Iwatsuki doll

Iwatsuki doll Iwatsuki ningyo

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


What is Iwatsuki doll ?

Iwatsuki doll is a Japanese doll made in the city of Saitama, Iwatsuki ward, Saitama prefecture. The characteristics of Iwatsuki doll are its round face with big eyes that give it an adorable appearance and brilliant colors. The skin of the doll is smooth and beautiful and its hair is shiny like real human hair. The smooth and beautiful skin are created by glue and a kind of pigment made from ground clamshells (kofun in Japanese) and the hair is made from raw silk. Soft raw silk resembling human hair is used and the hair is carefully tended to by a doll hair stylist (called kamitsuke shi in Japanese).
Many paulownia products including chests and a pair of Japanese traditional sandals (geta) have been produced in Iwatsuki ward and its surroundings for a long time. Iwatsuki ward also used to be a castle town blessed with greenery, which possibly produced a good source of water. This was a 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 this area even today.


The history of Iwatsuki dolls started in the Edo period (1603-1868). Many artisans visited Iwatsuki to see the construction of Nikko Toshogu (a shrine registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site) that started in 1634. Some of the artisans settled down in Iwatsuki and among them, there were artisans who were skillful at making dolls. Moreover, Iwatsuki was blessed with an environment suitable for doll making, which evolved inevitably as a town of dolls. Then, this suitable doll making environment resulted in developing a technique called tosogashira using paulownia sawdust that is still used now.
The fact of playing with dolls (called hina asobi in Japanese) was introduced to Edo (ancient name of Tokyo) from Kyoto and contributed to develop the background of Iwatsuki's success as a town of dolls. This was a very popular game in Edo at that time and even Kazuko TOKUGAWA (a granddaughter of the important military director Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, 1607-1678) brought dolls as gifts when she went to Kyoto to enter the Imperial Court in 1626.
Doll markets and doll merchants increased so much that Iwatsuki was even drawn in an illustrated guide describing famous places and depicting their scenery called Edo meisho zue before 1868. The game was gradually related to a purification ritual called Joshi no harai and the current Hina festival (held every 3rd of March) was founded.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Doll head production First of all, the base of the doll head is made using a kind of clay called toso poured into a mold and left to dry. Toso is made of the kneaded mixture of paulownia sawdust and fresh wheat gluten glue. It is also used for making the body of Japanese wooden dolls, called Kimekomi ningyo. The production process depends on the kind of doll and the process introduced here is for a costumed doll.
    The dried base of the doll head for costumed doll receives no painting for the eyes but specific eye parts are fitted instead. After the eyes are carefully fitted, it moves on to the facial parts production. The base coating is applied using a whitewash powder as a pigment with glue. Then the nose and lips are made within a relief work technique called okiage with the help of a small knife to work on details. It is then polished to give it a luster after the second and final layer of coating is applied.
    The process goes on to give facial expressions to the doll by drawing eyebrows, eyelashes, tongue and teeth and applying blush and lipstick. Finally, the hair is put on the head and after styling the hair, the head is complete.
    Depending on the kind of 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 of the hands and legs are shaped in the same procedure as the head production, using paulownia sawdust clay.
    The base coat is applied using a whitewash powder and glue. A small knife is used for working on fine curves and details.
    Finally, the hands and legs are polished. Nail polish may be applied, depending on the doll.
  3. 3. Production of the body The production process for the body varies on the type of doll. The body of a costumed doll is made from rice straw wrapped in Japanese traditional paper washi. This is technically called warado. This warado has to be firmly attached to a foundation and a collar is also attached to the doll body to prepare the neck area. After this, the hands and legs are attached. Wire is used for the base of the hands and legs so that they can be bent to make a pose and they are shaped with straws. When the body is ready, the garments are put on the doll. Finally, the posing for the doll is set and the whole process is complete.
    The doll garments are all made exactly the same way as human clothes. They also use luxurious textiles such as the famous Nishijin brocade. The fabrics are lined with washi to make them firm, so that the shape of the garments is not destroyed.
    Unlikely to the costumed doll, the wooden doll does not use straw. 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. Then, the whitewash is applied when the smooth surface is completed. Glue prevents from damages on the surface and whitewash powder makes the color of the fabric brighter. When the surface is dried, preparations are made for kimekomi which is the action of squeezing a piece of fabric into the grooves. Grooves are carved using a line engraving chisel where kanbai powder is inserted. This powder is flour made from cooked glutinous rice. This line engraving is an important process to give the fabric shape and flow. The kanbai powder is kneaded with water and put into the grooves. Then the edges of the fabric are squeezed into the grooves using a spatula. The body of a wooden doll is complete when the kimekomi process is finished. The posing is made for the doll during the kamazume process so there is no need to bend the arms.
  4. 4. Making accessories A craftsman who is good at making accessories for dolls makes small props such as a wooden fan used in court called hiogi, a ritual baton called shaku, a crown and a sword.
  5. 5. Assembling the doll The doll is complete when the head and accessories are attached to the body. The garments and hair are tidied up to make the doll look perfect.

Where to Buy & More Information

Togyoku Co., Ltd. Iwatsuki Honten

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