What does a Japanese nesting doll look like?
Little is known about how the Japanese wooden doll Kokeshi appeared. Some researchers believe that these pupae arose from religious practice and were designed to contain the spiritual essence of the dead. Often they were made to honor someone’s memory.
The modern history of kokesi dolls began in the late Edo period (1603−1867). Originating in the north of Japan in the Tohoku region, known for its hot springs, the Kokesi doll was the main means of earning income for local artisans who specialized in working with wood and making such household items. On free winter evenings, wood craftsmen began making Kokesi dolls in order to sell them as souvenirs to visitors, who often visited local hot springs. Dolls were also used as tools for massage, held at a time when vacationers enjoyed the warmth of hot springs.
Kokesi dolls had a very simple design and were usually made on manually turning lathes. They all share common characteristics and consist of a cylindrical body and a round head. Perhaps the very first dolls were unpainted. Nowadays, kokesi depict kimono covered with bright floral patterns and other traditional patterns. Red, yellow, purple colors are used.
Since all the dolls are painted by hand, no two are alike. That is the main charm of Kokesi. Some pupae look capricious or happy, smiling, while others retain their seriousness. Soon the popularity of Cocktails went beyond the limits of one region. They became the favorite wooden toys throughout Japan for those who could not afford porcelain dolls. In addition, the simple round shape of the pupae made them suitable as dental rings for babies. Kokeshi traditionally portrayed young girls and quickly became popular for the created image of female beauty.
The simple charm and associations with childhood made them a wonderful gift when a baby was born, as well as for subsequent birthdays. And even as a memorable symbol, if the child died. Japanese wooden kokesi dolls were popular among peasant children. It was widely believed that they could contribute to a good harvest. There was also a belief that gods like it when a child plays with dolls. However, only adults can, of course, fully appreciate the sophistication and delicate beauty of the Kokeshi pupa.
For Kokesi used different types of wood. Some types of cherries differed in dark color, soft wood and were widely used, like Japanese maple. Wood was aged from one to five years before it was considered suitable for the manufacture of dolls. Currently, kokeshi is recognized as one of the traditional types of folk art. Despite the similarities, there are two schools for the manufacture of dolls: the traditional doll of kokesi and the author’s doll of kokesi. Traditional dolls are made only in the six prefectures of the Tohoku region, differing in the finest features of form and painting, which allow experts to determine where the toy is made and often by whom.
Togata, Miyagi Prefecture, is the most ancient place of appearance of Kokeshi. From here, the technique of making wooden pupae spread to other areas of the mineral waters of the Tohoku region. It is currently the second most prosperous area of Koksi production after Narugo. Authors kokesi dolls retreat from traditional patterns originating from the centers of Tohoku. They are works of unlimited inspiration, and this is reflected in forms and patterns.
For copyright kokeshi, there are no preferred colors or techniques that would pass the selection of many generations. They represent the individual creativity of each master. The new concept allows artists to reveal any exciting topic through their work. The traditional and author kokesi pupae annually take part in the Tohoku festival. In early September, people gather in Narugo, where kokeshi masters from all over the country participate in the competition, one of the prizes in which is a reward from the prime minister.
On the first day of the holiday, a rite of passage is initiated in the Shinto temple to the local god of many wonderful dolls, and the next day the dolls made with defects are destroyed. There are many styles of kokeshi, but the philosophy reflected in them is one: all kokeshi dolls are an attempt to express beauty in simplicity.