Condition: Excellent

Kobe Ningyo Mechanical doll | Antique Watermelon Eater illustrating an Eating & Chopping Movement | Japanese Koobe ningyoo | 1930s

‘Kobe Dolls’ is the name given to mechanical wooden dolls that are unique to Kobe, Japan; they were once as well-known as its harbor, and were popular from the mid-Meiji era, (1890), on, and sold at souvenir shops and where-ever tourists gathered. Their funny movements and jocular facial expressions attracted the attention of Kobekko and tourists in the 1940s & 1950s.

This particular piece is from Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, where Kobe dolls are renowned for being bizarre but cute, (“kimokawa”), and often represent otherworldly spirits.  As with most Kobe toys and this mechanized doll, the figure shows a bald head and wide-open eyes that are spaced far apart. The eating figure has standard mechanical arms supporting the eating function, and typical but unusually long neck supporting the head. The majority of the Kobe Ningyo are characterized with a certain activity, such as eating a watermelon, fish, or drinking alcohol. “This is a toy that presented Japanese culture overseas when Japan opened its islands to travelers world-wide. Material: Natural wood with hand-painted mellon and tongue of character. Full working mechanism. Condition: Excellent as originally made. Dimensions: 2-0”w x 3-1/4”l x 4-0”h.

Additional Information —

The sometimes-referred-to as a creepy mechanical doll is said to have begun during the Meiji Era, (1868-1912), but went into decline after the Great Hanshin Earthquake devastated the port city of Kobe in 1995. Hyakkido Noguchi is believed to be the first to make mechanical dolls, the following Kobe contemporaries supported its development: Fusamatsu Desaki is also famous for his creations; while Masatsu Kazuoka was a leading artist in the field after the end of World War II. Tashiro Oda is said to have expanded sales of the doll overseas.

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