These Handmade Dolls Keep Folk Art From A Bygone Era Alive
Kokeshi dolls are yet another incredibly adorable part of Japanese pop culture. Cute, positive things famously come from Japan, just think of the Teru Teru Bozu figurine that brings good luck!
Kokeshi are traditional wooden dolls that have a long history in Japan. They were first made by craftsmen during the end of the Edo period. Today, they’re helping to keep that era alive as celebrated icons of Japanese folk art.
What Is A Japanese Kokeshi Doll?
As we’ve discussed, Kokeshi is a handmade wooden doll. The art of making the doll, however, originates from the hot spring mountain villages in the Tohuku region of northeastern Japan. In fact, the first examples of Kokeshi showed up during the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1868 CE). They were originally intended as simple wooden toys for kids.
The dolls evolved, however. These days their long limbless bodies and enlarged heads have beautiful painted faces and even colourful, traditional clothing. People from all over collect them and seek out dolls with extra features, or beautiful details. Just check out the hashtag on Instagram and you’ll see how popular they are.
How Are They Made?
Families pass the skill to make Kokeshi through generations. The sons of Kokeshi masters will often learn the art from their fathers as apprentices. Now that there’s a huge focus on keeping the art of these beautiful dolls alive, many more women are learning to make Kokeshi as well.
Professional Kokeshi artists will make every part of the doll themselves. It starts with preparing the wood, and from there they work on painting and then waxing. They’re hand-carved on a lathe using either dogwood or cherry wood. After that, chisels and other tools are used to crave out the unique shape of each doll.
Believe it or not, the artisans actually craft the tools themselves as well. That way, each tool fits the hand of the artist; this helps them to be more efficient.
Once they carve and paint the wooden base, they apply wax to seal in the design.
There Are Many Types Of Kokeshi
I couldn’t believe how many different types of Kokeshi exist! Wow! They are so diverse and beautiful, it would be such an honour to have a real Kokeshi doll.
Officially, there are 12 different styles of Kokeshi. Each of them receives a name after a place in Japan. Because of this, each of them also has its own distinct shape, colour, and deco.
You can find handmade and vintage Kokeshi dolls on Etsy. As with everything, please ensure that you purchase from reputable sellers. Especially when it comes to this traditional doll… it’s important to ensure you’re supporting the right people!