Vintage Traditional Kokeshi

Vintage Zao Traditional Kokeshi by Ishiyama, Kazuo


Descriptive qualities& condition:

Dimensions: 8-1/4” h

This delicate kokeshi has all the traditional qualities of the Zao family dolls, with one exception, and that is the use of the atypical colors of red and green. The beautifully proportioned face is emphasized, and incorporates the Futae-Mabuta, (double lid), eyes; the stylized Naga-Bana, (long ear drop nose), and the Chrysanthemum flower motif on the top of the head and the side of the face. The predominate color used to decorate her kimono is a brilliant red with the stacked Chrysanthemum in red and green, framed with green Rokoru-Moyo line work. The doll is signed by the artist.

Vintage Condition: The piece is in pristine condition, (“as is”) and retains the original craft/workmanship and commensurate with age and completely free from the effects of aging. Any discoloration, chipping/cracking, surface wear, or structural damage is noted.

Japanese Traditional Kokeshi | Zao-Kei (Family)

Prefecture: Miyagi-Yamagata border


Zao was a prosperous resort at the end of the 19th century, with four souvenir shops. But no one was producing kokeshi for the shops so craftsmen were hired for the four shops who began competing with each other, and thus helped to develop a distinctive Zao strain developed by the  Atsumi Onsen, at the foot of Mt. Zao, on the Miyagi-Yamagata border. This onsen became the home to this family of traditional Kokeshi.

Collector's note – characteristics/painting style:

These dolls, originating from, and having characteristics of, the Yamagata strain, is not always easy to identify. With oversized heads, large, expressive eyes, and thick-waists, they are brightly painted in a variety of colorful motifs. The range of floral designs on Zao bodies includes the more standard stacked, (or layered), chrysanthemum petals; bold, stylized cherry blossoms, peonies, and scattered sprays of small flowers. Most will also have colored banding at the neck and around the bases of the bodies. Zao Kokeshi have squeeze-in heads, which do not turn and show elements of the Tougatta dolls. Facial features vary also, with the Atsumi version having a long nose, (naga-bana), much like the Hijiori and Tsuchiyu dolls, and hairstyles similar to the Yamagata.

Notable artists:

Ishiyama Kazuo
Ishiyama Sanshiro, Master
Mito Hiroshi, b. 1933
Umeki Shuichi, b. 1929 — Umeki-san was awarded the highest honors in the 42nd National Japan Kokeshi Festival (Matsuri).
Kaneyama Buntaro, Grand Master