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”)
Asian Art Museum
Vintage Dolls of the 50s
Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls
Museum of Childhood
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Kokeshi Dolls
Source: Google News
Astro Toy - Figma Ninja SlayerAnime News Network, December 7th
keychain, the Kokeshi Mart tote bag, and now I've got the action figure. GOURANGA! Blood-red Ninja Slayer has a great sculpt. It's in the little details, and especially the “ ?? “ (this is literally the two kanji characters for “ninja” and “kill...Read more
What to buy, where to go: 40 steps to maximum merriment this Christmas in JapanThe Japan Times, December 1st
3) A Kokeshi nativity scene combines Japanese imagery and craftsmanship with a storied Christmas tradition. These traditional dolls representing the nativity scene will add something distinctively Japanese to your home this Christmas. Prices range from ...Read more
Kokeshi bento : des boites à manger pleines de vieChasseurs de cool, December 1st
Kokeshi est une série de bentos représentant des personnages Japonais plus mignons les uns que les autres. Différents modèles existent et il y a en tout 6 personnages disponibles dont : Kintarô (le garçon content), Momotarô (avec les coeurs roses...Read more
Home and garden news and eventsSanta Rosa Press Democrat, November 24th
On display at the coastal gallery will be Japanese wood Kokeshi dolls collected by Marilyn Green, a collection of snow globes by Laura Martinez and David Moulton and the lifetime collection of baby rattles that Placewares owners Lu and Maynard Lyndon ...Read more
Pour un cadeau 100% girly : Le coffret trousse Kokeshi !France Net Infos, November 18th
Pour ces fêtes de fin d'année, Kokeshi by Valeria Attinelli propose de nouveaux coffrets girly, pour partager et véhiculer des messages précis : I am a princess, I am perfect ou encore I am lucky ! France Net Infos a pu examiner de plus près le coffret...Read more
Video: Kokeshi Dolls Hand Turned by Yasuo OkazakiCore77.com (blog), November 17th
Kokeshi dolls are a traditional of Japanese handcraft—a simple limbless doll made from two pieces of wood, and apparently the inspiration behind the design of 'Mii' characters for the Nintendo Wii. (The figures have also risen to prominence in the...Read more
Watch A Gorgeous Japanese Doll Form As If Out Of Thin AirHuffington Post, November 3rd
In it, a traditional Japanese kokeshi doll seems to appear out of thin air. But in fact, there's a skilled craftsman behind it all, one Yasuo Ozakazaki. Currently in his sixties, Ozakazaki learned the Noruko method of doll-making from his father...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