Kokeshi Dolls

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Just seeing a simple figure with a head and a body doesn’t seem like much, but the Kokeshi doll has a deeper meaning to it than you may know.

Kokeshi dolls have become a hit throughout the world, and for example, in Paris, children’s books are written about Kokeshi dolls.

Born in the forests of the Tohoku region, Kokeshi dolls have been preserved through the tough times the area has gone through, and are a special and extraordinary folk toy.

When Kokeshi dolls were first made is not exactly known, but it is estimated that they dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, during the Edo period.

Back then, in farming villages, farmers would go to nearby hot springs during the winter. People who lived near the hot spring spots would use the wood from the trees to make toys such as Kokeshi dolls and others to sell them to the visitors as souvenirs. There are many stories as to how the first Kokeshi dolls came to be, but this is the most plausible explanation.

In the middle of the Meiji period, hot springs became even more popular, and so more people bought and became familiar with Kokeshi dolls. The carpenters who made these dolls used to make bowls and other utensils. As they went on to make more and more Kokeshi dolls, they became more elaborate and became true passions for some, who would go as far as to win awards for them. 

In Miyagi, craftsmen’s’ techniques for making Kokeshi dolls were recognized for their artistry in 1981.

Kokeshi dolls are divided into 11 systems, and they are given names depending on the location of where they are made. In Miyagi prefecture, there are “naruko kokeshi”, “toogatsuta kokeshi”, “yajiro kokeshi”, “sakunami kokeshi”, and “hijiori kokeshi”. Miyagi is known as the kingdom of Kokeshi. If you hit the face of a naruko kokeshi, a sound comes out, which is interesting and entertains children and adults alike. What makes traditional kokeshi dolls so attractive is that they are so simplified, yet have a hint of beauty to them. Their uniqueness and history have survived many eras, and they should continue to spread throughout the world going forwards.

There are many fans of Kokeshi, with some who collect hundreds, even thousands of these dolls; each doll is different and special because they are all handmade. Even if the designs are the same, because they are drawn by hand, each one is slightly different, which is enjoyable for the fans. Hopefully, you can meet your one of a kind Kokeshi doll someday.

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