Posted by Gary | Posted in Kokeshi Dolls | Posted on 29-10-2009
Tags: kokeshi, Kokeshi Dolls
Synonymous with Japanese culture, kokeshi dolls have been produced in Japan since the Japanese Edo period (1600-1868). They were first made by Kiji-shi (wood artisans) in the Miyagi Prefecture in north Japan. These artisans specialised in producing household utensils for the local people but began making small wooden dolls to sell to tourists who came to visit the hot springs in the country. And thus, the kokeshi doll was born!
Over time these hot springs became popular with visitors and grew into spa resorts. With this influx of tourists demand for Kokeshi dolls
increased and production grew until they were eventually being made across other spa areas in the Tōhoku Region.
An interesting fact is that the dolls were originally known by many different names. It wasn’t until the All-Japan Kokeshi Exhibition in Naruko Onsen, August 1939 that the term ‘kokeshi’ was agreed upon to become the official name of the dolls.
Kokeshi dolls are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head. Some are painted with fine lines to define facial features. These simple designs have been passed down through many generations of kokeshi artisans and those familiar with the dolls are able to ascertain the towns and cities from where individual dolls are produced.
Originally the kokeshi dolls took a simple form and long cylindrical bodies. Known as the traditional kokeshi, these dolls featured no arms or legs and had rounded heads. Their kimonos were either carved or painted with an array of different designs which all tended to be simple. They were covered with a layer of wax to help protect them from aging and also to give them a nice sheen.
Eventually the traditional kokeshi designs were an inspiration for a new breed of ‘creative kokeshi’. Developed after the Second World War these dolls feature more complex designs. Many of the dolls have hair, wear more elaborately designed kimonos, feature more expression on their faces and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The creative kokeshi dolls can be found in all Japanese cities however, the majority come from the Gunma Prefecture.
Kokeshi dolls are made from a variety of different woods but the majority are made from cherry or mizuko. Cherry kokeshi dolls are distinguished for their dark appearance, whilst mizuko kokeshi dolls are lighter in colour. Regardless of the wood the kokeshi dolls are made from the wood is left to season for up to five years before it is used to make the dolls. This ensures the wood has matured and the kokeshi dolls will be made as perfect as possible by the artisan!
Today, the kokeshi doll is considered a folk art in Japan. They are highly regarded around the country so much so that since 1954 the Prime Minister of Japan has awarded an annual prize for the best creative kokeshi design.
What started life as a small ornamental doll sold to the odd tourist has grown into a huge industry which now symbolises Japanese culture. And, although the demand for the dolls has increased the craftsmanship that goes into making them has not deteriorated; the dolls are not mass produced on production lines but are still made by hand from artisans that have learned the craft from past generations.
If you would like to see some creative kokeshi dolls please follow the link.
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