Japanese kokeshi are traditional dolls made by hand from wood. These dolls are elongated and cylindrical in shape, with a rounded head without arms or legs, and are often decorated with simple but elegant designs. They are native to the Tohoku region in northern Japan, but have become popular throughout the country and are valued as collectors’ items and cultural souvenirs.
History of Kokeshi
The exact origin of kokeshi is unknown, but it is believed that they were first created in the 18th century in the Tohoku region, which is famous for its hot springs and cedar forests. Kokeshi were created as toys for children, and were handmade by local craftsmen. Over time, kokeshi dolls have become collectibles valued for their simplicity and elegance.
Over the years, kokeshi styles have evolved to reflect the trends of the time and the preferences of collectors. Traditional kokeshi have been made in the Tohoku region for centuries, but modern styles are now made throughout Japan. Although kokeshi are now often considered collectibles rather than children’s toys, they are still handmade with the same meticulous attention to detail.
How Kokeshi are made
Kokeshi are handmade from dogwood, which is light and easy to carve. The wood is first dried and then cut into pieces the size of the kokeshi doll. Artisans then use tools such as knives, chisels and gouges to carve the wood into an elongated cylindrical shape. The head is then attached to the body and carved into a round shape, before being painted by hand.
The designs on kokeshi are often simple, with brightly colored lines and circles, although some dolls can be more complex. Traditional kokeshi are often painted red, black and yellow, but modern styles can be colorful and varied.
Cultural significance of Kokeshi
Kokeshi are valued for their simplicity and elegance, and are often considered a symbol of Japanese aesthetics. Although their origin is uncertain, they are often associated with the Tohoku region and Japanese culture. Kokeshi are also popular as souvenirs and gifts, and are often used to represent Japan at international events.
Kokeshi also have spiritual significance in some parts of Japan, and are often associated with fertility and child protection. In ancient times, parents often gave kokeshi to their young children to protect them from illness and misfortune. Kokeshi were also sometimes used in fertility rituals to help women have healthy children.
Today, kokeshi are often considered works of art, and are appreciated for their beauty and simplicity. Traditional kokeshi are often more sought after than modern styles, and can be very valuable to collectors.
Kokeshi festivals are also popular throughout Japan, where collectors and artisans gather to display and sell their dolls. These festivals are often held in towns and villages known for their kokeshi production, such as Naruko, Tsuchiyu and Yajiro.
The different kokeshi
There are 11 types of kokeshi, each with distinct characteristics.
- Kokeshi Togatta
- Kokeshi Naruko
- Kokeshi Zao
- Kokeshi Kijiyama
- Kokeshi Hijiori
- Kokeshi Nanbu
- Kokeshi Sakunami
- Kokeshi Tsuchiyu
- Kokeshi Tsugaru
- Kokeshi Yajirō
- Kokeshi Yamagata
Discover our selection of authentic Japanese kokeshi, handmade by local artisans and available for purchase online. Add a touch of Japanese art and culture to your home with these unique and iconic wooden dolls.