Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why a blog about kokeshi dolls?

A traditional kokeshi doll.
What is a kokeshi (こけし)doll? One thing that can be said with certainty about them is that they are made of wood. Another fact is that they are a distinctly Japanese handicraft. Finally, kokeshi dolls represent people, usually girls or young women. Otherwise the variety of kokeshi designs, shapes, and sizes, whether traditional or the so-called creative or modern type, defy simple definition. To see this one need only go to eBay (United States) and type in "kokeshi dolls." A search conducted on 11 February 2011 turned up 48 pages of kokeshis available for bid with 50 items per page, or about 2,400 total kokeshis. Of those, the majority were unique. Yet to the untrained eye many of the dolls undoubtedly looked similar, especially the traditional style that tend to be just a head with stylized face and hair, and a cylindrical body without arms or legs painted with a flowered or striped pattern. We might say that kokeshis do not represent a person as much as the essence of a person. Are they even dolls?
That said, why a blog about these delightful wooden works of art? My wife Naoko and I, who reside in the Tokyo area, have recently begun to develop a deep interest in kokeshis to the point that we often arrange weekend family trips around kokeshi hunts. Out of these adventures we have already met artisans and seen them at work on their lathes, visited their shops and ateliers (工房), and at the same time have begun learning about a whole sub-section of Japanese artisan culture of which we had only been vaguely aware. Hopefully this blog will become a record of our kokeshi adventures, and at the same make available in English information about lesser known aspects of this rich and wonderful bit of Japanese artistic heritage.

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