Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi
Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi entitled: Muchin, (Innocence), by Masao Watanabe
Descriptive qualities& condition:
Watanabe-san arguably is one of the most popular and prolific 20th/century Sosaku Kokeshi artists. He is famous as shown in this doll for not only minimally carving beautiful woods but also for his use of the gessoed surfaces, featuring a floral design as the central motif. This unique ornamentation has been the most outstanding feature of this version of a Kokeshi, adding another dimension to his character. His faces almost unanimously depict a universal theme of this doll as it is named ‘innocence’, (Mushin), with his boyish-styled hair.
The representation of clothing, in this case, the Yukata or in Japanese, yo͝oˈkädə, (a light cotton kimono, worn in casual settings such as summer festivals and to nearby bathhouses), and the white painting of the sash. This design is common for this particular series for which the raised motif resembles Shibori, a type of tie-dyeing that gives texture to the garment. The doll is signed by Watanabe on the bottom of the piece with the name ‘Muchin’ meaning to eliminate the emotions of anger and sadness and a representation of old Japanese culture. An emotion felt by every incarcerated American Japanese, (those who had cultural ties to an enemy during wartime), throughout the years of internment. NOTE: See the last image, (4) of the diverse creative folk art produced during those years of internment. After extensive research at Nikkei associated museums, we are unaware of any Kokeshi produced during that period of time other than a few unnotable rough one-blade carved dolls. We propose that the Kokeshi entitled: Muchin, (Innocense), may have been inspired by the number of children interned and made shortly after the American Japanese citizens, such as Watanabe were released.
Condition: The figure has a timeworn look from lack of attention and oxidation resulting from the type of care it experienced over a long period. There is a dark brown patination throughout the piece including the exposed wood and gesso work that has lost its original visual character, and loss of sheen on the surface. That said this represents one of the first original Watanabe dolls, (1950s), showing no structural problems, but the original owners obviously did not have the appreciation of the story of ‘innocence’, and its distinctive character.
BIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: Masao Watanabe | 1917-2007 (89)
Born in Fukushima, Watanabe-san studied under Traditional Yajirou Master Sato, Tatsuo of Miyagi Prefecture. After relocation to America, Masao Watanabe, (Nisei male), was incarcerated at the Puyallup Assembly Center, Washington, and transferred to the Minidoka internment camp, Idaho during World War II. A founding member of the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) in Seattle. Arguably, the most popular and prolific of the 20th/c Sosaku Kokeshi artists, he began his craft in the early 1950s. He is famous for not only minimally carving beautiful woods, but also for his use of gessoed surfaces and lacquer. A multiple award winner in Kokeshi competitions around the world, his works are permanently exhibited at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in Germany.
Masao Watanabe | 1917-2007 (89)
Born in Fukushima, Watanabe-san studied under Traditional Yajirou Master Sato, Tatsuo of Miyagi Prefecture. After relocation to America, Masao Watanabe, (Nisei male), was incarcerated Incarcerated at the Puyallup Assembly Center, Washington, and transferred to the Minidoka internment camp, Idaho during World War II. While still in camp, he made the decision to volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and served in Europe. A founding member of the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) in Seattle. Arguably, the most popular and prolific of the 20th/c Sosaku Kokeshi artists, he began his craft in the early 1950s. A multiple award winner in Kokeshi competitions around the world, his works are permanently exhibited at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in Germany. His most famous Kokeshi themes are that of ‘innocence’ (Mushin), and his doll entitled: Chigo Zakura (Cherry Blossom Child). A multiple-award winner, his works are permanently exhibited at the Nuremberg Toy Museum in Germany.
Collector's note – descriptive qualities, standard characteristics & ornamentation styles:
Of all the Kokeshi produced by Masao Watanabe, his doll entitled, Mushin, (Innocence), is most representative of this artist’s work. The emphasis is on the color of the natural wood and texture, and the form of this piece is the most recognizable of all of his dolls. The representation of clothing, complemented by the natural graining of the wood, and the painting of the sash, is common for this particular series. The natural wood implies the kimono or yukata with It’s smooth curves brought about through the use of the lathe. Some painted and raised forms resemble Shibori, a type of tie-dyeing which give texture to the garment. He also prominently features the rose and camellia as a central motif. His most famous piece above, is entitled, ‘Chigo Zakura’, (Cherry Blossom Child), which won the Prime Minister’s Award, and was presented to the Beatles in 1965, after their appearance in Japan with Sir Joseph Lockwood, Chairman of EMI Record Distributors, England.
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.