Miyagi kokeshi doll

Miyagi kokeshi doll Miyagi dento kokeshi

Traditional unique techniques manifest themselves
in the shape and painting of Kokeshi dolls


What is Miyagi kokeshi doll ?

Miyagi Dento Kokeshi refers to wooden dolls which are produced in and around Sendai City and Shiraishi City, Miyagi Prefecture. Categorized by region into five styles such as Naruko kokeshi and Toogatsuta kokeshi, Miyagi Dento Kokeshi gained a national recognition as traditional craft in 1981.
It is characterized by its charm and simple figure with only a head and body. Even with a simplified form, each kokeshi doll is one-of-a-kind featuring the distinctive style and design that represent the region. The kokeshi manufacturing techniques, kokeshi figure and designs were handed down only within a family or from master to student, developing uniqueness in respective styles. There are restrictions on kokeshi production to uphold tradition of each kokeshi type.
Miyagi Dento Kokeshi adopts continuous production carried out by a single artisan, from timber conversion, painting through final finish, allowing the artisan to impart his individuality to kokeshi dolls while observing tradition.


Miyagi kokeshi doll - History

The Hyakumanto Towers (pagodas), where Daranikyo Sutras were stored, were built 1300 years ago during the Nara Period at the wish of Empress Shotoku (her reign was 718 - 770) for national prosperity. The Hyakumanto Towers are reckoned as the oldest kokeshi dolls.
The woodturning techniques were introduced to Omi Province by Imperial Prince Koretaka (his reign was 844 - 897), and eventually trained woodturner (Kijishi) settlements were dotted all over Japan, leading kokeshi dolls to widespread acceptance. During the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573 to 1603), woodturners settled in the Tohoku region and produced kokeshi dolls, which were forerunner of Miyagi Dento Kokeshi.
Of the five styles, Toogatsuta kokeshi is said to have been first produced and have become popular in the Toogatsuta hot spring resort. The woodturners of the mountain villages made wooden livingware such as bowls, ladles and trays to sell to people visiting the hot springs. Meanwhile, they used their woodworking skills to make dolls for children and grandchildren. The dolls began to sell as toys and souvenirs to the hot spring visitors and attracted widespread popularity even among adults as Miyagi Dento Kokeshi dolls in the middle of the Meiji Period.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Kidori (timber conversion) and Arabiki (roughing cut) Miyagi’s five styles of kokeshi dolls accord with respective restrictions on its production with different processes.
    Miyagi Dento Kokeshi mainly uses cornel besides scarlet-tinged ivy. A tree is barked immediately after it is cut down. Dried completely over half year to a year, raw wood is cut to predetermined sizes (tamagiri) and then excess parts of wood are trimmed off (kidori). Arabiki is a process of cutting a wooden piece roughly into a head and body using woodturning.
    Toogatsuta kokeshi, Yajiro kokeshi, and Sakunami kokeshi require a vertical wheel while Naruko kokeshi adopts a lateral wheel.
  2. 2. Finishing the head and trunk This process is of shaving a head and body with a plane separately. With no pencil guidelines or marks, the wooden piece is shaped using woodturning techniques, which requires artisan’s refined, outstanding craftsmanship while feeling with fingertips and visually checking curve lines and thickness. The shaped pieces are polished with scouring rush or sandpaper, and then the body is painted at upper and lower parts on a wheel.
    The shape of the head varies with styles other than oval shape: square-jawed shape for Toogatsuta kokeshi and Yajiro kokeshi and large-headed shape and round shape for Sakunami kokeshi. The shape of the body is also style-designated, which is a cylindrical body with slightly slim in the middle (uchi hando) for Naruko style and a vertical body with sloping shoulders (chokudo) for Toogatsuta style. Hijiori kokeshi style allows a vertical body spreading toward the bottom (susohirogari chokudo) along with a vertical body with sloping shoulders.
  3. 3. Inserting the head into the body Naruko kokeshi uses friction produced from the body spinning on the wheel when inserting the head into the body. A phenomenon is called “gatako" in which smoke comes out caused by frictional heat and a squeaking noise is made when the head is pushed in one stroke, defining the head insertion technique in Naruko kokeshi. Toogatsuta kokeshi and Yajiro kokeshi employ the techniques called “sashikomi" or “hamekomi" to insert the head to the body.
  4. 4. Painting Kokeshi dolls are painted with ink or dyes that are specified depending on parts: black for a face and hair, and red and blue (green) for a wheel-carved pattern and kimono pattern.
    The rigid rules are followed respectively for painting the head and body. Kimono patterns for Naruko kokeshi are a floral design of chrysanthemum, tree peony, iris or pinks (nadeshiko) or a wheel-carved pattern, while those for Toogatsuta kokeshi are a floral design of chrysanthemum, Japanese plum, tree peony or cherry blossoms, or a collar, wood grain or wheel-carved pattern. Yajiro kokeshi prefers a wheel-carved pattern, chrysanthemum, butterfly or knotting string for its kimono patterns.
    Artisans with characteristics deliver different resonance in painting even in the same kokeshi style.
  5. 5. Wax finishing Kokeshi dolls require wax finishes with plant-derived wax or white beeswax. Covered with a layer of wax, the painted kokeshi doll is wax-finished.
    Wax finishing is essential to emphasize the grain of cornel maximizing the beauty of the wood to apply a resonant finish.

Where to Buy & More Information

Zao Dento Sangyo Kaikan

Zao Dento Sangyo Kaikan

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