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.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Japan - Lot Of (6) Vintage Kokeshi - 1960s/1970s - Nodders3 - Big Vintage 1950's-60's Japanese Wood Kokeshi Toy Kids Dolls Kijiyama SignedVintage Japanese Lovely Kokeshi Doll Of 3 Pieces 1507028Japanese Doll Kokeshi Sousaku Wooden Antique Vintage Old Rare 4lotJapanese Vintage Wooden Kokeshi Dolls Japanese Vintage Wooden Kokeshi And daruma dolls Servane Barrau Boutique Kokeshi Dress 8-10 Years Bohemian Aqua TurquoiseKokeshi Japan Wood Doll Carved Kimono Design SignedSmall Wooden Kokeshi Type Doll / Japanese / VintageOld 1980's Japanese Sosaku Kokeshi 4 Of Dolls By Miyama Keiji. ChieVintage Made In Japan Kokeshi DollSigned Japanese Asian Wood Kokeshi Doll Lovely Dark Red Kimono By Sato Suigai !Vintage Japanese Lovely Nodder Kokeshi Doll Of 4 Pieces 1507016Vintage Japanese Lovely Nodder Kokeshi Doll Of 3 Pieces 1507026Vintage Japanese Lovely Nodder Kokeshi Doll 1507027Vintage Japanese Lovely Nodder Kokeshi Doll Of 3 Pieces 1507031Amazing Pair Of Beautiful Vintage Kokeshi Dolls In Original Japanese BoxSigned Japanese Kokeshi Doll Cute Little Girl W/orange Flowers On Green Kimono !Woody Craft Kokeshi Large Girl Doll Japan 7.5 Inch Hand Carved SignedVintage Made In Japan Kokeshi Used Antique Doll 21cm WoodenKokeshi Doll Toothpick Chopstick Skewer HolderAmazing Vintage Japanese Wooden Kokeshi Couple Doll 1.57inch Made In Japan No2Vtg Large 9-1/2” Wooden Kokeshi Doll, Hand-painted, Signed Sticker Mint W/boxKissako 2264 Japanese Antique Wooden Doll Kokeshi Vintage Signed FigureVintage Japanese Lovely Pair Of Kokeshi Doll 1507032Japan: Vintage Nodder - Snow-flecked Winter KokeshiVintage Made In Japan Kokeshi DollVintage Japanese Pair Of Kokeshi Japan DollVintage Made In Japan Kokeshi Doll CoolJapanese Kokeshi Dolls, 6.3" Tall, PairAmazing Vintage Japanese Wooden Kokeshi Doll 3.14inch Made In Japan

Recent News: Kokeshi Dolls

Source: Google News

Vernis à ongles Kokeshi, des flacons uniques et originaux !
France Net Infos, July 20th

Après les parfums personnalisés, délivrant un message, voici six nouveaux vernis à ongles Kokeshi, qui livrent également un message, suivant la couleur et la poupée choisie, les jeunes filles, et même les femmes adorant l'univers Kawaï, peuvent s...Read more

– Yohei Komatsu defeated Sho Tanaka @ 10:44 via submission [***¾]
411mania.com, July 12th

They got 17-minutes, it never felt long and we got the see the KOKESHI by Honma, followed by Tanahashi's high fly flow to finish off YOSHI-HASHI (I know you're surprised). We needed that. Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Hirooki Goto ...Read more

How My Backflip Landed Me at ABC's Shark Tank Casting Call
Huffington Post, July 10th

We share about the culture: like the wax cloth from Africa, the story behind the kokeshi dolls of Japan, or styles of dance from the Polynesia islands? How did you come up with this unique idea: I am my brand. I am multiracial. My father is Black, my...Read more

The 411 Wrestling Top 5: The Top 5 Matches of 2015 (So Far)
411mania.com, July 5th

But every Kokeshi, every near fall drew me further and further in. There's a spot in the match where the referee collapses from Honma just failing to get the win. That's how intense this match was. It was a match that left me exhausted. Even though...Read more

Design sounds good and looks even better on paper
The Japan Times, July 4th

Graphic design unit Cochae (Miki Takeda and Yosuke Jikuhara) have been rethinking how to enjoy origami since 2003, creating books of pre-printed sheets with easy-to-follow instructions to fold them into brightly colored animals, anime characters...Read more

Valley of the dolls
The Nation, May 24th

Hand-made from wood, they have simple bodies and enlarged heads with a few painted lines to depict faces. Kokeshi dolls painted in red, blue and white and made by Takatoshi Hayashi in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, smile gently at visitors. When the...Read more

OMIYAGE FROM JAPAN: Traditional 'kokeshi' dolls become popular souvenir after ...
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 kuma
Designboom, 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