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ClubhouseB: Doll Collecting: Japanese Dolls

Japanese Dolls

I am enchanted by the innocent faces of the dolls in my collection of Japanese children. Information on these dolls are hard to find, but there are a few books out there. These dolls are commonly called Yamato-ningyo or Ichimatsu. According to a book called Japanese Antique Dolls by Jill and David Gribbon, "Ningyo is a compound of two Chinese characters meaning human (nin) and form (gyo)."

According to a book called Japanese Dolls by Tokubei Yamada, published by the Japan Travel Bureau in 1955, Yamato-ningyo were first produced at the end of the Meiji era (1868-1912). These dolls represented the spirit of the Japanese child. A Yamato-ningyo dollmaker usually learned his art from his father or a master, and dollmaking skills were passed down from generation to generation. "This type of doll was usually put on the market, unclothed, so it might be dressed at home according to one's taste." By the 1950's Yamato-ningyo were mostly sold as fully dressed display dolls. Many of these dolls were dressed with great care, with clothes and accessories made as miniture replicas of larger pieces that were actually worn and used. The more common-run dolls were not dressed with such care, but some were still nicely detailed with charming chubby faces.

11.5 inch Japanese Dolls

These small 11.5 inch Japanese dolls depict young Japanese children. They are similar in style to dolls pictured in Japanese Dolls by Tokubei Yamada, and labeled as "Yamato-ningyo of the most common type". These may be from the 1930's or 1940's and I believe they are wood composition dolls with a gofun finish. The hair seems real with even a few gray strands. Their kimono's seem to be a cotton or cotton blend and are hand stitched together. Their faces are just adorable! I have named these two Toshi and Yoshi.

The book, Japanese Dolls by Tokubei Yamada, goes on to describe the process of creating a Yamato-ningyo. First the doll parts: head, ears, body, arms, and legs, were separately carved in wood. Then molds were made of each part by pressing these pieces into a plastic resin. A composition material called toso, consisting of kiri wood sawdust and wheatstarch, would be shaped into doll parts, using these plastic resin molds. When removed from the molds the seams of each part were smoothed and ears were glued to the head. Then the glass eyes were attached before the whole head was covered in a layer of pulverized shell called gofun. The gofun mixture was 3 parts gofun and 7 parts nikawa glue and was laid on thicker above and below the eyes, on the bridge of the nose, lips, ears, and on the fingers and toes. In those areas, the dollmaker sculpted out details into the gofun with a knife. About two coats of gofun were applied all over the doll, but more coats could have been given to higher quality dolls. Once the gofun was dried, it was rubbed and smoothed. Then, the eyes were uncovered from the gofun with a knife. Uncovering the eyes was considered one of the most important steps and requires the most skill. Once the carving was over another finely sieved gofun mixture was used to color the doll. Indian ink was also used to create eyelids, eyebrows, and eyelashes. The doll was then sprayed with a chemical liquid to seal on the gofun. For girl dolls, eight inches or larger, degreased human hair was used. "Glue is affixed to one end of the tuft, which will then be fastened right on the center of the head. One short breath from the skillfull dollmaker blows the hair down in all directions evenly." The hair was then trimmed to create bangs. Sometimes a shorter tuft of hair was used for boy dolls, but many were made with painted on hair. During the molding process, the head, arms and legs were fitted with a stick, and these were used to join the doll together. Once whole, the doll would then be dressed.

13.5 inch Japanese Play Dolls

These 13.5 inch Japanese dolls depict young Japanese children. They are similar in style to dolls pictured in Japanese Dolls by Tokubei Yamada, and labeled as "Yamato-ningyo of the most common type". These may be from the 1940's or 1950's and I believe they are wood composition dolls with a gofun finish. The hair feels synthetic and has a red tinge to it. Their kimono's are a beautiful brocade and are hand stitched. Look at their little shoes! They are very nicely detailed and have adorable innocent faces. I have named these two Takayoshi and Chizuko.

According to a book called Japanese Antique Dolls by Jill and David Gribbon, the Ichimatsu dolls were the first Japanese dolls to have a naturalistic body. The Ichimatsu nomenclature was derived from a famous Kabuki actor, Sanogawa Ichimatsu I of Kyoto (1722-63). The first Ichimatsu dolls had faces modeled after this famous actor, but soon his face was replaced by a variety of innocent children faces. The oldest Ichimatsu dolls were frequently called mitsu-ore ningyo because they were triple jointed at their hips, knees, and ankles. The heads of the mitsu-ore ningyo were usually made of composition, and their bodies of either carved wood or paper mache. Some dolls bent at the waist, while others had hollow tummies jointed with silk or paper. These triple jointed dolls were playthings for adult women and children from affluent families and had elaborate, elegant clothing and accessories. While some dolls had hair, other dolls were bald, and still others had several wigs that could be interchanged to suit different costumes. The dolls were made as large as 2 feet tall, and in general these larger dolls were of finer quality.

