Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi

Vintage Japanese Sosaku Kokeshi entitled: “Akatonbo | Red Dragonfly” by Ishihara, Hideo

Ishihara, Hideo

Age:Early, 1960s

Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 21-1/2'h

We have held onto this unique and unusual Kokeshi since it was purchased in 1980, from a Japanese dealer in Osaka who was originally from Tokyo and represented Ishihara and his work. This is one of the first and largest Sosaku Kokeshi produced by Ishihara-san after he discontinued making traditional Narugo Kokeshi in 1957. The reason we have not listed it to date is that the doll has damage to the head from its original production, which is made from one piece of Beechwood, (Buna-zai). Most collectors would not look at this doll because of its condition, but we understood its “historical significance during a time when Japan was going through great changes in everyday fashion and hairstyles”. The doll has beautiful hand drawings based on the time, incorporating a nature motif that is truly loved by the Japanese people. It is an exceptional accomplishment in both style, decoration, and size, for the time it was created.

It is not unusual to see the dragonfly, (Tonbo), used as a central motif, but because of the wonderful painting representing a kimono, and is very unusual and unique among Kokeshi. Additionally, the use of the European “mage” hair design, reflecting a Western hairstyle fashionable at the time, makes this piece a lovely doll to be treasured. 

Ishihara-san’s dolls are based on many motifs, both found in nature and in textile design. Here, the dragonflies symbolize ‘martial success’, courage, strength, and happiness. As a seasonal symbol, the dragonfly is also associated with late summer and early autumn and is celebrated at numerous festivals throughout Japan. As with this doll, Ishihara-san illustrates a unique kimono style in both painted form and lathe-turned carving, and utilizes simple graphic treatment to emphasize the strong character of the doll. He brings out the true nature of the wood material through manipulation and artistic finishing of the body. Also, his treatment of the suggestion of an Obi is unique, for it is only a visual division of space between the upper and lower portions of the garment. Finally, the Japanese people regulate their behavior and response by reading faces and the eyes of others, for which Ishihara-san used a ‘one-stroke eye’, (Hitofude-me), to give it a serene quality. He received more than 60 awards for his Sosaku Kokeshi, including the Prime Minister’s Award, an award of the highest honor, for this doll. In 30 years we have yet to see another. NOTE: The last image is from an exhibit brochure from the Japanese Business Alliance showing the introduction of Sosaku Kokeshi and winners of the Prime Minister's Awards to interested people in the United States.

Condition: Good, “as is” and in displayable condition. This shows that the face of the doll had to be stabilized to secure a shallow crack that happened by using “uncured” wood that was not dried before it was lathe-turned. Many woodworkers learned to turn green wood into unusual shapes like this doll but eventually found that the wood probably contained too much moisture and later dried and cracked. Most traditional versions of Kokeshi were made from recycled wood because they embodied the Japanese indispensable concept of “mottainai”, meaning not to waste. Fortunately, the crack stabilized itself and has not progressed since its making. Even though it shows visible repair, as educators and researchers, we purchased the piece with imperfections to preserve its historical significance, and because it was important to transmit the past to future generations, and to record a full scope of the work of masters like Ishihara-san, with works from the beginning of his career.

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Artisan | Woodworker: Ishihara, Hideo | 1925 - 1999


Ishihara-san, born in Tokyo in 1925 was a highly influential Sosaku Kokeshi artist and began his career by making Traditional Narugo dolls in 1957. His grandfather was the famous artist Onuma Iwatao, of Narugo Onsen, Miyagi, and creator of the "Naruko Kokeshi". After graduating from University, Ishihara-san was under medical care for more than ten years, during which time he studied painting. Upon recovering from his illness, he began making Sosaku Kokeshi, and in a ten-year period (1959-1969), he received more than sixty awards, including the highest honor, the Prime Minister’s Award. He was introduced to the twenty-three countries in Europe and America by NHK. He has sponsored 30 exhibitions in Japan including those at Matsuzakaya Nagoya and Ginza, and four exhibitions in overseas countries. He was one of the founders of the Nippon Kokeshi Artistic Handicraft Association.

