Edo-sekku doll Copyright:Tokyo Convention&Visitors Bureau

Edo-sekku doll Edo sekku ningyo

Craftsmen's skills and personalities are expressed in unique dolls
Freshness and beauty that appeal to people of all ages


What is Edo-sekku doll ?

Edo Sekku Ningyo are dolls produced in 12 of the wards in Tokyo Metropolis and four cities in Saitama Prefecture. They refer to costumed dolls, such as ichimatsu ningyo (play dolls), gosho ningyo (palace dolls) and fuzoku ningyo (dolls in period costumes), as well as decorative armor. They are usually displayed during the Doll's Festival or the Boy's Festival. In the later Edo Period, there was a market selling Hina dolls and dolls in samurai armor in Nihonbashi Jikkendana (Tokyo), which was counted as one of the most popular sites in Edo. Ordinary people of that time were becoming wealthy enough to hold a luxurious and grand celebration for their children's first annual boy's or girl's festival to pray for their health and prosperous future.
Edo Sekku Ningyo were originally displayed outdoors but later became indoor-use; therefore they are distinctively small. These Edo-style dolls have a natural feeling, are realistic and delicately crafted. The armor is made so realistic and accurately detailed that some of them could be mistaken for the real thing. The use of carefully selected natural materials, including leather, silk threads, wood, paper, steel and copper, and traditional production processes makes it possible to bring back simple but elegant armor - the pride of samurai in the Edo Period - to the modern day.


Manufacturing of dolls started in Edo in the early days of the Edo Period, under the influence of doll making in Kyoto.
However, it was not until the Horeki Era (1751 to 1763), about 250 years ago, that a unique Edo style was established. In 1761, during the reign of the 10th shogun Ieharu Tokugawa, a doll-making artisan from Kyoto who invented "Jirozaemon-bina" (Hina dolls with round faces) came down to Edo to open a doll shop. Since then doll making became widely spread across Edo.
One of the main dolls produced around 1716 to 1736 were "Kyoho-bina" dolls, which were relatively large in size and sumptuous and opulent. They were considered to be "luxury items" and even the government was avoiding them. On the other hand, Jirozaemon-bina were well-received since their facial expressions and constructions were more accessible to ordinary people, and thus they had become a part of the Edo culture. The heavy influence of the style of Jirozaemon dolls can be seen in the modern Edo Sekku Ningyo, which are still cherished today.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Making a Head The head can be made from toso , a kneaded paste of paulownia wood saw dust and wheat starch glue, by pushing it into a mold (kiji-oshi). Alternatively, it can be made by bisque-baking dolomite clay (suyaki), which is a traditional material for making the head and other skin parts of Hina dolls, or by carving a piece of wood (kibori).
    The mold (kama) for the head is prepared in advance and consists of two parts: the front (face side) and the back side of the head. Oil is applied inside the mold, and then fine toso paste is pressed into it while leaving a central hollow core. After being left to fully dry, the head is carefully filed to shape.
  2. 2. Applying Gofun (White Pigment) For the head made from toso or carved wood, undercoating is applied (jinuri) and left to dry. Next gofun, a white pigment made from seashells, is painted on the head, and also piled up on the face to form the mouth and nose (okiage). Then they are shaved with a small knife to create a desired shape.
    Following this, the second coat is applied by using thicker gofun, and the head is shaped and left to dry. Then a damp cloth is used to wipe away any uneven gofun. Next the facial expression is created by scraping the face. Using a brush, an overcoating gofun is meticulously and evenly applied, which will be repeated about ten times.
  3. 3. Painting the Face When glass eyes are used, openings for the eyes are cut out using a small knife. The eyebrows and hairline are painted using fine-tipped brushes with Japanese ink, and then lips are painted in red.
  4. 4. Attaching Hair First, grooves are cut at the part where the hair will be fixed using a small knife. The tips of black dyed silk threads are aligned and trimmed off before applying the glue.
    Then the hairs are fixed into the prepared grooves using a prick punch.
  5. 5. Making the Body The toso that was used for making the head is mixed with wheat starch glue, and pressed into the the front and back body molds, and then the two halves of the molds are put together to form one piece. The pair of molds is held down and the front mold is removed to scrape off any burrs before removing the back mold. Then, the back mold is slowly removed.
  6. 6. Applying Gofun to the Body Gofun is dissolved with nikawa, organic protein produced from animal skins or bones, and applied to the body. Since this process helps to harden the paste used for the body and also prevents the body losing its shape, it has to be applied evenly and smoothly.
    When the gofun is completely dry, grooves are carefully cut with a small knife to make it ready to tuck in the costume.

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