Introduction

Traditional Kokeshi: The Families

Traditional Kokeshi - the families

The traditional Kokeshi originated in the early 1800s, in the northern region of Japan known as Tohoku, an area comprised of six prefectures (Ken): Aomori, Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Miyagi, and Fukushima.  Miyagi is thought to be the actual birthplace of the Kokeshi doll, which is now considered the archetypical doll form of Japan. They were created to satisfy the desire of children to have something with which they could play as well as incorporating historical elements that parents wanted to pass on to their children. For a doll reduced to its simplest form, there are a wonderful range of variations on the spherical/cylindrical theme produced by the artists, with very distinctive facial features, head and body shapes, and painted patterns. These variations reflect the styles of the six different prefectures and the ten/eleven families historically associated with the making of the traditional Kokeshi.

Sosaku Kokeshi: The Artists

Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi Artists

The advent of the ‘Sosaku, (Creative), Kokeshi in the first half of the 20th/c, brought a global awareness to, and a renewed appreciation of, the Kokeshi doll. The art of Sosaku, (Creative), and modern Kokeshi doll-making began in the early 1940s, grew and flourished in the 1950s through the 60s, and continued well into the 70s. This 30-plus-year period produced the greatest, most enduring, and the most popular artists of the genre, with many of them gaining international recognition. The mid-50s saw the movement go beyond the few, early craftspersons of the previous decade and explode into a guild of talented wooden doll makers throughout the main island of Japan. Utilizing beautifully-grained woods available to the Kiji-shi, (wood workers), all over Japan’s northern regions, artists from backgrounds as varied as fine arts, lacquerware, painting, photography, textile design, and even chemistry and engineering, began infusing their own personalities into their dolls, allowing for immediate acceptance by a diverse national and international audience.