Collector's note – descriptive qualities, standard characteristics & ornamentation styles:

Ishihara-san’s dolls are based on many motifs found in nature and textile design. He loves portraying both young and old characters with differing hairstyles, (traditional and 1950s era). He illustrates numerous kimono styles in both painted form and carving and utilizes simple graphic treatment to emphasize the strong character of his dolls, which bring out the true nature of the wood materials through manipulation of the turned and carved wood. His dolls are always finished in a simple wax coating. It is also not unusual to see him utilize sumi-e’ drawing of faces that have both the ‘one-stroke eye’, (Hitofude-me), as well as a variation of traditional doll eye treatments.

Artist's signature:

Customer Reviews

One of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years

I recently purchased one of the most beautiful pieces I have purchased in over 10 years. The information you provided was excellent, the piece is in mint condition as advertised, with a subject matter I did not have in my collection.

— dbl

Delightful and well written book

Just downloaded my ebook on Sosaku Kokeshi. Excellent and so excited to see that you transposed the hardbound version. Exceptional large color images with great descriptions and details. It is so nice to have a copy I can carry when touring and when I am on-line shopping for Kokeshi. Also nice not to have to pay for international shipping.

— Author's name

A great doll

As always, a carefully packed order arrived this morning. This Sosaku Kokeshi – Takeda, Nori Aki Kaze is a great doll. Her large attractive head and maple leaf pattern, along with the vibrant colour make this doll very intriguing. Another copy of your new book that I have ordered for my friend will be a great Christmas Present for him. Much appreciated. I have also enjoyed furthering my knowledge of Japanese Antiques and Collectibles through your website.

— Kathy

You did the subject justice

Vintage Kokeshi and its history is absolutely a topic thats close to my heart, so Im pleased that you wrote about it. Im also happy that you did the subject justice bringing the history of these creative artifacts to light. Not only do you know a great deal about it, you know the way to present the subject in a way that individuals will wish to read far more. Im so happy to know a person/site like you exists on the internet. I understand you are writing a book on Sosaku Kokeshi artists. That will be high on my list for there is nothing in English on the subject, and I am worried that the craftsmen and their creations will be lost as Japan becomes more western in attitude. Doomo arigato gozaimasu from Japan.

— Misugi

Truly opened my eyes

I recently purchased your book on Kokeshi and what a find after collecting for over 10 years with no information to base my purchases on. Now I have YOUR ILLUSTRATIVE BOOK and it has truly opened my eyes. All the associated stories and folk tales give such light to my collection. A curator at the Japanese American National Museum in LA told me about this great resource. Your book happens to be astonishingly precise although I can understand why someone else has not written a book on the subject, because all the artists producing Kokeshi remain obscure and little information available has not been translated. Your book truly did switch the light on for me personally as related to Japanese folk art.

— John G

Detailed textual information & beautiful photographs

We just received your new book, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition. Let us be the first to congratulate you on this superb follow-up to Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan. Your comprehensive text with its notes on the artists and the beautiful photography create a work that any collector of Kokeshi should have if they wish to develop an understanding of and knowledge about this Japanese folk art. We don’t know which is better (Does either have to be better?), the detailed textual information or the beautiful photographs. Both insist upon and rightfully demand spending time to enjoy and appreciate them. Thank you so much for adding to our appreciation of Kokeshi.

— Masakazu & Keiko Ota

Another great Kokeshi book edition

Another great Kokeshi book edition. I was thrilled to see many of the Kokeshi in my collection in your book. I even found a few that I still had not been able to identify, it was nice to finally know the artisans behind my wonderful collection.

— M. Molina

My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to

Whether you are a kokeshi doll collector like I am, or exploring Japanese folk art for the first time, Sosaku Kokeshi – A New Look at an Old Tradition is a wonderful, informative resource for collectors and a lovely visual introduction to Sosaku dolls. I just purchased a copy of the book, and I could not be more pleased! With its beautiful colour photographs, signatures and profiles of the artists along with titles of the dolls, it is a well-researched, comprehensive resource. While some dolls featured in the book were familiar to me, I was also introduced to artists and dolls that I have never seen or heard of before.

These two books have helped me to learn so much more about kokeshi dolls, and influence my thoughts on the process of doll selection. My kokeshi collection has become more focused and personal now that I am able to recognize which dolls I am truly drawn to. These two books have become an extension of and just as much a part of my collection as the dolls that sit on my shelves.