While some Ichimastu dolls have makers marks, these marks were used for many generations, so they are not much help in determining the exact age of these dolls.

8 inch Japanese Doll

This is a vintage 8 inch Japanese Doll. He is crafted with great care. Love his painted hair!

14 inch Japanese Doll

This is a vintage 14 inch Japanese Doll. She is rewigged with a human hair wig. Many of these dolls are displayed in glass cases to protect them from dust, as there delicate features and detailed costumes can be quite hard to clean.

11 inch Japanese Doll

The 11 inch doll depicts a Japanese girl. She has composition head, body, hands and feet and glass eyes. I believe she also have a gofun finish and real hair. She is wrapped in paper, under her kimono, which feels like cotton. I was unable to remove the clothes of this doll as it was stitched on. The obi has a wonderfully detailed bow on the back. Click on her photo to see a full body view.

18 inch Japanese Doll

This 18 inch Japanese Doll is a modern day Ichimatsu doll. Many of these dolls are displayed in glass cases to protect them from dust, as there delicate features and detailed costumes can be quite hard to clean.

11 inch Japanese Doll

This is a modern 11 inch Japanese Ichimatsu boy doll. He is mounted on a small wooden black base to make him a beautiful standing display doll.

This is a painting I did in December 2004 as a nod to my Ichimatsu dolls. Click on my painting, inspired by the beauty of the Ichimatsu doll to visit my art gallery for more original paintings!

While I am most interested in these childlike beauties with innocent faces dressed in traditional kimonos, their were many other types of Japanese dolls made.

15 inch Japanese Warrior Doll

This 15 inch doll depicts a Japanese warrior (Samurai) in armor (Yaroi) and helmet (Kabuto). Even with damage, his face is exquisite, with its glowing oyster shell mixture finish (gofun). Warrior dolls are traditionally displayed on Boy's Day/Children's Day(Tango no Sekku).

The Samurai class were honorable protectors of the Japanese people and this doll is one of my favorites.

From my research on these dolls I have found that the traditional Kokeshi were first made in the middle of the Edo period. (1603-1867) The dolls were first produced in the Tohoku region of north eastern Japan. It is thought that the Kijiya (woodworkers) in that area, who originally crafted wooden household utensils, began to make small dolls in the winter for tourists who came to bathe in the hot springs in their region. The affluent hot spring tourists bought the Kokeshi dolls as a souvenir and took the dolls back to their homes where they were often passed on to the children.

As the Kokeshi tradition evolved, their shapes and patterns became particular to a certain area. Kokeshi making was passed from master to apprentice and from father to son. Traditional dolls made today are classified under eleven types: Tsuchiyu, Togatta, Yajiro, Naruko, Sakunami, Yamagata, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu, and Hijioro. My favorite are the Kijiyama dolls

8.5 & 6 inch Japanese Kijiyama Kokeshi Dolls

These dolls are both made of one solid piece of wood and signed on the back. The seller of the smaller doll said the artist was Ogura Kyutaro. The signature on the larger doll is similar, so I believe they were both made by Ogura Kyutaro. I have not been able to find much information on this artist, but the seller did say that the Ogura family were well known Kijiyama Kokeshi artists from the Akita Prefecture. The seller also stated that Ogura Kyutaro was born in 1906 and his master was Ogura Kyushiro.

Another Japanese doll which intrigues me is the Katsuraningyo. She usually comes with 3 or 6 wigs and various accessories including kimonos, obis, slippers, fans, umbrellas, and purses. Her wigs depict various hairstyles. The 6 wig styles usually depicted are:
  • MOMOWARE For young teen agers 16-17 years old
  • TUBUSHI SHIMADA For young girls age of 18-20 years
  • TAKASHI MADA For well matured girls 19-22 years old
  • MARUMAGE For married Women no particular age
  • SHITATIMAGE Mostly for man-actress in kabuki-play
  • TEKOMAI Dressed by Geisha-girls at the time of festival

7 inch Japanese Doll
with 3 wigs

This 7 inch doll depicts a Japanese girl. The box is marked with the HANAKO TRADEMARK. Because the words are in English, I am guessing it was made in Japan for export. She is a Katsuraningyo. She has a composition head, body, hands and feet and glass eyes. Her accessories include 3 interchangable wigs, 2 kimonos, 1 obi sash, 1 pair of wooden geta slippers, and 1 purse.

18 inch Japanese Morimura Brothers Doll

This doll has a bisque head and weighted eyes. I love her coloring. I don't know much about these dolls but they are made in the same style as antique German bisque head dolls. I have read they were made around 1910's and 1920's.