Edo-kimekomi doll Photo:Iwatsuki Ningyo cooperative association

Edo-kimekomi doll Edo kimekomi ningyo

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What is Edo-kimekomi doll ?

Edo Kimekomi Ningyo are dolls mainly produced in the Taito, Sumida, and Arakawa Wards of Tokyo.
The doll’s body, hands, and feet are made of toso, a mix of paulownia saw dust and wheat starch glue. The head is made from dolomite clay, and silk threads are used for the hair; costumes are made from silk or cotton textiles. A special part of the production process involves cutting fine grooves into the doll, followed by tucking (kimekomu) the ends of costume fabrics into the grooves. These dolls have no separate items of clothing, instead, pieces of fabric are pasted onto the torso and creases, draping and the like are created by tucking; therefore, it is considered that making the base body shape is one of the most important processes, and in this forming, the style of the artisan is clearly seen.
Edo Kimekomi Ningyo are characterized by slightly narrower faces and well-defined facial features. These dolls were first made using skills developed in Kyoto and brought to Edo (Tokyo), but along with the changing culture and fashions of Edo, the Kimekomi dolls took on the Edo style. Edo Kimekomi Ningyo are more sharply delineated, whereas the facial features of Kyoto Ningyo are typical of the Heian dynasty style with fuller softer faces. Today, a great variety of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo are produced such as dolls for the Girls’ Festival and the Boys’ Festival or ukiyo dolls (costume dolls representing customs and trends). These dolls are mainly made of toso, which makes them light and easy-to-carry, and also durable with little loss of shape; all are attractive features contributing to their popularity.


The origin of Kimekomi dolls dates back to the middle of the Edo period (1736 to 1741) in Kyoto, when a priest of the Kamigamo Shrine, Tadashige Takahashi, using scraps of willow left over from the woven boxes of shrine festivals, made dolls and dressed them with fabric remnants from the priests’ robes. Since the dolls were born in the Kamo area in Kyoto, they were formerly called Kamo dolls, Kamogawa (Kamo River) dolls, or Yanagi (willow) dolls. In later years with doll-making artisans marketing the Kamo dolls, they came to be known as Kimekomi dolls after the manner in which the costume fabric was tucked into grooves. The four years from 1711 to 1715 saw the arrival of the technique into Edo from Kyoto, and the doll makers developed the unique Edo style Kimekomi Ningyo.
The later Meiji period saw a radical change in production methods from the original pasting torn fabric onto a wood-carved torso into the present-day technique using molds and toso mix. This of course opened the possibility of mass production and soon a diverse range of characteristic Kimekomi dolls were being made in large numbers. Today Edo Kimekomi Ningyo are still handmade using the old methods and were designated as a traditional craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making a Clay Doll Usually a rough sketch is used as the basis for making a clay figure. This will also include the contours and drapes of the costumes including such items as the obi sash and multilayered necklines.
  2. 2. Mold Making The original clay figure is placed within a wooden frame and molten sulfur poured in to make a two-part mold (front and back) of the doll, known as a kama.
  3. 3. Base Shape Making Oil is applied to both the front and back kama, and then they are partially filled with toso, a kneaded mix of paulownia wood saw dust and wheat starch glue. At the core of the torso, paper is also stuffed as reinforcement to prevent any loss of shape. The front and back molded pieces are put together to form one piece, any burrs are scraped, and the piece is removed from the kama. After thorough drying, any cracks, dents or flaws are worked out by applying toso, often with a bamboo spatula, and any roughness is filed smooth.
  4. 4. Applying Gofun Gofun, a white pigment made from seashells, is dissolved by kneading with glue and applied to the torso; by permeating into the torso and stiffening the base material, the mix prevents loss of shape, and also makes it easier to cut grooves and improves the color contrast of tucked in fabric.
  5. 5. Sujibori (Groove Cutting) After the gofun has dried, grooves are carefully cut by chisel ready to tuck in the costume fabric; this work will greatly affect the finish of the doll, and it is important for grooves to be of a uniform width and depth.
  6. 6. Kimekomi (Tucking in Fabric) Paper patterns for each fabric piece are created and selected fabrics cut to size. Kanbai-ko (glutinous rice glue) is spread into the grooves, and the fabric pieces are tucked in with a prick punch.
  7. 7. Making the Head For the head, toso, gypsum, or bisque baked clay is used. The head kama also has a front and back, and a finer grade of toso is used and pressed into the two halves. In the same way as with the torso, a central hollow core is left. After fully drying, the head is filed smooth, and an undercoating of gofun applied.
  8. 8. Applying Gofun to the Head After the undercoating has dried, special gofun is applied to form the nose and mouth and left to dry; shaving with a small marking knife is carried out and a second coat applied. The entire head is then covered by a thicker gofun and shaped. After drying, a damp cloth is used to wipe away any uneven gofun. Then, the raised nose and mouth are carefully scraped to create the delicate facial expression. Using a brush, an overcoating of clear gofun is meticulously and quickly applied.
  9. 9. Painting the Face The eyes, lips, and other facial features are painted with fine-tipped brushes. Painting the face is said to be the most important work for doll-making, and by giving character to the doll, it greatly affects the finish.
  10. 10. Cutting Grooves for Hair Grooves are cut at the part to fix hair.
  11. 11. Kefuki (Attaching Hair) Black dyed silk threads are combed and hair tips are aligned and cut. Glue is applied, and starting from the shortest length, hairs are fixed into the grooves using a prick punch.
  12. 12. Fitting In this stage, the separately made head, any crown-type adornments, accessories to be held, and other items are fitted to the costumed torso while taking into account the best orientation and angles for display.
  13. 13. Finishing The hair is brushed and set, and small accessories are attached to finish.

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Saitama Traditional Crafts Center

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