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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Tributes paid to Nissan sales legend Ken as he retires at 100000 markNissan Insider, March 6th
In recognition of his achievement, Benfield's Chief Executive, Mark Squires, presented him with a beautifully crafted Japanese Kokeshi doll on behalf of Nissan UK, and a specially commissioned caricature courtesy of the dealer group and his colleagues...Read more
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He uses his background in electrical engineering to wire lights into his own creations, such as his Andy Warhol-inspired soup-can lamps and his animal-cracker-box lamp with Hawaiian animals on it. Right now, he's working on a 1950s kokeshi-doll lamp...Read more
What Fukushima Means to MeHuffington Post UK, March 5th
For some, it is a faraway place they rarely heard of until the recent tragedy, an obscure northeastern prefecture known for peaches, kokeshi dolls, and onsen (hot springs). For me, Fukushima is my ancestral home. My grandfather was a farmer who grew...Read more
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A Sérignan, petit tour d'horizon : A préciser que les animations sont gratuites, sur réservation et accessibles aux abonnés de la médiathèque. Atelier Kokeshi le mercredi 5 mars à 15 H 30 (à partir de 8 ans). Atelier Kawaï le vendredi 7 mars à 10 H 30...Read more
New dating simulator's heroine is a doll….literally!ROCKETNEWS24, March 1st
Kokeshi dolls were originally produced in Japan's northeastern Tohoku region, although now their popularity is such that they can be found and purchased all over the country. Kokeshi never have arms or legs, and while some modern versions have a more ...Read more
Kijk mama, zonder handenHet Belang van Limburg, February 28th
Kokeshi-poppen zijn eenvoudige dingen - het poppenlichaam en balvormige hoofd worden met een beitel op een draaibank gesneden. De versiering is minimaal - zwarte of rode penseelstroken voor ogen, neus en mond. De poppen hebben armen noch ...Read more
Kauai Event Calendars – 2/26/2014Midweekkauai, February 26th
Kauai Japanese Cultural Society presents Japanese dance, singing, taiko drumming, demonstrations of origami, kokeshi dolls and bonsai. (245-7784). Used Book Sale Princeville Public Library, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free. Over 10,000 books, DVDs and CDs are ...Read more
Brives-Charensac : 3e édition du salon du jeu vidéo et du mangamon43, February 21st
Les amateurs de papier pourront quant à eux trouver satisfaction au "bar à manga", ou en prenant part à l'atelier origami, calligraphie ou kokeshi. Autre facette de la culture manga, les amateurs de Cosplay seront aussi de la partie et feront découvrir...Read more