Northern Japan Traditional Kokeshi Dolls, page 2

(Northern Japan Traditional Kokeshi) 

Variations on a Theme

Article by Shirlee Funk
Ningyo Journal, Early Winter 2003

Copyright J.A.D.E. (Japanese Asian Doll Enthusiasts)


...continued from page 1

At Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, a branch of Narugo style was born. The Ginzan Onsen kokeshihave a very similar shape to other Narugo, but are made from one piece of wood, so they have no squeaking neck joint. Instead, they have a definite neck and a unique face. Painted with wide open eyes, they look more ingenue than other Narugo. They have thick bobbed hair, with an open spot at the top and no other hair ornaments. The bodies are painted with naturally styled daisy-like chrysanthemums.

Somehow, the Ginzan Onsen kokeshi have also come to be associated with a girl named Oshin from a television show. She was the heroine of a drama about a silver mining community. This show was popular with the public, and some contend that this kokeshi was created in her honor.

Another creation of the Narugo kiji-shi was the seated version, called nemariko. This is the shape used by kiji-ya who have created the very rare hina dento kokeshi sets where the hina figures are meant to be seated.

Nemariko figures are somewhat bell-shaped and short, not unlike the wooden ejikofigures, (see p. 17) except that nemariko are tapered at the shoulder. The heads are painted like miniature versions of larger kokeshi, and the bodies are painted with simplified motifs like those used on standing kokeshi: one maple leaf or flower, for instance.

Nanbu-kei & Hanamaki style
Also called Nanbu-Hanamaki strain 

Produced at Hanamaki-shi, Morioka-shi, Miyako-shi

At first glance, some of these kokeshi look like Togatta kokesi. But the earliest ones were very different Called kina-kina, they were pacifiers for babies. Unpainted, with satin smooth surfaces, they were generally small, for the chubby hands of babies to grasp. Several shapes of kina-kinacontinue to be made, now in somewhat larger sizes. These have been called Kikuriooko, or, "Child of Wood." Some have loose neck joints, so the heads are wobbly, not unlike a small baby.

Gradually, some Nanbu kokeshi have had a bit of paint added, while retaining the shape of the kina-kina figures. Such Nanbu have simple painted faces, and may have color caps on their heads, and just a few simple lines of decoration on the body. The rest is left unpainted.

A few other styles of Nanbu have also developed, but are not common. Some have been made with peonies painted on the body, and circular lines. A very few are made with a slightly tapered body and a stationary head. These have painted kasanegiku, in stylized patterns.

At the same spa, Hanamaki Onsen, painted kokeshi developed, too, with influence from the Togatta and Narugo styles. Most Hanamaki style kokeshi have bodies similar to the Narugo shape. Nearly all are made with a snap-on head that is not tightly fitted, so that it is loose in the socket. Thus, these are the only dento kokeshi which are "nodders." Heads are nearly spherical, with a black janome ring painted on top.These have a few red "petal" streaks painted straight back from the side tufts of hair, reminiscent of the Togatta style.

Focus on details: Nanbu

 Basic kina-kina shapes - C.Mayer coll.

Artist's inscription on lower back.

Hanamaki strain left, with kasanegiku (layered chrysanthemum) design. Three Nanbu on right

Kina-kina shape with spare painting

Left: the outer two kokesi from above in a side view  Right: the janome circle on top of the heads. Funk collection.

An insert included with a Hanamaki kokeshi said: "Origin of the Hanamaki Kokeshi DolI-- The Hanamaki Kokeshi doll was first created by woodworkers located in the mountains of the Tohoku region of Japan, particularly close to the city of Hanamaki. They saw an opportunity to begin selling the dolls to many visitors of the surrounding natural hot spring resorts. The original Nanbu Kokeshi doll which was made by these craftsmen at the time had the characteristic of a head that swiveled. Furthermore, the doll was often used as a type of pacifier for children. Particular to the Hanamaki area, the name'Kikuriboko', or, 'Child of Wood' was often used to refer to this particular doll. The style and shape of the Kokeshi of today is much different than the original Kokeshi doll. For instance, the original Kokeshi doll was only about 4-7 inches high and was the color of plain wood. The Kokeshi of modem times now averages a standing height of anywhere from 6-20 inches. In addition, the Kokeshi are now decorated and painted in an array of fabulous colors for the purpose of display."

Tsuchiyu-kei -- Nakanosawa style & Sabako style

Produced at Tsuchiyu Onsen, Nakanosawa Onsen, etc.

