Saturday, May 12, 2012

Kokeshi Dolls こけしドール

As you might have noticed I do not call kokeshis "kokeshi dolls." As far as I am concerned -- self-appointed expert that I am -- kokeshis should simply be called "kokeshis" since they are their own category of thing. To be fair they should be loosely associated with dolls, but retain their unique name. After all, Japanese enthusiasts just call them "kokeshis," so why shouldn't non-Japanese enthusiasts do the same? By way of example regarding the trials of what to do with truly foreign words that lack equivalents in English, I recall reading a 1957 translation of Natsume Soseki's 1914 novel Kokoro こころ in which the translator decided to convert such words as futon into "bedding," and yukata into a very vague "summer robe." It was jarring to see this, since "bedding" could be anything (sheets, blankets, pillows), and "summer robe" just doesn't capture the flavor of Japan's wonderful yukata tradition. While the translator probably felt he was doing his readers a favor 55 years ago when Japanese traditions were still largely unknown in the West, he would have done them a bigger favor by bringing those readers more fully into the Japanese world through precise and authentic terminology. So, by not calling kokeshis "dolls" I am hoping to establish that kokeshis are an art form distinct from other dolls.
Clothed kokeshis. An Akiu 秋保 on the left and a Togatta 遠刈田 on the right.
That said, my two daughters would probably beg to differ. Ever since Naoko and I started collecting them in earnest I have occasionally found kokeshis around the house with their heads on small pillows and laying under blankets, participating in tea parties, and wearing clothing. In other words, they are being used just like any other doll, so despite my argument above maybe they really are dolls! To reinforce this the girls recently received some large, antique traditional and modern kokeshis from an older collector we visited up in Sendai, and as soon as we returned home these kokeshis were wearing dresses and were part of play time. This could be analyzed in various ways, not least of which is that kids obviously don't need overly complicated toys to have fun. It also reinforces what kokeshi scholars have discovered: That kokeshis were originally play things for kids up in the remote mountain areas of Tohoku. Our kids, then, are continuing that tradition.
This blog shows what my girls did with their new kokeshis. Enjoy!
Three antique modern kokeshis.
This is a very nice Tsuchiyu kokeshi 土湯系 by Mr. Jinnohara Yukinori 陣野原幸紀さん from our collection. Our daughters probably understand the real purpose of kokeshis better than the adult collectors.

1 comment:

  1. These are so cute! I am planning my kokeshi-theme Japanese wedding (California, USA) and am looking all over for cute kokeshi things. It is so hard to find boy kokeshi, especially one so cute as yours! I wish I could somehow turn your designs into party favors. Also, I love Obon Odori and the girls in the different kimonos are so cute for that. Great work! Wish to get them from PIJ.