— Karen W.

WONDERFUL exposition.

The artwork on each doll is literally like a unique painting historically recording the Japanese culture. Thank you for your fine work and this educational experience.

— TM

After we purchased the first one, we fell irresistibly in love

We started collecting Kokeshi only a short time ago with the expert guidance of Michael and Robert. Beginning with a goal of three or four dolls for each of our granddaughters, we almost immediately changed our goal after we purchased the first one and fell irresistibly in love with this Japanese folk art.

We have amassed a small collection that we display proudly.

In spite of our limited background and only a little research to support our evaluation, Sosaku Kokeshi: A New Look at an Old Tradition is a magnificent work on the subject of these wooden dolls which make up a segment of the folk arts of Japan. The detailed background materials on the artists and the notes on the dolls can be an invaluable part of one’s collection. The marvelous photography is an excellent complement to the text, as we re-viewed the images many times, envying the owner of each doll.

— Koigirl

I love my new jewelry box!!

Just want to say MAHALO — love my new jewelry box!! I wanted this tobacco box to hold my modest collection of jewelry. I tend to march to the beat of a different drummer most of the time, and I often repurpose items. When I saw this lovely Japanese box you were selling, I thought “bingo!” — perfect!! So, many thanks… and I hope to occasionally purchase an item now and then now that I know about you!

— Kristi

Delightful Kokeshi book

I received your delightful Kokeshi book, and I am very grateful to have discovered this beautiful publication. The photographs are singular elegant portraits. It is wonderful you have included the calligraphy kanji signature of the craftsman, as important as the beautiful painted dolls. Your book gives provenance to my small treasured collection and a guide in my search for more. Exciting to also discover a few of mine already in your book. Many thanks again for gifting this special kokeshi edition and I hope to continue to share the joy.

— Tania

Oh my goodness! She has arrived and she is divine!

She was beautifully packed and arrived safe and sound. She is so gorgeous and I thank you so much for all that you have done along the way. You provide such a professional yet also personable business and it was a delight dealing with you.
Thank you for bringing such gorgeous items to our attention – these Kokeshis are ‘works of art’ and we are lucky to be able to purchase them and bring them into our lives and homes.
I had to send you a photo of her with her new family and I have to say, as you predicted, she fits in beautifully.
I shall keep an eye on your website for further ‘treasures’.

— Karen, the lucky owner of ‘Pigtails’ by Ishihara, Hideo

Mingei Arts can't be beat!

Thank you for your attention and guidance to a new mingei collector. Both your publication and mingei are outstanding, your packing is perfect and shipping prompt.

— Brenda

Really beautiful.

Got the vase over the weekend. Somehow this medium really speaks to me, at least the objects where most everything is in different shades of brown. Very appealing. Yes, too bad I missed out on the ginger jars you had for sale. Ah well, it’s all OK in the universe. And what clever use of materials for safe packing!

— Da-Shih

Shopping through the items in this store is like treasure hunting, without the hunting.

I have several items from Robert & Michael’s collection now and they all hold a special place in my home and warm my heart when I see them. Something about the art from Japan just makes me feel at peace and also comforted.

— Jessie

I could not be happier with my three new Kokeshi

Your time and personal attention was gratefully appreciated. I could not be happier with my three new Kokeshi – I have them displayed where I pass by often so I can stop and look at them – they always bring a smile to my face! They make me HAPPY! I also love your book and eBook. Thank you so much!

— Barb

Opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of an amazing art form

It wasn’t until I got your book that I realized what I had been missing these past years! Now I am totally addicted.

— B

Great spinning top

I purchased a vintage spinning top for a gift, and I absolutely love it! The ordering process was fast and easy, and the item was in the condition described on the website.

— Carmela

Thank you for sending this book to me

It is beautiful, so informative and stunning pictures. Well done to you both for producing this. Any wonder so many people around the world love it. I  will love using it as my reference book. You have both been so lovely to deal with……I look to you both as experts in all things Kokeshi and Japanese art, and look forward to our continued friendship across the world.
🙏🏻🐨💐🥂👘🌎🌏🍱 🥰

— Karen