The History Of Kokeshi Japanese Dolls

Japan has a very rich culture and its history had been infused with several arts and crafts known worldwide. Japanese doll making is one craft that has a history that dates back in the early history of the Jomon culture around 8000-200 BC. Yet the development of Japan’s doll making had been at its finest during the Edo period which ran from year 1603 to 1867. Around 150 years ago, Kokeshi doll making made a popular debut. The Kokeshi doll is known to tourists as a common souvenir in Japan, but this has been a tradition in Northern Japan which started in the early 19th century.

Kokeshi dolls are wooden dolls that may be made of lighter mizuki (dogwood tree), dashi (pear tree), and dark cherry trees that have been aged for several months. These dolls do not have arms and legs just like a Russian Matryoshka doll which is of a cylindrical body with a big rounded head. Its features are then articulately painted with colorful traditional kimonos and a gentle expression on its face. These are some major characteristics of traditional Kokeshi dolls and these are also believed to ward off evil and prevent fires.

Traditional Kokeshi dolls are made authentic in the Tohoku area of Japan. A famous town in this area is Tsuchiyu which is famous for its hot springs and its livelihood of making Kokeshi dolls. The nature of the wood used is moist, thus the need to season and ripen the doll to make its colors more vibrant and vivid.

Eventually, the design for these dolls had evolved in which the Creative Kokeshi dolls became popular after the World War II. This is a new type of Kokeshi-making wherein the hair and the head are carved creatively to give it more form instead of a plain circular head. The body still retained the traditional cylindrical feature yet the texture and depth are now more intricate. These are now what most tourists see all over Japan as a souvenir item. Moreover, modern Kokeshi dolls are now influenced by anime characters and these fun and cartoony figures are popular to younger generation.

Today, Kokeshi exhibitions are held yearly where master craftsmen showcase their newest and best creations to locals and tourist alike. The first exhibition was held in August of 1939 in Naruko Onsen, Japan. This is also the time when the Japanese exhibitors have agreed to finally name this doll making craft as Kokeshi due to the confusion brought by several other names and references to this craft in different areas in Japan.

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