Hakata doll Photo:Fukuoka City

Hakata doll Hakata ningyo

A world-famous subtle beauty
made of gracious curves and elegant designs


What is Hakata doll ?

Hakata dolls (called Hakata ningyo in Japanese) are unglazed clay dolls produced in the city of Hakata, in the Fukuoka prefecture. The characteristics of Hakata dolls is the impressive quality of muted soft colors, delicate carved emotional expressions with fine engraved beautiful curves. The grace of this craft has received heavy attention at numbers of exhibitions both in Japan and overseas since the 1900 Paris World Exposition.
Nowadays, it is counted as an ideal gift for visitors from overseas and it is also exported to markets in many countries. Being revered around the world, it is considered one of the cultural treasures of the Fukuoka prefecture.
Hakata dolls are found in many forms such as beautiful ladies, actors of Noh theater (a traditional Japanese theater play) and Kabuki (a traditional Japanese drama play), and auspicious objects or animals. The most famous form of Hakata dolls is the beautiful lady as it changes its expression and clothing from time to time.
Other famous genres are good luck charms such as otafuku (the plain-looking woman) or fukusuke (the big headed dwarf), and dolls made for seasonal festivals such as hina dolls.


Hakata doll - History

The history of Hakata dolls dates back to 1600 after the battle of Sekigahara, when Nagamasa KURODA (a feudal lord 1568-1623) began to rule the area then called Chikuzen (currently Fukuoka prefecture). During the construction of his Fukuoka castle, a tile maker named Soshichi MASAKI offered dolls made of tile clay, which are believed to be the origin of Hakata doll.
Later, unglazed clay dolls and their manufacturing techniques gradually spread all over the city of Hakata, and would become the foundation of Hakata doll culture. However the prototype of the current Hataka dolls emerged after 1818, during the Bunsei era (1818-1830) in the Edo period (1603-1868). The colorful unglazed clay dolls made by Kichibei NAKANOKO are regarded as the ancestor of Hakata dolls.
The name Hakata dolls first appeared at the time of 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 got on to the world stage with their impressive appearance in the 1900 Paris World Exposition and they have attracted a large global attention in the following century.

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. They first hit the heavy lump, then roll and knead it to remove air pockets and ensure a smooth texture until it eventually becomes as soft as an earlobe.
  2. 2. Modeling Imagining the finished doll with its robes, facial expression and gestures is an important part of the production process. Using a spatula and their fingertips, the artisan draws out the doll's body, hands, feet, head and face. It is a time-consuming and delicate task requiring not only skills but also an artistic flair and it may take several months.
  3. 3. Molding This process involves dividing the finished doll's model into segments before casting them in plaster, making sure each section is as small as possible.
    By dividing the model into small pieces, the subtle expression which is the characteristic of Hakata dolls 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 around three days.
  4. 4. Making of the doll's body Small blocks of clay of 3cm square and 1 cm deep are prepared. The details of the doll are made by pasting 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 an even firing to the very center of the core.
  5. 5. Firing The dried doll is biscuit-fired in an electric or gas-fired kiln. The absorption of color is improved by starting at a low temperature gradually rising to around 900ºC.
  6. 6. Coloring The underfired clay doll receives many undercoats called gofun, or shell pigments in the face.
    After this, attention is paid to the robes and color applied in the order of kimono, obi belt, followed by any patterns.
    In addition, gold coloring or embossing may be applied according to the design.
  7. 7. Applying the 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 red 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 doll is finally completed.

Where to Buy & More Information

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

See more Dolls, kokeshi

See items made in Fukuoka