Vintage Sosaku Kokeshi

Vintage Transitional Sosaku Kokeshi by Okamoto, Usaburo Entitled: “Kaede | Maple Leaf”

Okamoto, Usaburo


Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 11-1/2”h

This piece has a unique and unusual sinuous hand-carved body and created early in Usaburo’s career. The neck and head are lathe-turned and raised from the body, and the remaining form is hand-carved to give it its shape and character. The head has a traditional hair design evoking the Buddha bun, and tied and drapes down the back of the head. The face is the traditional element showing black hair fringes framing the face and decorated with hair bows. It shows a suggestion of eyebrows, thin narrow eyes, and two red dots representing the nose and mouth. Two Maple leaves have been carved into the body for a decorative effect.

This doll is made of Paulownia wood and is treated using the "yakisugi" technique, a slight burn on the surface, an ancestral technique intended to protect against fire. The body of the doll has two detailed abstract Maple leaves as the motif and carved into the natural wood. A true collector's piece of historic Usaburo, and authorities claim this doll is a forerunner to his machine-made dolls with the combination of the traditionally designed head and the contemporary carved body is the basis for the piece being categorized as “Transitional”. The paper seal is the confirmation of the award won on this doll. The piece is signed on the back with his signature in white ink.

Vintage Condition: Original condition with no flaws, no scratches, no dents, or missing elements. The photos support the description.

NOTE: Usaburo (1917-2009) was the patriarch of the most prolific family of Creative Kokeshi doll craftsmen. Okamoto-san began creating Sosaku dolls in 1950. Winner of many awards, including the Prime Minister’s Award. He was hampered by past techniques and ideas of Kokeshi-making. Usaburo introduced special machines for producing Kokeshi and adopted a method of carving and buying using Nichrome wire in the Kokeshi painting process, for which only brushes had been used before. Usaburo also studied the possibility of using kayak and chestnut, trees having beautiful grains, in addition to table dogwood, a commonly used material. He established a museum in Gunma which his sons and daughters, and extended family now maintain.

Artisan | Woodworker: Okamoto, Usaburo | 1917-2009


Okamoto was the patriarch of the most prolific family of Modern Kokeshi doll manufacturing. Okamoto-san began creating Sosaku dolls in 1950. Winner of many awards, including the Prime Mininster’s Award, his early dolls were mostly hand-carved/painted on the wheel, and there are fewer of those extant. In his later years, however, he began mass-producing a souvenir-style doll (Kindai). He established a museum in Gunma, which his sons, daughters, and extended family now maintain.

Collector's note – descriptive qualities, standard characteristics & ornamentation styles:

Some of Okamoto’s lathe-turned dolls typically incorporate ribbing of the natural wood to give depth and textural quality. Many of the heads of his dolls are traditional in appearance and made of Dogwood, a lighter colored wood, which creates contrast and is quite painterly in execution. He is also known to twist the form of the body for interest. He incorporates a great deal of seasonal motifs such as cherry blossoms, and falling leaves. Many pieces were done in Paulonia wood.

Artist's signature:

Okamoto kokeshi artisan signature