Since World War II, Japanese kokeshi dolls have become tremendously popular with American tourists—so much so, they’re now produced almost exclusively for Westerners. Kokeshi dolls are characterized by their lack of arms and legs, as well as their brightly painted garb in floral designs and geometric patterns. The process used for making these cylindrical wooden dolls is not unlike that employed to make legs for chairs or tables.
It’s likely that kokeshi originated in rural Tohoku, in northeast Japan, during the Bunka-Bunsei eras (1804-29) of the Edo Period. The farmers there, coping with long, snowbound winter nights, probably made the dolls from scraps of maple, dogwood, or magnolia using a pulley lathe. These dolls were possibly intended as good luck talisman, designed to bring fertility or bountiful harvests. Later, they were sold to tourists at Tohoku spas, and also given to console mothers who had lost a child through miscarriage or other misfortune.
Eventually, the kokeshi—made in 5-, 7-, and 10-inch sizes—became a toy for children’s play. It wasn’t until the 1920s that adults began to value these Japanese dolls as collector’s items. This renewed interest in kokeshi encouraged artisans to produce them in a much wider variety of sizes, from itty-bitty to huge.
After the war, when the U.S. occupied Japan, the wives and girlfriends of U.S. soldiers were particularly attracted to the cuteness of the kokeshi. Wood turners near Tokyo, having moved from kick lathes to mechanical ones, began churning them out for Westerners visiting tourist sites all over the island nation. These turners got creative with the form, making kokeshi in non-traditional shapes. They made “tochigi,” or kokeshi-headed toothpicks, and replicas of the Seven Lucky Gods clad in wild get-ups.
These later variations are of no interest to most Japanese, who prefer the handmade antique dolls with their distinct characteristics particular to their region of origin—Tsuchiyu, Yajiro, Togatta, Narugo, Hijiori, Sakunami, Zao, Kijiyama, Nambu, and Tsugaru. Some of the most esteemed kokeshi artisans include Sakurai Shoji and Ito Shoichi in Naruko; Ni'iyama Hisashi and the late Sato Yoshizo and his son Fumio in Yahiro; and Suzuki Shoji and Satomi Matsuhiro at Yamagata.
When looking for an antique kokeshi doll, keep in mind the balance of the body—a good doll is not too top-heavy. Collectors also favor dolls with expressive facial features applied with a calligraphy brush and an eye-pleasing balance of color that doesn’t appear too faded.
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Recent News: Kokeshi Dolls
Source: Google News
The crafts that bind TohokuThe Nation, March 1st
The Kokeshi dolls, ceremonial dolls, kites and decorated candles |(e-rosoku) that will be shown are unique to the Tohoku region. Both their shapes and decorative painting - as in depictions of Kisshoten, goddess of beauty, on some of the kites...Read more
Social Encore: Getting ready for Girls DayHonolulu Pulse, February 26th
One local company, Shop Toast, has taken the Japanese wooden kokeshi doll that is a traditional trinket and added a modern twist. Owner Jeremy Shoda started the business in 2006 as a side project to his graphic design company. After creating holiday...Read more
MUSICA: Appuntamento con Sylvia Di Ianni al Kokeshi Rebel FestCheDonna.it, February 26th
3,00 per associati) potrete assistere agli Shot organizzati dal Kokeshi Rebel Fest, la manifestazione dedicata al mondo delle Arti e della Cultura giapponese: una serie di eventi artistici, tutti al femminile, durante i quali si alterneranno le artiste...Read more
Roma, Kokeshi Rebel Fest|ShotPPN - Prima Pagina News, February 24th
Roma - 24 feb (Prima Pagina News) Nuovo appuntamento il 26 febbraio (Roma, HulaHoop Club, via L. F. De Magistris, 91/93, ingresso €. 3,00 per associati) per gli Shot organizzati dal Kokeshi Rebel Fest la manifestazione dedicata al mondo delle Arti e ...Read more
Kokeshi Rebel Fest, Shot con Sylvia Di Ianni.Agenzia Giornalistica Terza pagina, February 16th
Nuovo appuntamento il 26 febbraio (Roma, HulaHoop Club) per gli Shot organizzati dal Kokeshi Rebel Fest la manifestazione dedicata al mondo delle Arti e della Cultura giapponese: una serie di eventi artistici, tutti al femminile, durante i quali si ...Read more
Kokeshi Rebel Fest, appuntamento con Sylvia Di IanniRomaToday, February 16th
Nuovo appuntamento il 26 febbraio ( HulaHoop Club, via L. F. De Magistris, 91/93, ingresso €. 3,00 per associati) per gli Shot organizzati dal Kokeshi Rebel Fest la manifestazione dedicata al mondo delle Arti e della Cultura giapponese: una serie di...Read more
OMIYAGE FROM JAPAN: Traditional 'kokeshi' dolls become popular souvenir ...Asahi Shimbun, January 30th
In Gunma Prefecture, one of the country's major production areas, doll makers started producing modern-style kokeshi dolls noted for stereoscopic designs for the hair and other parts. Called the "Kindai Kokeshi," modern dolls are now available in...Read more
ronan + erwan bouroullec make kokeshi dolls for east japan & kengo kumaDesignboom, October 23rd
typically the japanese kokeshi doll is stick-like with a simple cylindrical shaped trunk, and no ability to move. the bouroullec brother's interpretation sees a form whose head is in more realistic proportions with the body; which is more conical in...Read more