Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi
Antique RARE Japanese “Pre-Kindai” Kokeshi from Aomori Prefecture
Descriptive qualities& condition:
Dimensions: 14-1/2”h; 8-1/2”h
In spite of the popularity of Traditional and Sosaku Kokeshi today, there is no definite answer to the origin of Kokeshi, which were thought to have been conceived by farmers and lumbermen, who were making wooden dolls made from left-over scraps of wood. This type of doll is referred to as Pre-Kokeshi, so to speak, and created for religious purposes, and before Kokeshi wood craftsmen, (Kijishi) developed the doll into collectible children’s toys.
In the region, (Aomori) and where these pieces were created, such figures were used in conjunction with folk religion during this period, in which people worshiped a God called “Oshirasama”. Oshirasama dolls during this period were both hand-carved or lathe-turned from a piece of wood about a foot long with hand-painted human faces and simulated hair drawn on a simple head. In some instances, they were covered with a piece of cloth and worshipped in many homes as a God that protects their houses from evil (see image #4). This doll is grayer in overall coloration, with little ornamentation on the figure. When a motif is incorporated, as shown here, the drawings are quite simple and understated. This doll-form later developed into what we now know as Kokeshi, which were first made a little more than 100 years ago.
These two “Pre-Kindai kokeshi” dolls being offered represent a Mother and Child; are lathe-turned from one solid piece of wood; and consist of only two parts — a spherical head with small eyes (Futae-Mabuta), a nose, (Neko-Bana), and an expressive mouth, with suggested bangs and side hair fringes, suspended by a neck on a slender, undulating, lathe-turned body. The ornamentation used on the body is minimal and unidentified. Additionally, in some villages, these dolls were used as a protector of the home and agriculture and in this case were made by a farmer/doll carver, and not identified with any of the Traditional family types.
The simple facial drawings are identified as Suiboku-ga, later called Sumi-e, Japanese black ink painting used to create some of many of the first folk art pieces such as handmade wooden dolls, and used in this case to draw both doll’s facial features. Ink from this period was called Bokuju, a liquid carbon black ink, introduced in 1898. Bokuju was mixed soot from burnt pinewood and water which is why the face details on these two dolls remain very clear and unfaded. Plant-based ink was used for the body decoration on both dolls and has deteriorated over time.
The pair show the natural, minimally-ornamented wood grain to bring out the simplistic design, wood tone, shape, and simplicity. The facial features were made before the craft was called Kokeshi, and before they became a collector's item for the Japanese general public or tourists, and prior to the craft being promoted by the Japanese craftwork industry. The pieces are unsigned for the maker was not necessary to be identified, for they were made for the family, and at the time signing was not in fashion.
Condition: Very good condition and commensurate with age showing a few shallow scars and fading of the motifs incorporated into the body of each piece. None of which detract from the beauty of the dolls.
NOTE: A tutelary, (protector or guardian) of the home (ie no kami) found throughout Japan's northeastern region is referred to as Oshirabotoke ("the Oshira Buddha"). Although Oshirasama is also commonly viewed as a tutelary of agriculture. little agreement has been reached regarding the etymology of the name Oshira and the Kami's specific characteristics. The object of Oshirasama design generally consists of a 12” long piece of wood, with minimally detailed faces carved or painted in black ink. The figure is then clothed in layers of cloth called Osendaku which are added to, each year. Many old families for which women play the central role, enshrine Oshirasama on a Kamidana, or in the alcove of a main room. Some say these were the predecessors of a doll later identified as Kokeshi and which served a very different function, (child’s toy).
Reviews & Comments
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
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. 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
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. I was especially thrilled to discover the extensive Sosaku artist directory included at the back of the book. As a collector, Sosaku Kokeshi – A New Look at an Old Tradition and Kokeshi – Wooden Treasures of Japan have helped me to appreciate and understand my current doll collection on a whole new level. I first began collecting kokeshi in the mid 1980’s, when I bought three dolls from neighbours and long-time friends who were moving back to Japan. For a long time, I simply admired and enjoyed the dolls for their beauty without thinking any further. Years passed, and my collection grew a little more when I spent two years teaching and living in Japan. There was a turning point when I started to wonder, what is the story of each doll? Suddenly it wasn’t enough to just enjoy them; I wanted to understand them. 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. Although there are many kokeshi that I may never personally own, each time I open the books, I get to experience them. In that way, 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.
Thank you mingeiarts for sending me your recently published book on Creative Kokeshi. This is a wonderful collectors resource with loads of background and information. Last week I also received the kokeshi doll by Kobayashi that I ordered from your website. This wonderful doll now takes pride of place in our collection. As always your attention to detail and customer service is first rate.
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. The tour of Japan and the stunning images are marvellous. Looking forward to my next adventure with Mingei Arts.
