revolutionists of the 19th century Philippines Japan stood out as a model to be emulated. While the whole of Southeast Asia, South Asia and parts of East Asia and even West Asia became the chess board of various western colonial powers, Japan proved herself to be the paragon of a nation where native tradition exists alongside western modernity. It is no surprise therefore that Andres Bonifacio sought the military protection of Japan in the revolution against Spain.
An eclectic tower of a pagoda which curiously juts out in Quaipo—the very heart of Manila— is, literally, a concrete monument to this affinity. Built for Jose Mariano Ocampo in the mid 1930’s to the eve of the war, it was intended to serve as the office of Don Jose whose mansion is located just in front of the “Japanese” pagoda . Fortunately for the animé generation and those who have cultural or merely sentimental affinity to things Japanese they can go to that nook in Cubao Shoe Expo.
Mrs. Kitane definitely, consciously or unconsciously, follows on the trail of these antecedents of Japanophilia. Originally, her family was into selling plants and orchids way back in Mindanao. She was married to a widower, General Patrocinio ‘Pat’ Kitane of the Philippine National Police, who succumbed to cancer of the prostate in 2006. Oshin, her unica hija named after a Japanese teleserye on IBC shown right after the Judy Ann Santos series Ula shares her passion for collecting dolls.
However, as Mrs. Kitane shares her ultimate dream is, together with her daughter, to establish a foundation that would take care of the elderly. Oshin, now twenty, studies Mass Communications at the University of the Philippines where she could graduate magna cum laude. Although Oshin has plans to pursue a career in law after obtaining her baccalaureate, the proud mom hopes she will eventually take on the business.
Having worked for the Asian Development Bank and auditor for Del Monte Philippines and having taught at Perpetual Help College along Dapitan Street, she never planned that she will be doing what she is doing now—sharing her collection through her business.
When she was looking for a place where to set up shop she decided to open one in Cubao Shoe Expo which, since its beginnings in the 1970’s as a row of shops exclusive for mostly sturdy Marikina made shoes, has evolved into a vibrant and thriving hub for artists and collectors of various curios both antique and novel. Interestingly, there are more male clients who visit her shop than females. She attributes the sudden but still growing interest into things Japanese to animé which has an increasing fandom both amongst the young and the old. Recognizing the different demands and tastes or her clients she has introduced some other items like miniature figures and glass and porcelain carvings.
Only a year into its operation, Mrs. Kitane’s business continues to thrive and to evolve. Most importantly her vision of sharing her passion for collecting has been successful as more and more friendships are formed in the process. (RANDOLPH JOSEPH H. DE JESUS)