Kokeshi are typical Japanese wooden dolls characterized by the absence of legs and arms. They are produced in the Tohoku region and were originally toys for children, although they are now also used by the Japanese as decorations and displayed on the shelves of houses to embellish the atmosphere.
Abroad, the Kokeshi are considered true icons of Japan, because they reflect the Japanese aesthetic with their simple, elegant and minimalist design. Furthermore, the Kokeshi are very Japanese also in the idea of imperfection and exclusivity: in fact, no two Kokeshi are alike, being handcrafted products, which convey an idea of precious objects created one by one using time and utmost care.
ETYMOLOGY AND ORIGINS
According to one of the modern interpretations, the word Kokeshi is the union of two words: Ko (child) and keshi (incarnation).
The production of this doll dates back to the nineteenth century, and one of the oldest documents attesting the existence of the Kokeshi dates back to 1860 and was found in the thermal springs of Sakunami, in Miyagi prefecture. There is a strong link between these Japanese dolls and hot springs, as from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the feudal system, peasants were free to go to the hot springs of nearby regions during the winter season to regenerate themselves from the fatigue of the labor of the fields, and bring the dolls back to their children from their travels as a souvenir.
The Kokeshi became popular and transformed into a collector's item between the 50s and 60s, becoming an object more aimed at the adult public, fascinated by their uniqueness and aesthetic beauty.
THE MUSEUMS OF DOLLS
For fans of Japanese kokeshi dolls, we point out two particular places in which to discover every possible aspect and secret of this particular Japanese art. Both museums are located in northern Japan, of course, in Miyagi prefecture:
- Japan Kokeshi Museum (in Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Tohoku region): this museum exhibits around 5000 kokeshi, most of which donated by Kaname Fuzakawa, an expert in kokeshi dolls.
- Sendai souvenir Museum S-pal Sendai (In Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Tohoku region): inside the S-Pal department store in Sendai, the B1F floor is entirely dedicated to the purchase of souvenirs (with the name of Sendai Souvenir Museum). Here there is also a shop dedicated to the sale of handicrafts created by local producers, including beautiful kokeshi dolls.
WHERE TO BUY THE DOLLS
In Japan kokeshi dolls, in particular the shingata-type kokeshi, therefore the most modern ones, are sold in all the major souvenir shops in the areas most frequented by tourists, such as Nakamise-dori in the Asakusa district, in Tokyo, or (shingata and dentō) in shops located inside famous temples such as that of the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
In recent years it is also possible to buy kokeshi dolls in online stores and in shops specializing in original Japanese objects. The latter are recommended in order not to run the risk, as sometimes unfortunately happens, of finding themselves buying fake products by paying for them as originals.