“I came across this announcement on PBS/OPB and was quite curious about the subject and visited the exhibit:
“The art of Kokeshi doll making began in the Early 1800s, and flourished in the late 1950s, through the 60s as Creative (Sosaku) dolls. This period produced the greatest, most enduring and popular artists of the genre, with many craftsmen gaining international recognition, which has followed these prolific pioneers into the 21st Century. The late 1950s saw the movement go beyond the smaller, colorful bobble-head dolls so popular with westerners during the 1940s-early 50s, with the artists utilizing the various beautifully-grained woods available to wood workers, (kiji-shi), in many areas throughout Japan. While a number of these Sosaku Kokeshi makers trained under ‘Traditional’, (Dento), mentors/masters in the Tohoku region, (the birthplace of Kokeshi), their dolls show exciting imagination, as many of the artists came from a variety of artistic backgrounds including painting and photography. This allowed for immediate acceptance by the public, for the dolls were considered unique works of art. The dolls are larger and more elegant, and in many cases, the different woods comprised the clothing and hair treatments, with the incorporation of different methods of carving and painting techniques. Today, Sosaku Kokeshi dolls are more popular than ever, supporting the transnational and transmedia movement of Anime and toy design seen throughout the world”. What an exceptional and inspiring exhibition. You’ve made my day! Thx again!”
WONDERFUL exposition. The Sosaku Kokeshi of artist-made wooden dolls and toys is exceptional. We found the pieces and the research associated with the various craftsmen extremely helpful. Josephine Bridges article on “Dignified dolls,” in the Asian Reporter was a great compliment to the exhibit and this extensive collection. We’ve only seen the traditional kokeshi and had no idea that Japanese Creative artisans made such individual artistic pieces. 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.
In this grand scheme of things you’ll get an “A” with regard to your research and associated folk art. The Shiwan ware I recently purchased is 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. In all the years I have been traveling to China this was a treasure to find. Should you ever find a book in English on the subject of Shiwan history, lore and legend please contact me for we would love to have a reference in Chaminade’s design library. There are only a few books in China, always in Chinese, and unaffordable.
We are not passionate collectors of Kokeshi; we are collectors with some passion. We are not long-time collectors of these wooden dolls; we are collectors who hope to be collecting for some time and when finished, hope to pass on this love to our granddaughters. Actually, 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. In summary, collectors of Kokeshi who wish to expand their knowledge on this subject would do well to add Sosaku Kokeshi as well as its predecessor, Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan, both rare on this subject, to their collection of dolls.
Hi, Mingeiarts! Just want to say MAHALO — love my new jewelry box!! Yes, you read that right: 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
I received your delightful Kokeshi book, and I am very grateful to have discovered this beautiful publication. I love the artistic publishing format and the washi paper. 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. Kokeshi: Wooden Treasures of Japan is a reference that 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.
I hope that you guys are well! big hug to you both.
– Martha Lynn
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’.
The lucky owner of ‘Pigtails’ by Ishihara, Hideo
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.
MINGEI ARTS CAN’T BE BEAT!
Got the vase over the weekend. Really beautiful. 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!
You sure did make my day!!! I received the book and have been immersed in it. Thank you again! When I got the book out of the envelope, I turned the book to the back side and opened it up and let it open to where ever it wanted, and it opened to my ALL TIME favorite artist, Sanpei Yamanaka. Talk about serendipity. I loved that you have several of his kokeshi in the book. I know this is weird, but since I was little, when I get a new book, I go to the back and open it to quickly look through it. But to have it open to Sanpei Yamanaka, … it was great. Thank you so much for such a generous thing you have done in creating the book, and I truly appreciate it.
– Mary Beth
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. Shopping through the items in this store is like treasure hunting, without the hunting.
I want to thank Robert for making my first order with Mingei Arts so special. 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 Scelza
Good morning Robert.
She arrived yesterday evening safe and sound. She is gorgeous! Her beauty is very subtle and she demands contemplation. I love her…
It’s funny, when I first started out collecting Kokeshi I assume I started out like many others, eBay and Amazon (horrors!). I didn’t realize I was purchasing factory made dolls, but one day I was looking at all of them and realized they ALL looked the same. I did have a few books, one in Japanese, and the first edition of Kokeshi, From Tohoku with Love. Both books only dealt with Traditional Kokeshi. It wasn’t until I got your book that I realized what I had been missing these past years! It opened my eyes to the diversity and beauty of an amazing art form… Now I am totally addicted (and, trying to figure out what to do with the dolls that now have lost their appeal and are taking up valuable space!). Anyway, I can’t thank you enough…
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.
Oh Robert and Michael,
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
Just downloaded my ebook on Sosaku Kokeshi. Excellent and so excited to see that you transposed the hardbound version that sold out. 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. Thank you for this delightful and well written book.