A popular iconic symbol of Japan is the Kokeshi. A simple wooden human form sculpture consisting of a cylinder body and a globular head. This simple design fits squarely within the design aesthetic of the 20th century. Kokeshi started to be made in the 19th century by farmers in the Tohoku region of Northern Japan as a winter pastime. Originally, the creation of wood dolls turned on a lathe and painted, were created as play objects for the children of the village. This folk art from the heart of the Mingei region of Japan where most of the Japanese hot springs (onsen) are located, became widely collected in the 20th century. With the ease of travel by rail and car, the onsen became major tourist destinations. The wooden dolls became souvenirs of enjoyable and memorable trips. Kokeshi became so popular that other regions of Japan started to develop their own Kokeshi style, as well.

Today one can collect these wonderful treasures of wood artistry in a variety of forms. They are divided into two types: Dento Kokeshi are the original types produced by the ten families of Kokeshi production. The other type, Sosaku Kokeshi, reflect individual interpretations of the art form. Museums and competitions exist in Japan just on the topic of Kokeshi alone. Collections have been formed abroad in the post war era from savvy travelers and interested foreigners having resided in Japan. A special thanks to Etsuko Tazawa in identifying these forms and for translating the signatures. Also a big "Thank You" to Shirlee Funk for permission to post her marvelous extensive article from the Winter 2003 issue of the Ningyo Journal on Dento Kokeshi, a Japanese Asian Doll Enthusiasts publication. Please enjoy the selection presented here.

For further reading on this subject, please go to the article posted on-line:

Northern Japan Traditional Kokeshi, Ningyo Journal Winter 2003, J.A.D.E., by Shirlee Funk.

Kokeshi Ningyo