Many kiji-ya use the rokura moyo technique to paint lines and bands around the circumference of their kokeshi. Some Tôgatta craftsmen even decorate the whole body with circular bands in varying colors. The craftsmen who have taken the technique of painting the body while still on the lathe to an extraordinary level are those of the Tsuchiyu-kei, who use a technique called kaeshi rokura or "reverse turning" to paint lines that spiral slightly, or reverse direction to double-back. This skillful, artistic lathe-painting is the hallmark of the Tsuchiyu style.

It used to be that only simple black lines were used on the bodies. An increasing number of colors were added, along with an increasing variety of lines and thickness of lines. Patterns of flowers and abstract patterns began to be interspersed with the lines. Sometimes zig-zag colored lines are painted over top the rokura lines. Craftsmen also use the slight bleeding of the color into the wood as a part of the aesthetic affect. This bleeding, which varies with the thinness of the paint, and the absorption of the wood, softens the color and gives a more rustic character to the figure.

Most Tsuchiyu bodies are slender, tapering toward the top, though some have a wide base and a fattened middle. Heads are oval or rounded, often wider than the body, which tapers into the gooseneck joint.

Most heads are topped with a wide ring, or concentric rings of black, though sometimes the rings are painted green or purple. The center is not painted, making a snake's eye, or janome top. The hair is painted in bangs and side tufts, with patterns of red curving lines in between, called kess. A variety of double-lid eyes may be used, including a special slanted one called kujira-me, or whale's eye. Most noses are maru-bana (round nose,) tare-bana (drooping nose,) or naga-bana (long nose.)

Production of kokeshi in the Tsuchiyu style probably began in the 1840s, with the work of Sakuma Kamegoro, a kiji-shi who had made various wood items for visitors to the Tsuchiyu Onsen. Such items had not been painted, but on a visit to the Ise Shrine, he was inspired by painted items for sale there, and took home the idea, which he used in making his kokeshi. His grandson developed the Tsuchiyu style as it is now used.

Across a mountain pass from Tsuchiyu Onsen is Nakanosawa. Dancer Iwamoto Zenkichi, who settled there in the 1920s, created a rather shocking kokeshi based on a papier mache dance figure he had used in performance. Before long, people became interested in this striking, odd style of kokeshi, and humorously nicknamed it Taka Bozo (octopus with a shaven monk's head.) His son, Iwamoto Yoshizô, carried on production after his father's early death, but he also died young. A group of craftsmen who were charmed by this very unusual kokeshi founded the Taka Bozo-kei to carry on the Nakanosawa style, which is also called the Zenkichi type, after the creator.

Nakanosawa style figures are indeed very striking. They have enlarged surprised eyes, called bikkuri-me, and also a flared nose called shishi-bana: lion's nose. The most distinctive aspect is the circle of pink blush that surrounds the eyes on most newer kokeshi. Some say this was inspired by ukiyo-e prints. The blush ranges from a delicate pink to a cherry red.

The big heads of Nakanosawa are usually topped by janome rings. The bodies may be painted in several ways, somewhat like other Tsuchiyu, with various rakura lines. Some are dominated by lush, open peony blooms, or other flowers. Gossip said that the bold peonies that Zenkichi first painted on these kokeshi were taken from tattoo patterns used by geisha.

Focus on details: Tsuchiy 

Variety of stripes & body designs. C. Mayer collection.

Typical face: janome circle on top head, kase on either side of bangs, a variety of kujira-me and naga-bana.

Body painted in kaeshi rokura stripes.

Color bleeding of stripes.

Variety of body stripes with an interspersed flower.

For Nakanosawa style

Bikkuri-me (surprised-eye) surrounded by dark pink blush. Shishi-bana 
(lion nose.) - CM

Peony design on body -CM

Back of two Naka-nosawa. Note the single hair tuft.

PLEASE NOTE: For all of these details --be aware that there are often exceptions. Hopefully with this information, though, you can start to find key characterizations that will help your awareness and interest grow.


Produced in Kijiyama, Inagawa-machi, and elsewhere

Kiji-ya are the wood-craftsmen who first produced kokeshi as a sideline. Some of these men lived far in the mountains, yama, the source for their wood. Thus, the name Kijiyama might be translated as "wood-craft mountain." The actual location of Kijiyama is so remote that it was inaccessible in the harsh winter months. Many of the kokeshi makers left and settled in the less remote area of Kawazura, now part of Inagawa-machi. Some suggest that the dignified, lonely look on the faces of Kijiyama kokeshi reflects the lonesome past of their birthplace.

