Kokeshi dolls

We’ve slowly been collecting Kokeshi dolls for some years now. From the moment we found the first doll at Tortoise General Store we have been fascinated and impressed by the craft that goes into the production of the dolls, which clearly shows. In this video the modern production process of the Kokeshi has beautifully been caught on camera by Sàneyuki Owada of Japanstore. However, the origin of the beautiful Kokeshi dolls lays in North-East Japan, where it was first produced as wooden toy for children during the closing chapter of the Edo period, which ended in 1868. These first dolls were produced by woodwork artisans, called Kiji-shi, who normally made bowls, trays and other tableware by using a lathe. They began to make small dolls in the winter to sell to visitors who came to bathe in the many hot springs near their villages, which was believed to be a cure for the demands of a strenuous agricultural lifestyle.

With visitors moving throughout Japan the popularity of Kokeshi dolls began to spread to other areas, which caused woodworkers from other hot spring resorts to imitate the design of the originators, making their own Kokeshi dolls to sell as souvenirs. Gradually these craftsmen would establish their own Kokeshi style, causing the variation in styles, which is still reflected in the Kokeshi dolls produced today. The dolls that are made today can be classified into 11 types: Tsugaru, Nanbu, Kijiyama, Naruko, Hijiori, Yamagata, Zao-takayu, Sakunami, Tsuchiyu, Togatta and Yajiro. All dolls have very subtle designs that show beautiful colors and fascinating variety.

In the very beginning of production the craftsman would use a lathe which was hand-operated by a second person until the kick wheel appeared, which could be used without any assistance. This lathe was used from the middle of the Meiji-era, 1868 until 1912, to the early part of the Showa-era, which took place from 1926 to 1989. Today the electric lathe is used by the artisans enabling them to produce more then every before. Kokeshi artisans make their own planes and carving tools and have become knowledgeable in forging metals. The basic design of the Kokeshi as produced for Japanstore features a cylindrical body with a round head. Each doll is then hand-painted by the craftsman which the video shows in all its splendor. As styles differ between the craftsman, the painted appearance is already somewhat of a signature on each doll. The final, and obvious, signature is finally painted on the bottom of the doll in order for everyone to recognize who made the particular Kokeshi.

We are amazed by the craft and artfulness that goes into the Kokeshi dolls which is beautifully portrayed by Owada!

For more information and to order a Kokeshi doll see here.

(Via Naïa of Compass Island)