Dolls in this country are something that young girls play with, but in Japan dolls are usually more than playthings. In fact, they are usually played with on very rare occasions, if at all.
What the words “Japanese doll” usually describe a valuable piece of craft art which may have taken a craftsman several months to make and when completed are placed in protective glass cases. Such dolls are usually clothed in silk or silk brocade and are seen as being so elegant that possessing them may bring some degree of prestige to the owner, viewing the person or family as being somewhat well-to-do or a person or family possessing a level of refinement.
The most popular dolls are kimono clad women representing traditional Japan, Kabuki actors, geisha in colorful kimonos and emperor and empress dolls. While these style dolls are the most popular there are several other very nice kinds of dolls made of porcelain, clay, wood and other materials. One beautiful and very popular type clay doll is usually called a Hakata doll because of where it’s made – Hakata, the name of the area around the train station in the city of Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu.
These dolls range in size from a few inches to around 18 inches in height and there are many styles such as warriors, fishermen, sumo wrestlers, baseball players, geishas and many others.
There are several other makers of clay or wood dolls with long histories such as Fushimi, Gosho and Kimekomi all made in Kyoto. Fushimi dolls made in the Fushimi Ward of Kyoto are small clay figures often of the twelve animals of the Japanese zodiac calendar, less lifelike, always smiling children of members of the Imperial court, and images of the gods that stand guard at the entrances of temples and shrines.
Because the Gosho dolls have been made near the Kyoto Imperial Palace, referred to as Kyoto Gosho by most in Japan, for more than 150 years most of the dolls are small with round smiling faces representing people affiliated with the old Imperial court.
Kimekomi dolls were first made by a priest at Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto in the mid-1800s. The clay dolls are mostly child-like figures but with very elaborate silk brocade kimonos. During the occupation years following WW II Japanese dolls were very popular gifts or souvenirs for Westerners but sometimes were not viewed with the same level of respect as a Japanese person would have shown them. Doll making continues to be a viable profession today. About 20 years ago there were two sisters from Kameoka who came to OSU via the former OSU-K program. After graduation they started a somewhat different doll-making company – a make-your-doll approach somewhat like make a bear and they have been quite successful.
If Kayo and I were living in Japan we might be viewed as being more prosperous or refined because of the Japanese dolls in our Japanese room.
There are two geisha dolls, two kabuki actor dolls, an emperor and empress doll set, a Kimekomi doll dressed in a silk brocade kimono, a Hakata doll which is a young boy with a big fish, an elderly couple set, a small porcelain set of emperor and empress dolls with several other dolls in a set for display on Girl’s Day and several other smaller dolls, but here they’re just dolls.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.