In spite of the slightly sad look some of these kokeshi have, they are very appealing, and sought after for their well-defined style. They wear kimono in several distinctive patterns, and are one of the less common strains found.

All of them now are turned in one piece, though the early ones were made with jointed head and body. The heads tend to be slightly elongated and the bodies are columnar, tapered at the shoulders to a definite neck. The heads are about the same width as the body. Some Kijiyama have bobbed hair styles, others have side tufts and bangs, with a red bow tied at the top. The eyes may be halfmoon shaped or narrower, usually with small neko-bana noses. Lips are a small black line with a red dot below. This simple face looks more generic than some other styles.

This strain is painted in the most realistic style of all the dento kokeshi. Most Kijiyama girls wear painted kimono in red and black with light touches of green. Three styles of kimono predominate, most with the long sleeves of girl-hood. The striped kimono is painted with a matching striped obi. Another popular kimono style has a maedare, or apron design, outlined in front, painted with a kasuri pattern called igata. Umebachi, or bowl-shaped plum blossoms are painted on the front of the third kimono style, with stripes painted down the top and shoulders. Other styles of kimono are painted with flower motifs, such as chrysanthemums. Some older ones are styled with a high-waists and V-necks, without sleeves outlines.

The kimono style of body painting is not the oldest kind of Kijiyama made. The first Kijiyama kokeshi, made near the end of the Meiji period, were modeled on Narugo kokeshl. Some modern Kijiyama-kei are stiil painted with stylized chrysanthemums, somewhat like Narugo, but without the shoulders on the body and without the painted rings. Instead, the flowered Kijiyama have an understated air, and a sense that the body is simply a circular canvas for the artist to paint lovely, flowing flower blooms in red and green. These may also be palnted on the back, with a stylized plum blossom. For those painted without a full bobbed hairstyle, the back of the head is almost bare --except for a small tuft of black above the nape of the neck.

The first kimono-style Kijiyama was painted by a craftsman in the early Showa period. This set the distinctive style for this family of kokeshi, but it also may have set the stage for the proliferatlon of modern kokeshi after the war, since elaborately painted, life-like, colorful kimono became the hallmark of kindai kokeshi.

Focus on details: Kijiyama

Kijiyama are said to have sad faces. Here are typical features, including half moon eyes, right. Also simple lips and bobbed hair or side hair tufts.

Side view: the bobbed hair is "shingled" in the back.

Rear view. The small one in the middle with the stylized plum design has the chrysanthemum painted on front. Note the nape hair tuft. The other two are signed on back.

Artful chrysanthemum used on small Kijiyama, a remnant of Narugo influence.

Three styles of kimono used on many Kijiyama. Left to right: Maedare (apron) with kasuri design, striped kimono, and one with umebachi (plum) apron. Right photo: C Mayer.

Hijiori-kei kokeshi

This style range is smaller. Shusuke style, on the left, is considered the emblematic style.
Left photo, Funk collection. Right photo, Charles Mayer collection.

PLEASE NOTE: In all instances, all kokeshi are straight, symmetric, and stand vertically. Some pictures show distortion caused by close shots taken with a wide-angle lens.
Charles Mayer collection Bailey coll.

Kijiyama-kei kokeshi

Some of the variety of Kijiyama, including the range of maedare styles.

Left: Funk Collection

Zaô-kei kokeshi
Below: The range of Zaô designs. including an ejika, center, 
and two Atsumi style (3rd & 4th from right.)

Charles Mayer collection

Tsugaru-kei kokeshi
Below: Third from left is the Owani style.

Yamagata-kei kokeshi
Below: Black & gray kokeshi
(like using sumi ink) add "color"
to any collection.

Charles Mayer collection Funk collection Charles Mayer collection

Sakunami-kei kokeshi

Below left: The two in the left are older: it shows in the darkening wood, and the fading green paint.
Below center: Even with the wider, base, these are top-heavy pieces. 
Below Right: Kokeshi on the right is very white mizuki, the palest in the Funk collection. On the body, the green is bright green. Purple was also used.

Charles Mayer collection Private collection
Funk collection

Nemariko kokeshi
These are all Narugo-kei.
Charles Mayer collection

Ejiko kokeshi
These are all Tôgatta-kei. 
Charles Mayer collection.

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