OGURA email@example.com_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-10-10 published
Dollmaker, renaissance artist
Known for brilliant Japanese Mataro dolls
Accomplished calligrapher, kimono designer
By Tim LAI, Staff Reporter
The death of a renowned self-taught dollmaker has created a large hole in Toronto's Japanese artistic community.
Miyoko OGURA was well known in the Japanese community for her artistic brilliance in the creation of Mataro dolls -- figures based on the daily life and folk tales of the Heian dynasty (784-1191), a period noted for its peace and cultural blossoming. She died September 29 at the age of 74.
Born in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, OGURA was the only certified Mataro teacher in Toronto. Instructors must send in dolls for examination in order to be licensed by the Mataro Doll Craft Academy in Tokyo.
Other teachers outside Japan operate in New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Paris and Hong Kong.
Mataro dolls are a type of Kimekomi Ningyou -- wooden dolls dressed in kimonos and other Japanese garb.
They preserve the tradition of hand-carved wooden dolls developed on the riverbanks of Kyoto more than 250 years ago.
The founder of the academy, Mataro KANABAYASHI, discovered a new way to manufacture these types of dolls by mixing Paulownia sawdust with glue.
OGURA was a special teacher who was able to see all the careful details on a doll, according to a long-time student.
"There's always a point on a doll that's very difficult and that's where she would come in and help you," said Carol DOI, 62, a 17-year student of OGURA. "It takes you back into the past of Japan."
Even with her years of experience, DOI said she wouldn't be able to teach future students the way OGURA did.
Hiroko PIGGOTT, 51, a newer student, said OGURA was patient and affectionate, but challenging.
PIGGOTT joined her classes a year ago, after she saw the Mataro dolls and wanted to buy some for her children.
OGURA told PIGGOTT it would be more meaningful if she took the time to learn and make the dolls herself.
Dolls, which must be bought in kits from Japan that cost up to $1,000, can take nearly 50 hours to complete.
"She did meticulous work," PIGGOTT said.
OGURA, who immigrated to Toronto in 1959, had been teaching the Mataro art form for more than 30 years.
For the past 23 years, she'd been living alone -- she had no children -- following the death of her husband, Hisao OGURA, but her love for people brought her to many community events.
She was a helpful volunteer at the Seicho-No-Le Church, especially when it came to preparing food.
Often during classes and events at the church, OGURA would tantalize the taste buds of others with her sweet Japanese delicacies.
Red bean cakes were the favourite of 80-year-old Kay YAMAMOTO, a long-time friend and fellow practitioner at the church.
YAMAMOTO said her friend was a renaissance woman when it came to revealing Japanese art.
In addition to creating Mataro dolls, OGURA practised Odori -- traditional Japanese dancing -- was an accomplished calligrapher and designed elegant kimonos from scratch.
"She's one of these people that doesn't walk up stairs, she runs," said DOI.
In her 70s, OGURA still went to her Tai-Chi classes nearly every morning.
OGURA had hundreds of dolls in her home, many of them stored in boxes, and DOI doesn't know what will happen to the collection.
In 2004, OGURA donated sets of court and Samurai dolls to the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care in Scarborough.
She also provided a set to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre after a big showing of her dolls at the centre in September.
"Her displays were always special because they were shows you don't see much," said Jim URA, cultural programs co-ordinator for the cultural centre.
"She wasn't there to become famous. She just enjoyed the fact that people came and looked," added DOI.
OGURA was set to travel back to Japan at the end of the month to help celebrate her mother's 100th birthday.
A memorial service will be held today at the Seicho-No-Le Church at 622 Victoria Park Ave. at 3 p.m.
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