Iwatsuki doll

Iwatsuki doll Iwatsuki ningyo

A charming atmosphere created in a castle town
Delightful and exquisite culture


What is Iwatsuki doll ?

Iwatsuki Ningyo is a Japanese doll made in Iwatsuki Ward of Saitama City, Saitama Prefecture. The characteristics of Iwatsuki Ningyo are its round face with big eyes that makes the doll adorable and its brilliant colors. The skin of the doll is smooth and beautiful and the hair is shiny and looks like real human hair. The smooth and beautiful skin is created by glue and Kofun (a kind of pigment made from ground clamshells) and the hair is made from raw silk. Soft raw silk resembling human hair is used and the hair is carefully tended to by Kamitsuke-shi (a doll hair stylist).
Many Paulownia products including chests of drawers and Geta (Japanese sandals) have been produced in Iwatsuki Ward and the surrounding area for a long time. Iwatsuki Ward also used to be a castle town rich with greenery so they had a good source of water which provided the suitable environment for making dolls. Iwatsuki Ward gradually prospered as a town of dolls. Various Japanese dolls including Hina Dolls, Gotatsu Dolls and Ukiyoe Dolls are produced in the area even today.


The history of Iwatsuki Ningyo started in the Edo period. Many artisans visited Iwatsuki as the construction of Nikko Toshogu commenced in 1634. Some of the artisans settled down in Iwatsuki and among them, there were artisans who were skillful at making dolls. As Iwatsuki was blessed with an environment suitable for making dolls, its name as a town of dolls evolved naturally. The technique called Tosogashira using Toso (Paulownia sawdust) developed as a result of the environment suitable for making dolls. Tosogashira is still being used as of today.
Hiina Asobi (playing with dolls) was introduced to Edo from Kyoto and this contributed to the development of Iwatsuki’s success as a town of dolls. Hiina Asobi was very popular in Edo at that time and even Kazuko Tokugawa (a granddaughter of Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa) gave dolls as gifts when she went to Kyoto to enter into the Imperial Court in 1626. Hina Ichi (doll market) and Hina Uri (doll merchants) increased so much that Iwatsuki was even drawn in the Edo Meisho Zue (an illustrated guide describing famous places and depicting their scenery in pre-1868 Tokyo). Hiina Asobi was gradually connected to Joshi no Harai (rituals of March 3rd) and the current Hina Festival was started.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Kashira Zokuri (Production of head) Clay called Toso is put into a mold and dried to make the base of the doll’s head. Paulownia sawdust is mixed and kneaded with fresh wheat gluten glue to make Toso. It is also used to make the body of Kimekomi Ningyo (Japanese wooden doll).
    When the head is dry, the next process starts. If it is an Isho Ningyo (costume doll), Me-ire (inserting eyes) has to be done. The eyes are not painted for Isho Ningyo so the parts for eyes are fitted on the doll.
    When the eyes are completed, the process of making the face starts. Kofun (powder used for painting called whitewash) and Nikawa (glue) are used for the first coating and after that the nose and lips are made using a technique called Okiage (a relief work technique). The second and the final coating are applied after curving the nose and the lips using a small knife. After coating, the face is polished and given an expression by drawing eyebrows, eyelashes, tongue and teeth and applying cheek rouge and lipstick. Finally, the hair is put on the head and after styling the hair, the head is completed.
    Depending on the doll, the eyes may be painted on when the face is made instead of using the eye parts.
  2. 2. Production of Hands and Legs The base for hands and legs are shaped in a mold using Paulownia sawdust clay. The base coating is applied using Kofun (whitewash) and Nikawa (glue) and the curves and details are made using a small knife. Finally, the hands and legs are finished by polishing. Nail polish may be applied, depending on the doll.
  3. 3. Production of Body The production process for the doll’s body varies depending on the type of the doll. The body of Isho Ningyo is made from rice straw wrapped in Japanese paper. Warado refers to this straw body. Warado has to be firmly attached to a foundation and Erimaki (attaching a collar to the doll’s body) is carried out to prepare the neck area. After Erimaki, the hands and the legs are attached. The bases of the hands and the legs are wire so that they can be bent to make a pose and they are shaped with straws. When the body is ready, the doll’s garments are put on. Finally, Kainaori (bending the arms) takes place to make a pose for the doll to be finished. The doll’s garments are all made in exactly the same way as that used for garments for humans. The fabrics used for the doll’s garments are also luxurious and include Nishijinori. The fabrics are lined with Japanese paper to make the fabric firm, so that the shape of the garments is not disturbed.
    Straw is not used for Kimekomi Ningyo. The body base is a molded shape using Paulownia sawdust clay in the same way as the head is made. This technique is called Kamazume. Protruding clay has to be removed using a bamboo spatula. When the body base is completely dry, the texture of the shape has to be smoothed out. Cracks that occurred while the body was being dried and other flaws have to be smoothed out using a bamboo spatula and files. When the surface becomes smooth, Kofun (whitewash) has to be applied. Glue prevents the surface damage and Kofun makes the color of the fabric brighter. When the surface is dry, preparations are made for Kimekomi (the action of squeezing a piece of fabric into the grooves). Grooves are carved using a line engraving chisel into which Kanbaiko (flour made from cooked glutinous rice) is inserted. This line engraving is an important process to give the fabric shape and flow. The Kanbaiko is kneaded with water and put into the grooves. Then the edges of the fabric are squeezed into the grooves using a spatula. The doll’s body for Kimekomi Ningyo is completed when the Kimekomi process is finished. The doll’s pose was made during the Kamazume process so there is no need to do Kainaori.
  4. 4. Making accessories Kodogushi (a craftsman who is skillful at making accessories for dolls) makes small props such as Hiougi (a wooden fan used in court), Shaku (a ritual baton), Kanmuri (a crown) and Tachi (a sword).
  5. 5. Assembling the doll The doll is completed when the head and accessories are attached to the body. The garments and hair are tidied up to produce the finish to the doll.

Where to Buy & More Information

Togyoku Co., Ltd. Iwatsuki Honten

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