A Guide to Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

A Guide to Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls are among the most widely recognised types of dolls in the world. Highly regarded for their historical origins and cultural association, they are a firm favourite with many of our customers at The Japanese Shop and one that many who are interested in Japanese culture would like to know more about.

What is a Kokeshi Doll?

Kokeshi Dolls are handmade wooden dolls distinguished by a single trunk and head, with their faces and clothing painted on. Unlike most other types of dolls, Kokeshi Dolls don’t have defined hands, legs and feet, and instead resemble a very minimalistic structure, unlike most other ‘dolls’ in the world. This unique structure has given Kokeshi Dolls an easily identifiable appearance, and one that is recognised across the globe.

These Japanese dolls are often used as ornaments, collection items, and gifts, which have become extremely popular worldwide. But where do they come from?

A Look into the History of Kokeshi Dolls

There are many stories surrounding the exact origin of Kokeshi Dolls. One of the most widely told tales dates back to as early as the 19th century, to the Tohoku region of Northern Japan, where it is thought that farmers would bring their children Kokeshi Dolls. The tale goes that farmers would go to hot springs in the local area during winter and those who lived near the springs would use the soft nearby wood to craft Kokeshi Dolls, which farmers would then bring back for their children. From here onwards, Kokeshi Dolls continued to grow in popularity.

Generally bought as Japanese mementos or to use as ornaments, many believe that Kokeshi Dolls have spiritual significance as well as the power to prevent fire. This suspicion is mainly down to Mizuki, which is a very moist wood that is widely used to make Kokeshi Dolls from.

How are Kokeshi Dolls Made?

Making Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi are carefully created by skilled craftsmen, who cut the shape of the dolls out with a lathe before polishing them to a fine finish. A ‘lathe’ is a machine used for shaping wood and other materials, with a rotating drive that turns pieces of wood against cutting tools. The head and body of Kokeshi are made separately before being attached together by means of a special plug.

Kokeshi Dolls can be constructed using various types of wood, most commonly Mizuki and Cherry Wood. The clothing and faces seen on Kokeshi Dolls are then hand painted onto the wood. Traditionally, Kokeshi Dolls only featured 3 colours; red, black, and/or yellow. However, modern Kokeshi are no longer restricted to these colours and now often feature a wide selection of vibrant hues.

Traditional Japanese garments are often painted onto Kokeshi Dolls, mostly representing Kimono and Yukata. It is actually thought that the colours and designs painted onto Kokeshi used to be unique to the specific area that they were made in.

The wonderful feature of Kokeshi dolls is that there are so many unique shapes, sizes and designs, and as a result, they have become quite the collector’s item.

Kokeshi Dolls Today

Japanese Kokeshi DollKokeshi are celebrated as one of Japan’s folk arts. They still embody the simplistic look that they are so well-known for, however, they can also be found in many modern and creative designs.

Contemporary versions of Kokeshi Dolls were first seen after the Second World War, mostly found in the towns near Tokyo. And, although modern Kokeshi still embrace the traditional shape, there is no limit to the types of designs, colours and features that craftsmen choose to use on them. In fact, some Kokeshi represent famous fictional characters from well-known films, as well as much-loved celebrities.

Often, creative and contemporary Kokeshi are actually more shapely in the body, with traditional dolls usually being more narrow and straight. Additionally, modern Kokeshi Dolls sometimes have their hair carved into the wood that the Kokeshi is made from, so that it visually protrudes from the Kokeshi’s head. This is particularly common in girl Kokeshi Dolls and is in contrast to traditional Kokeshi Dolls which usually have hair painted onto the usual round head.

Where Can You Buy Authentic Kokeshi Dolls?

We have been buying our award-winning Kokeshi from our supplier in Japan for many years, and our relationship is now one based on friendship as much as business. As a result, we have an extensive collection of beautiful Kokeshi Dolls. From boy Kokeshi Dolls, girl Kokeshi dolls, couples Kokeshi Dolls and more, be sure to look at our selection.

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