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 Fukuoka prefecture. The notable features of Hakata dolls are subtle soft colors, delicately carved expressions, and curves that almost look glazed. The grace of this craft has received heavy attention at numbers of exhibitions both in Japan and overseas since the 1900 Paris World Exposition. Today, Hakata dolls are considered an ideal gift for visitors from overseas and exported to many countries' markets. Revered around the world, it is considered one of the cultural treasures of Fukuoka prefecture.
There are many different types of Hakata dolls like feminine figures, actors of Noh (a traditional Japanese musical play) and Kabuki theater (a traditional Japanese movement based play), lucky objects, or animals. As beauty standards have changed with the eras, the way that Hakata dolls appear have adapted to be contemporary. Other famous types are good luck charms such as otafuku (homely-looking woman) or fukusuke (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 (feudal lord, 1568-1623) began to rule the area then called Chikuzen (currently Fukuoka prefecture). During the construction of Kuroda's Fukuoka castle, a tile maker named Soshichi MASAKI offered him 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 today's Hataka dolls emerged after the year 1818, during the Edo period (1603-1868). 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 Third 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 has been linked with the dolls ever since.
The dolls made an impressive appearance in the 1900 Paris World Exposition and started to attract global attention.

General Production Process

Hakata doll - General Production Process Photo:Fukuoka City

  1. 1. Preparing the clay Clay from the area around Fukuoka is prepared by the artisan. First the heavy lump of clay is hit, then rolled and kneaded to remove air pockets and ensure a smooth texture. The clay is kneaded until it eventually becomes soft but firm or a "similiar texture to an earlobe" as a Japanese expression says.
  2. 2. Modeling Picturing the finished doll with its robes, facial expression, and gestures is an important part of the production process. The artisan draws out the doll's body, hands, feet, head, and face using a spatula and fingertips. It is a time-consuming and delicate task that allows the artisan's skills to shine. This step may take several months to complete.
  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 most notable 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 is 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 that are 30 cm square and 1 cm deep are prepared. The details of the doll are forged by pasting several of these small clay slabs together with diluted clay called dobe before handpressing them into the finished plaster mold. When completed, the clay doll is carefully removed from the plaster mold to reveal a replica in the clay, which is then left to dry. As the doll is hollow, this allows an even firing to the center of the core.
  5. 5. Firing The dried doll is biscuit-fired in an electric or gas-fired kiln. In order for the color to absorb well, it is best to start at a low temperature and gradually rise to around 900ºC (1652℉).
  6. 6. Coloring The underfired clay doll has many undercoats of gofun, or white pigment made of shells applied to the face.
    After the undercoating, color is applied to the kimono, obi belt, and then any patterns. Also if the design calls for it, gold coloring or embossing may be applied.
  7. 7. Applying the makeup Only the most experienced artisans are skilled enough to apply finishing touches to the face of the doll, the appearance of which influences the level of perfection of the finished piece. The artisan captures the spirit of the doll by drawing the facial expression, red lips, then the eyes and eyebrows.
  8. 8. Completion After several months and a variety of processes, a Hakata doll is finally complete.

Where to Buy & More Information

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

Hakatamachiya Furusatokan

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