Japan’s Handmade Wooden Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls have become one of the most popular souvenirs that tourists buy in Japan. Their charm can delight anyone, and their simplicity makes them match any decor. It is also customary to treat them as gifts that symbolize love and friendship. Our store offers a wide selection of various kokeshi dolls straight from Japan, so we encourage you to choose the unique one whose charm will attract your attention the most. 

What Is Kokeshi? Discover the Historic Art of Japan’s Handmade Wooden Dolls

What are kokeshi dolls? 

Kokeshi dolls are small, hand-carved wooden dolls from the northern Tohoku region of Japan. They are easy to recognize because they differ from other dolls by the lack of legs and arms. In the form known to us, they have been produced in Japan for over 150 years and depending on the region, they differ in patterns and colors. Currently, they are painted in various colors, most often in black or red. The dolls are made by hand by craftsmen called kijishi (木 地 師). It makes them unique because when we decide to buy one, we are sure that we will not find two of the same. On the underside of the doll, there is also the signature of the artist who made it.

The origin of the dolls

What Is Kokeshi? Discover the Historic Art of Japan’s Handmade Wooden Dolls

However, the initial use of the dolls was completely different than what we know today. During the Edo period (1600-1868), artists working near the Tohoku hot springs began making small dolls as toys for children or as souvenirs for tourists visiting onsens. Traditionally, Kokeshi dolls have been extremely oblong, with round heads and limbless bodies. However, even during the Edo period, they were decorated and painted in a variety of colors. It is believed that the dolls used in the hot spring regions served as healing tools for massage.


What Is Kokeshi? Discover the Historic Art of Japan’s Handmade Wooden Dolls

The appearance of the dolls varies depending on the region they come from. They have been divided into 11 groups, most of which come from the capital of Kokeshi - Miyagi Prefecture. Pictured above is naruko kokeshi, which while much simpler than its modern versions, still has a lot of charm to it. The tradition and uniqueness of dolls have been going on for many centuries, and their popularity is constantly growing. 

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