Tuesday February 12, 2013
Japan's kokeshi dolls tell a thousand tales at exhibition
By EDWARD R. HENRY
Photos by P. NATHAN
KOKESHI or wooden dolls are distinctive folk toys that originate from northern Japan.
Handmade from Cherry or Mizuki wood, the unique dolls come with a simple trunk and an enlarged head with few thin, painted lines to note the face, while the body is decorated with floral designs in red, black or gold, sometimes even green.
One feature of kokeshi dolls is they are not given arms and legs. The dolls began to be made throughout Japan mainly after the end of World War II, as tokens of love and friendship.
Kokeshi were first created by kiji-shi (wood artisans), but only in the Tohoku region (the northern end of the Honshu Island) are they made according to traditional techniques passed down through ge-nerations.
Traditional kokeshi-making is believed to go back around 200 years in time to the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), when the dolls were sold to people visiting the hot springs in north-east Japan.
Today, these beautiful, brightly coloured dolls are irresistibly cute and combine a typically simple yet stylish Japanese design with a distinctive, contemporary feel.
Every doll is given its own name by the craftsman who lovingly created it, ensuring that every kokeshi doll radiates its own individual spirit.
The shapes and patterns of “traditional” kokeshi are particular to a certain area and classified into 11 types. They are Tsuchiyu, Togatta, Yajiro, Naruko, Sakunami, Yamagata, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu, and Hijioro.
The most dominant type is the Naruko variety, originally made in Miyagi Prefecture, which can also be found in Akita, Iwate and Yamagata prefectures.
In fact, the main street of the Naruko Hot Spring resort in Miyagi is known as Kokeshi Street, where shops are run by the kokeshi carvers themselves.
An exhibition on the kokeshi is currently on at the Petaling Jaya Museum in Section 10/7, Taman Jaya, organised by the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) and The Japan Foundation.
The exhibition displays pieces of art that are profoundly simple yet have a strong representation of the rich and diverse culture of the Japanese.
MBPJ public relations officer Zainun Zakaria said the exhibition was, therefore, aimed at introducing Malaysians to this amazing culture.
“Kokeshi represents not just the craftsmanship of the Japanese, but also their aesthetic psyche and artistic sensitivity,” she added.