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

La médiathèque se met à l'heure japonaise
Ouest-France, July 22nd

Les petits bricoleurs ont fabriqué des poupées Kokeshi (des petites poupées japonaises) et Samouraï, avec leurs accessoires. Valérie Combot a lu La boite aux mots interdits, de Marie Bataille, Akiko la rêveuse, d'Antoine Guilloppé, Petit Grand Samouraï...Read more

Buddhist festival in Sebastopol a decadeslong tradition
Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 19th

Jazelle Davis, 5, left, Tyler Ono, 6, and Jaida Davis, 11, play Japanese Kokeshi doll castanets as they dance in a Bon Odori during the Obon Festival at Enmanji Buddhist Temple in Sebastopol, California, on July 19, 2014. (Alvin Jornada / For The Press ...Read more

Las muñecas, un espejo cultural de cada país
Periodico a.m., July 18th

Con un cuerpo cilíndrico de madera, sin brazos ni piernas que sobresalgan, una cabeza redondeada con forma de casco y decoradas a mano con el traje tradicional de las geishas, las kokeshi fueron hechas como 'souvenirs' de esta pequeña zona turística ...Read more

Best of Kumi Yama 2014 : du ski et snowboard en plein été aux 2 Alpes
e-adrenaline, July 11th

Les équipes ont évolué sur 3 zones. La 1ère « Kokeshi Session » regroupait 2 tables, un rail et une poupée Japonaise géante qui a permis aux riders d'effectuer des figures très créatives. Le Hip venait ensuite. Marque de fabrique originale de ce Kumi...Read more

Kumi Yama : un événement ski & snowboard en plein été aux 2 Alpes
e-adrenaline, July 9th

Les équipes ont évolué sur 3 zones. La 1ère « Kokeshi Session » regroupait 2 tables, un rail et une poupée Japonaise géante qui a permis aux riders d'effectuer des figures très créatives. Le Hip venait ensuite. Marque de fabrique originale de ce Kumi...Read more

Breves de arte y cultura
El Diario de Yucatán, July 8th

La Comisión Nacional Forestal (Conafor) ofrece este verano la exposición en gran formato titulada “Moviendo a México”, en las instalaciones del Museo Trompo Mágico. La gerente de Cultura Forestal de la Conafor, Balbina María Treviño Garza, destacó la ...Read more

Kumi Yama 2014, la fin en grande pompe
180back.com, July 7th

Les équipes ont évolué sur 3 zones. La 1ère « Kokeshi Session » regroupait 2 tables, un rail et une poupée Japonaise géante qui a permis aux riders d'effectuer des figures très créatives. Le Hip venait ensuite. Marque de fabrique originale de ce Kumi...Read more

Il n'y a pas d'âge pour découvrir la danse
Ouest-France, July 6th

Capucine Lucas propose des spectacles pour les enfants et les bébés. « Je défends la création artistique pour les tout-petits », affirme la chorégraphe de la compagnie Kokeshi et jeune maman. Les spectateurs de la représentation de Capucine, ...Read more