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

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