Miyagi Kokeshi doll | Japanese Traditional adorable wood dolls


About Miyagi Kokeshi

A series of introductions to traditional crafts from various regions of Japan. This time it is Miyagi Kokeshi. As you know, Miyagi was hit hard by the earthquake and tsunami, and all kinds of industries were hit hard. The same is true for traditional crafts. Moreover, traditional crafts have developed by passing down skills from person to person, so if skilled craftspeople die in a disaster or leave the area, the crafts will quickly decline. Despite these hardships, Miyagi has made efforts to pass on traditional crafts to the next generation without letting them die out.

There are three main traditional crafts in Miyagi; Miyagi kokeshi doll, Sendai Tansu(chest), and Naruto lacquerware. They are definitely famous in Japan and beholding many Japanese people.

Features of Miyagi Kokeshi

When we introduced traditional crafts in Iwate and Aomori, we mentioned chests of drawers and Aomori kokeshi dolls. The reason is regional. Iwate, Akita, and Miyagi are all located in what is called the Tohoku region of Japan. As I mentioned in a previous article, traditional crafts are only a tradition that has developed in a small region, but there is still a certain degree of regional commonality. For example, in the Tohoku region, the common denominators are “lumber,” “tourist attractions,” and “metal fittings.

About Lumber

A mountainous region known as the Ou Mountains runs through the Tohoku region, and trees from these mountains are used as raw materials for traditional crafts. In the period when traditional crafts were born, there was no logistics network to bring wood from other regions, so the wood resources in this region are inevitably common. Each tree has its own suitable use, and as a result, similar traditional crafts have been created.

About the Tourist Attraction

Although the Tohoku region is now well developed, it was not yet urbanized like the center of Japan when traditional crafts were born and raised. As a result, it was a place where people visited as tourists, and thus “souvenirs” developed. A typical example is the kokeshi doll. That is why kokeshi culture developed in different places such as Akita and Miyagi at the same time. However, the characteristics of each are different.

About metal fittings

In the Tohoku region, an area called Hiraizumi was very wealthy in ancient times. Since a lot of gold and silver were dug up there, techniques for using them were developed. The metal fittings used for chests of drawers in Iwate and Miyagi are a remnant of this.

Thus, while traditional crafts developed independently in each city, there is a certain degree of commonality in neighboring areas.

1.Miyagi kokeshi doll

Miyagi kokeshi doll

It is said that the first kokeshi, meaning “wooden doll,” was made by an emperor in the Nara period (710-794) to pray for the safety of the nation. It was in the hot spring resort towns of Tohoku in the late Edo period (1603-1867) that kokeshi dolls in the form we are familiar with began to be made. The popularity of the kokeshi began in the late Edo period (1603-1868), when craftsmen who made wooden products made dolls from leftover wood scraps and sold them as souvenirs to farmers who came to the hot spring resort to take a hot spring cure.

In Miyagi Prefecture, where there are many hot spring resorts, kokeshi doll making flourished along with the development of hot spring resorts, and each region produced its own unique kokeshi dolls. At that time, the name “Kokeshi” was not standardized, and there were various names such as “kideko” and “kogesu” depending on the region.

2.Charm of Traditional Kokeshi Dolls

Traditional kokeshi dolls are made from raw wood, painted faces and bodies, and finished. The entire process is done by a single kokeshi craftsman. The artist can make the kokeshi as he or she wishes, but because of this, the style of the kokeshi changes as the artist’s life, feelings, and physical condition are reflected in the kokeshi. This is what makes it interesting. In particular, the artist’s feelings are greatly reflected in the painting of the face. The gentle eyes, angry face, sad expression, and stern face change with time. The expression also changes subtly depending on the shape of the wood. Even if you paint on a piece of wood that has been ground by someone else, you will not be able to achieve the exact look that you want. 

Even the patterns on the body are not the same. The individuality of the kokeshi craftsman can be seen in the color scheme, brush strokes, brush power, and so on. Traditional kokeshi dolls are subject to various restrictions according to the characteristics of their lineage. Within these restrictions, the kokeshi craftspeople are trying to devise and change. This is truly a world of “learning from the past.


kokeshi doll

Miyagi Kokeshi dolls are made in and around Sendai and Shiroishi cities in Miyagi Prefecture. 1981, they were designated as a national traditional handicraft. The following is a list of the most common. The Miyagi traditional kokeshi is characterized by its simple shape and dainty appearance, with only a head and body. Even though they are simple and plain in shape, each of the five kokeshi lines has its own unique shape and patterns that are unique to the region where it was produced.

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