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

NHK World TV explora el Otoño en Tohoku y las Muñecas Kokeshi
TV Latina, September 4th

NUEVA YORK: La señal exhibirá los programas Otoño en Tohoku, la estación más prodiga de Tohoku y Muñecas Kokeshi, que muestra el atractivo y la singular belleza de las muñecas que se originaron hace aproximadamente 300 años. Otoño en Tohoku ...Read more

CBP ag specialists find seeds, invasives
International Falls Journal, September 3rd

Kokeshi longhorn beetles (family Cerambycidae), were discovered in a container of wire going to Illinois. Cerambycid beetle larvae love to feed on most U.S. fruit trees and the only way to get rid of the larvae at the source is to destroy the trees...Read more

Invasive species found in shipments at Canadian border
AG Week, September 2nd

Kokeshi longhorn beetles were discovered in a container of wire going to Illinois. King said the beetle has been "very destructive to forest growth." The beetle larvae feed on fruit trees, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection say the only way to...Read more

La creazione della bambola giapponese Kokeshi, tutta d'ammirare
AlessandriaNews, August 31st

Info - La bambola giapponese Kokeshi è una dei maggiori tesori del mondo del giocattolo giapponese. Scolpita nel legno a mano, è poi decorata con delicati segni sul viso, e motivi floreali sui loro corpi. La creazione richiede ore di paziente lavoro...Read more

"Không th? r?i m?t" khi xem ngh? nhân Nh?t B?n làm búp-bê g? Kokeshi
Kênh 14, August 31st

"Không th? r?i m?t" khi xem ngh? nhân Nh?t B?n làm búp-bê g? Kokeshi. 19:07:00 31/08/2015. Búp-bê g? là m?t s?n ph?m lâu ??i và có truy?n th?ng l?ch s? c?a Nh?t B?n, quá trình làm ra chúng là c? m?t tác ph?m ngh? thu?t. t? khóa. nh?t b?n · gi?i tr?...Read more

Kokeshi, la poupée de bois japonaise à l'origine des Mii de la Nintendo Wii
DozoDomo, August 24th

Les kokeshi sont des poupées en bois japonaises originaires du nord de Honsh?. Apparues pour la première fois il y a environ 150 ans, leur fabrication est artisanale. Wikipédia nous apprend que les kokeshi sont peintes et décorées de fleurs, puis ...Read more

Miyagi's hot-spring valley of the dolls
The Japan Times, August 22nd

Kokeshi are simple hand-crafted dolls that are traditionally made in the Tohoku region's hot-spring villages. Carved out of local wood varieties — maple, cherry and dogwood — they are characterized by their limbless cylindrical shape, delicate hand...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