Traditional Japanese Kokeshi

Japanese Traditional Tsuchiyu Ejiko with Koma by Watanabe Kazuo


Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 5-1/2”dia x 4-1/2”h

Offered is a very RARE container called “obunko” in which the body (base) contains three spinning tops (koma) and crafted by Watanabe Kazuo (AKA: Nidaime Asanosuke). The container is the basic short, rotund style with a neck and head that follows the Traditional Kokeshi facial design based on the Tsuchiyu family characteristics. The head acts as the handle of the container with decorative concentric circles called “Jano-me” where the innermost circle of the head is colorless. Together with a red bow and a loop on the temporal head (case) is characteristic of this family doll. The face has double lid eyes called “futae-mabuta” and a long nose called “tare-bata”. The expressive mouth adds to the joy of its visual expression.

The body of the piece (lid and container) has hand-painted color “Rokoru Mayo” rings in red and green that vary in width all done through turned on the lathe and encircles the head of doll. The piece is signed by the artist with it name on the inside of lid. VERY RARE EJIKO AND ONE THAT SHOULD REMAIN IN A SERIOUS COLLECTION OF KOKESHI.

Condition:  Excellent, original condition and well preserved for its age. The lid fits perfectly to the body of the piece. It is beautiful and well-formed and excellent proportions. 

NOTE: The Ejiko’s origin is derived from a folk toy that is called an Izume.ko Doll, (Izume.Ko means “Isume baby in the Yamagata dialect) that dates from the early 1910s and which comes from Tsuruoka, of the Yamagata prefecture. 

The toy is based on an Isume, a woven basket container that was traditionally used to keep the rice warm, but in the Tsuruoka area, farmers would keep their babies in the baskets during the busy season. This allowed them to watch the little ones while they worked the fields. Small toys would be placed in the basket along with the baby, comforting the baby and easing mother’s mind throughout the day.

Japanese Traditional Kokeshi | Tsuchiyu-Kei (Family)

Prefecture: Fukushima


Tsuchiyu Family dolls originated in the 1840s at Tsuchiyu Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture, with the work of Sakuma Kamegoro, a kiji-shi who had made various wood items for visitors to the Tsuchiyu Onsen.

Collector's note – characteristics / painting style:

These dolls come in two types: one with a slightly cone-shaped body widening towards the base; and one that has a columnar body, tapering where the neck would be. The latter style is also known for the Rokuro Moyo style of circular painting. As a matter of fact, the artists of this type are famous for being the most accomplished in the circular style of painting, as they take it several steps further by either reversing the line at some point or by zig-zagging the lines periodically. Both add a dynamic element to the dolls.

The design of black, (occasionally purple or green), concentric circles on the top of the head are called Janome. Together with a red bow and a loop on the head, (kase), is one major characteristic of the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi. The innermost circle of the head is usually colorless. The patterns of the body used to be simple black lines but the lines are drawn in different colors in later models. Some dolls even have patterns of flowers between the lines. Most have eyes called futae-mabuta, (double lid), and noses called marubana, (round nose), and tare-bana, (long nose). A few dolls have consciously large eyes and noses with blushes around the eyes, similar to the Nakanosawa group).

The Tsuchiyu kiji-ya utilized snap-on and squeeze-in techniques for attaching the heads, which are then painted with a Janome pattern, leaving the center open. This is known as the ‘snake eye design, and is also commonly seen on the tops of the paper and lacquered umbrellas, (Kasa).

Notable artists:

Saito Chushichi, b. 1917
Saito Sashima, Master
Obata Toshio, b. 1932
Obata Fukumatsu, Master
Jinohara Kouki, b. 1957
Jinohara Kazunori, b.1929
Saito Hiromichi, Master
Kamegoro Sakuma, Grand Master