Vintage Traditional Kokeshi

Vintage Zao Traditional Kokeshi by Ishizawa, Kazuo



Descriptive qualities& condition:

NOTE: Because of the historical value, delicateness, size and weight of this piece we suggest you consider special treatment from the delivery agent.  The dimensional weight shipping that we standardly use from USPS would not be sufficient. You can contact us to get a quote before purchase.

Dimensions: 18-0” h

This doll is quite unusual because it is an extremely large heavily turned doll from one piece of wood weighing 4-1/8lbs, and secondly because it has all the traditional qualities of the Zao family dolls but is painted in black which is quite rare. The beautifully proportioned face is emphasized and incorporates the Futae-Mabuta, (double lid) eyes; the stylized Naga-Bana nose; and the Chrysanthemum flower motif on the top of the head and the side of the face. The stacked Chrysanthemum is framed with black Rokoru-Moyo line work and beautifully rendered in shades of gray and black being the main feature of her kimono. The doll is signed by the artist.

Vintage Condition: The piece is exceptional and in excellent condition, (“as is”), and retains the original craft/workmanship 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, are not always easy to identify. With over-sized heads, large, expressive eyes, and thick-waists, they are brightly painted in a variety of colourful motifs. The range of floral designs on Zao bodies include, the more standard stacked, (or layered), chrysanthemum petals; bold, stylized cherry blossoms, peonies, and scattered sprays of small flowers. Most will also have coloured 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, b. 1929
Ishiyama Sanshiro, Master
Mito Hiroshi, b. 1933
Umeki Shuichi, b. 1929 — Umeki-san was awarded highest honors in the 42nd National Japan Kokeshi Festival (Matsuri).
Kaneyama Buntaro, Grand Master