Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mystery kokeshi

Kokeshi doll and action figure.
We acquired this traditional kokeshi on a trip to Kamakura on January 29th (more on that trip in a future post). It was wrapped in plain brown paper and was a sight-unseen surprise purchase for 1,000 yen. Not too shabby. Since most people know the size of a Star Wars action figure, I've put Darth Vadar next to it for reference. As can be seen the kokeshi is pretty big and is also surprisingly heavy, so it must be a hardwood, perhaps maple or cherry? On a side note one hears that kokeshis may have started as girls' dolls, but a little girl wouldn't be able to carry this one comfortably for more than a few minutes. It would, however, probably make a good bludgeon if necessary.
The lathing is top notch, and while the painting is hand done and somewhat primitive (in a folk-art style) it is nonetheless charming, making this kokeshi a welcome addition to our collection. It is unvarnished, and when trying to straighten the head a bit of red paint came off on my hand. As for features, it has fully opened alert eyes rather than the usual crescent shape. This eye style is called niju mabuta (二重まぶた), translated as "an eyelid with a fold." The nose is also fully drawn, which in the world of kokeshis is called a maruhana or marubana (丸鼻), meaning "round nose." The mouth is almost non-existent. Overall, it's an interesting face that seems to be expressing...? Hard to say. Anyway, based on our kokeshi reference book the flowers are called hishigiku (菱菊), apparently a kind of chrysanthemum. The significance of the ringed pattern around the neck and torso area is unknown. The artist's family name is Abe, his first name is (possibly) Tsunekichi, and he was 81 years old when he finished it. We know this information because Mr. Abe signed the kokeshi on the back, included his age. 81 years old! Most kokeshi makers sign the bottom, so the back signature seems quite unique.
The kokeshi maker's signature and age.
That's what we know. What we do not know is the kokeshi family it belongs to. Our best guest at this point is that it is a Zaotakayu type (蔵王高湯系), based on the eyes and nose, and possibly the neck pattern. Another clue is the artist's family name: Abe (阿部), which is a reknowned Zaotakayu kokeshi-making family. It's true that Abe is a common name in Japan, but the combination of the facial features and name suggest that's a good guess. To be sure, though, we'll have to have it verified.


  1. I have a question that I have asked several people, but no one has been able to help. There were some mystery dolls on ebay some time ago that I lost, and I would like very much to know who made them. I have pictures of them, including the stamp on the bottom, but no one could tell me who the artist was.

    I was wondering if you would look at these pictures and provide any information or tell me if you've seen anything like them? I'd really appreciate it! They're here:

    Thank you so much for your time.

    1. the dolls on flickr are creative sousaku Kokeshi most likely from Gunma .

  2. this Kokeshi is a Zao Takayu in the Atsumi Subline . I have one.