Day 11 of  The A to Z  Blogging Challenge

K is for Kokeshi

traditional kokeshi
traditional Kokeshi

Collecting Kokeshi dolls followed a long tine of doll-collecting from other countries. I missed my young nieces so wherever I lived and traveled overseas, I made it a point to seek out the local dolls. I would ship them home with a note attached as to their historical and cultural significance.

Somewhere along the line I started collecting dolls for me, too!

Kokeshi were my favorite! I would spend hours seeking out that perfect one. I gave them not only to my nieces but also to friends, colleagues and, of course, kept some for myself.I learned there were a couple of different types of Kokeshi dolls–traditional and creative. Here, I’ll share a few characteristics and post some photos of my own collection.

Originally,  the Kokeshi dolls were made in Tohoku, the northern part of Japan, which was famous for its onsen, natural hot springs.  

Wood craftsmen, who up until that point had made bowls and trays, began to craft the dolls to sell to those who came to visit the springs.  The “limbless” dolls dated back to the early 19th century and likely, were sold as toys.

It’s thought that the simplest, unpainted ones with cylindrical forms may have been used as massage tools by the spa bathers ( in the public baths or hot springs, there is usually a person to scrub down the person who sits on a small wooden chair). After he or she is bathed, then he can enter the hot springs and soak for some time.

Examples of more creative styles of kokeshi
Examples of more creative styles of Kokeshi

These are both painted, though somewhat less than others, but I wonder if in the early days if this type might have made good massage tools. No, perhaps not. The creative style had more shapely bodies with exquisitely detailed kimonos.

They are made on a lathe, traditionally with the head and body separate and then plugged together.  Mizuki wood, which translates to ” water treee,” is often used for the face and body. This wood is considered water resistant. 

So it’s believed that these dolls are also good luck charms and bought to protect the house against fire. Another belief about the Kokeshi dolls, and again, it’s thought to be a charm, is that it carries a wish for a healthy child.

I love this kokeshi (below) for its simplicity.  It may also be one of the creative styles because of its painting and kimono design. Where originally, kimono patterns signified the geographical area where the doll was made, later, the body, painting and kimono design began to reflect the artist’s individual tastes and designs.

Simple kokeshi
Simple kokeshi

I purchased this wood carved kokeshi doll from Ibaraki prefecture.

May not be a "true" kokeshi
May not be a “true” kokeshi

Because it actually has arms of some type, I’m not certain it would be classified as kokeshi. But I still think it’s beautiful and keep it with my collection.

Here is one of my favorites dolls. It’s bright, creative, painted and engraved. It’s likely the most typical example of kokeshi, made in Gonuma Prefecture. (Source)

A favorite of mine
A favorite of mine

Take a peek at how kokeshi dolls are made! 


What do you enjoy collecting? How easy or difficult are they to acquire? And how reasonable is the cost?  don’t you mind paying more? 

You have just read “K is for Kokeshi,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright April 14, 2015. You can see who else is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE.

K is for Kokeshi
Spread the love
Tagged on:                                                                                                                                         

3 thoughts on “K is for Kokeshi

  • April 14, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    What a fun series! Thanks for turning me on to this cultural tidbit; there are no ends to the things we can learn, are there?

    (Temporarily!) Filling in for Author AJ Lauer at April A-Z Challenge

  • April 14, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    Thank you so much, Dan!
    No, there are no ends. There’s always something cultural just discovered!!
    Thanks for stopping by and do stop by again to find out more. (I’m going to post on Luxor next).

  • April 17, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Hi Amy,

    My daughters would have loved the kokeshi dolls. Love their simplicity. It sounds like you need to build a dollhouse to house your collection! LOL


Leave a Reply