Hakata doll Photo:Fukuoka City

Hakata doll Hakata ningyo

World-famous Subtle Beauty
Exquisitely Smooth Curves and an Elegant Appearance


What is Hakata doll ?

Hakata Ningyo are unglazed clay dolls from Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture. They are some of the finest dolls made in the world and feature muted soft colors, delicate, expressive faces, fine engravings, and beautiful curves, unlike the more usual unglazed clay dolls. Their graceful appearance has won much acclaim both in Japan and in overseas exhibitions beginning with the 1900 Paris World Exposition. To this day, they make an ideal gift for overseas guests, and there is a lively export market to many countries. Being revered around the world, it is truly one of the cultural treasures of Fukuoka Prefecture.
Hakata Ningyo are found in many forms, such as beautiful ladies, Noh and Kabuki actors, and auspicious objects and animals. Beauties are an especially popular category and in keeping with the changing eras, the faces and fashions of the dolls are also subtly and continuously evolving. Other famous genres are good luck charms such as Otafuku (plain-looking woman) or Fukusuke (big-headed dwarf), and dolls made for seasonal festivals starting with hina dolls.


Hakata doll - History

The history of Hakata Ningyo dates back to 1600 when after the Battle of Sekigahara, Nagamasa KURODA began to rule Chikuzen (currently the whole of Fukuoka Prefecture). During his building of Fukuoka Castle, a tile maker Soshichi MASAKI offered dolls made of tile clay, which are believed to be the origin of Hakata Ningyo. Later, unglazed clay dolls and their manufacturing techniques gradually spread all over the Hataka region, and would become the foundation of Hakata Ningyo culture, but it was only after 1818, during the Bunsei era in the Edo period, that the prototype of the current Hataka Ningyo emerged. The colorful unglazed clay dolls made by Kichibei NAKANOKO are regarded as the ancestor of Hakata Ningyo.
The name Hakata Ningyo first appeared in the 3rd Domestic Industrial Exhibition in 1890, when the dolls won a prize in recognition of their elegance and beauty; the name Hakata Ningyo was written on the certificate of commendation, and ever since it has been popularly linked with the dolls. The dolls entered the world stage with their appearance at the 1900 Paris World Exposition and in the ensuing century have attracted immense global attention.

General Production Process

Hakata doll - General Production Process Photo:Fukuoka City

  1. 1. Preparing the clay Clay from the environs of Fukuoka is prepared by the artisan first hitting the heavy lump, then rolling and kneading to remove air pockets and ensure a smooth texture until eventually it becomes as soft as an earlobe.
  2. 2. Modeling Imagining the finished doll and all its robes, facial expression and gestures is an important part of the production process. By using a spatula and the fingertips, the artisan draws out of the clay the dolls body, hands, feet, head and face. It is a time-consuming and delicate task requiring not only skill but artistic flair and may take several months.
  3. 3. Molding The technique involves dividing the finished doll’s model into segments, before casting them in plaster; each section should be as small as possible. By dividing the model into small pieces, subtle expressions characteristic of Hakata Ningyo can be accurately and beautifully copied from the model. A clay wall is constructed around the edge of the model and plaster poured in to make a mold, which is then left to dry in the shade for three days or so.
  4. 4. Making the doll body Small blocks of clay 3cm square and 1 cm deep are prepared. The details of the doll’s body are made by sticking several of these small clay slabs together with diluted clay called dobe before pressing them with the thumbs into the finished plaster mold. When completed the clay doll is carefully removed from the plaster mold to reveal a replica in clay, which is then left to dry. As the doll is hollow, this allows even firing through to the very center of the core.
  5. 5. Firing The dried doll is biscuit-fired in an electric or gas-fired kiln; by starting at a low temperature gradually rising to around 900ºC the absorption of color is improved.
  6. 6. Coloring The baked clay doll receives many undercoats of Gofun, or shell pigment to the face. Next attention is paid to the robes and color applied in the order of Kimono, Obi belt, followed by any patterns. In addition according to the design, gold coloring or embossing may be applied.
  7. 7. Applying make-up Only the most experienced artisans are skilled enough to put the finishing touches to the face of the doll, which will decide the quality of the finished piece. The artisan captures the spirit of the doll by drawing the facial expression, first the rouge lips, then the eyes and eyebrows; this step by step process is known as tsuya.
  8. 8. Completion After several months and a variety of processes, a Hakata Ningyo is finally completed.

Where to Buy & More Information

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

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