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Traditional Kokeshi Dolls


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Traditional Color Book Kokeshi Dolls

yajirouTraditional Kokeshi dolls are handcrafted wooden Japanese Kokeshi Japanese Theme toys with round heads and slender, cylindrical, limbless bodies. The heads are usually attached to the bodies with a small round peg as a neck. The traditional dolls are produced only in the Tohiku region of northern Japan. Kokeshi dolls originated during the Edo period (1600 to 1868). The distinctive floral kimono patterns and other designs indicate the area in which the maker(s) live and are passed along from generation to generation of kokeshi artisans.

The dolls are carved by skilled Japanese "Kijiya" (meaning wood turners or woodworkers) 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.

Classifications Breakdown

  • 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.

Classical Traditional Dolls

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