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Introduction to Kokeshi Dolls

Brief Introduction to Kokeshi and Sayonara Dolls

male dollKokeshi dolls are handcrafted wooden Japanese Kokeshi Japanese Theme toys initially enjoyed by children of peasant farmers in the Tohiku region of northern Japan. Kokeshi dolls originated during the Edo period (1600 to 1868). The dolls were commonly sold as good fortune Miyages (souvenirs) to visitors of the hot springs in the north-east of the country. Today Kokeshi dolls continue to provide souvenirs for tourists visiting Japan and are very popular items with doll collectors world-wide.

The word Kokeshi is derived from Japanese words: Ko (small) and Keshi (dolls). The dolls are carved by skilled Japanese "Kijiya" (meaning woodturners or woodworkers) from seasoned cherry wood, Mizuko (dogwood) and Itaya-kaede (Japanese Maple). The doll shapes are created on lathe wood turning machines in the same way furniture legs and spindles are carved.

Kokeshi doll making is considered an original Japanese Kokeshi Japanese Theme. Every September, Kokeshi artists and craftsmen gather in the Japanese town of Naruko Onsen where they compete in a Kokeshi carving competition. The contest winner is awarded a prize from the Prime Minister of Japan.

Dento Kokeshi - Traditional Kokeshi Dolls

Dento or traditional Kokeshi dolls are handcrafted wooden Japanese Kokeshi Japanese Theme toys with (usually) round heads and slender, cylindrical, limbless bodies. Traditional Kokeshi dolls have oversized heads, cylindrical bodies, no arms or legs and usually appear female wearing traditional kimono dress. The round heads are sometimes attached to the bodies with a small round peg which serves as a neck. The traditional dolls are produced only in the Tohoku region of northern Japan. Traditional dolls are usually painted with green, red, yellow, purple or black colors. The doll facial features and distinctive floral kimono patterns and other designs are passed along from generation to generation of kokeshi artisans and are unique within each region.

Traditional Kokeshi dolls heads are painted by skillful artisans who define the facial features by using few, thin, simple lines. The doll bodies are generally painted using long established traditional basic colors such as red or black and distinctive patterns and designs.

Child Craft Kokeshi and Sayonara Dolls

sumo wrestler kokeshi maleiconThe unique styles and types of traditional Kokeshi usually correspond to individual "onsens" hot springs) located within the Tohoku region of Japan. Onsen hot spring mineral water is believed to have healing powers.

  • Tsuchiyu Kokeshi dolls are identifiable by the distinctive striped kimono. The tops of the heads are painted with rings with the center spot left unpainted, like a bulls-eye. Tsuchiyu kokeshis have small heads and narrow bodies with flared bottoms.
  • Yajiro Kokeshi dolls heads have distinctive skullcaps and occasional topknot hairstyles. Their bodies are hourglass or wasp-waist shaped. Yajiro doll bodies are painted yellow and decorated with purple, black, blue and red strips and floral patterns. The village of Yajiro is located at the foot of Mt. Fubo.
  • Togatta Kokeshi dolls have large heads and very narrow bodies. Their heads are painted with red petals along both sides of the face. The nose is shaped like an upsidedown "V".
  • Naruko Kokeshi dolls are among the oldest types of kokeshi which have inspired artists for generations ever since. Their bodies are cylindrical with squared-shoulders with chrysanthemum flower patterns.
  • Sakunami Kokeshi dolls dolls have large heads and very narrow bodies. Their heads have a section of straight hair on top of their heads and red petal designs decorating each side of the face.
  • Zao Kokeshi dolls have large heads and short, stocky bodies with flared bottoms. The most distinguishing feature of the Zao kokeshi is its long, droopy nose.
  • Hijiori Kokeshi dolls have very large heads with bright eyes, long noses and full lips. Their bodies are cylindrical with squared shoulders. The bodies are decorated with stripes and floral patterns.
  • Kijiyama Kokeshi dolls have narrow, long faces and pageboy or bob-style haircuts. Their costumes are a combination of painted kimono and obi (sash) patterns.
  • Nanbu Kokeshi dolls were originally called kina-kina, and used as pacifiers for babies. Traditional dolls are unpainted, simple polished wooden dolls without any decorations or designs. Some later designs in the region, Hanamaki strain, have small amounts of painted designs. Most Hanamaki style kokeshi are similar to the Narugo body shapes.
  • Tsugaru Kokeshi are a variety of dolls produced in the cities of Kuroishi, Owani Town, and Hirosaki during the Meiji Era (1867-1911). These dolls include Ainu Daruma face patterns with menacing faces and upturned eyebrows. The Tsugaru dolls have wide chests and rounded waists. Patterns of peony flowers decorate the bodies of the dolls.
  • Tsuchiyu Nakanosawa or Zenkichi type, Kokeshi dolls have large surprised-looking "bikkuri-me" (eyes) surrounded by a pink or red blush ring. They also have a flared "lion's" nose called shishi-bana.

 

folding blank valentineiconShingata or creative Kokeshi dolls are handcrafted wooden Japanese Kokeshi Japanese Theme toys with a wider variety of shapes than the traditional designs, retaining the recognizable features of the round heads and (usually) limbless bodies. Traditional Kokeshi dolls originated during the Edo period (1600 to 1868). Creative kokeshi dolls appeared after World Way II. Creative Kokeshi dolls have a variety of shapes and sizes plus the addition of hair styles and colorfully patterned kimonos.

The dolls are carved by skilled Japanese woodturners from seasoned cherry wood, Mizuko (dogwood) and Itaya-kaede (Japanese Maple). The doll shapes are created on wood turning machines in the same way furniture legs and spindles are carved. .

The doll bodies are generally painted using bright, contrasting colors of red, black, and yellow, then hand decorated with symbolic representations of nature including plants, vines, flowers, birds, animals, butterflies, clouds and traditional, culturally significant designs.

Kokeshi dolls heads are painted by skillful artisans who define the facial features by using few, thin, simple lines. The doll bodies are generally painted using bright, contrasting colors of red, black, and yellow, then hand decorated with symbolic representations of nature including plants, vines, flowers, birds, animals, butterflies, clouds and other abstract, traditional or culturally significant designs.

Sayonara Kokeshi Dolls

butterfly girl rainbowsiconA Sayonara doll has a more cylindrical body than the Kokeshi doll because a scroll of traditional Washi paper wraps around the Sayonara doll to form a kimono. This can also be a length of regular paper or cloth (for our craft purposes anyway) attached to roll up around the doll after a message is written. The Kokeshi, which doesn't generally have a message function, can be round, rotund as well as thin,

Sayonara dolls are popular variations of Japanese Kokeshi dolls. Each Sayonara doll is wrapped in a colorful scroll kimono consisting of traditional Washi paper. The kimono is bound into place by a length of colorful string or fabric.

Givers of the dolls write personal, heart-felt messages directly onto the "kimono" scroll addressed to loved ones to help commerate special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, baby showers and weddings. These gifts become treasured memories and because they are so beautiful are often put on display or carried as a permanent reminder.

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