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Kokeshi (こけし kokeshi ), are Japanese dolls, originally from northern Japan. They are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs. The bottom is marked with the signature of the artist.
History and etymology 
The origin and naming of kokeshi is unclear, with historical ateji spellings including 小芥子, 木牌子, 木形子, and 木芥子. The hiragana spelling こけし was agreed on at the All-Japan Kokeshi Exhibition (全国こけし大会) at Naruko Onsen in August 1939.
In Looking for the Lost, Alan Booth suggests that kokeshi may be fetish substitutes for unwanted babies killed after birth and the characters can be understood as 子消し (made up of child (子 ko ) and erasing, extinguishing (消し keshi ). While infanticide was commonly practiced in Japan until the 20th century, there is little if any evidence to support the theory that kokeshi have anything to do with the practice, with the earliest references in literature dating only from 1965. The word kokeshi itself is originally of the Sendai dialect, with the dolls being known as, for example, deko, kideko, dekoroko; in Fukushima as kibako, kihohoko; in Miyagi as obokko; and in Naruko as hangyo and kiningyō, none of which supports the theory. Instead, a more plausible explanation is that "kokeshi" is derived from wooden (木 ki, ko ) or small (小 ko ), and dolls (芥子 keshi ).
Kokeshi were first produced by kijishi (木地師), artisans proficient with a potter's wheel, at the Shinchi Shuraku, near the Tōgatta Onsen in Zaō from where kokeshi making techniques spread to other spa areas in the Tōhoku Region. It is said that these dolls were originally made during the middle of the Edo period (1600–1868) to be sold to people who were visiting the hot springs in the north-east of the country.
"Traditional" kokeshi (伝統こけし dentō-kokeshi ) dolls' shapes and patterns are particular to a certain area and are classified under eleven types, shown below. The most dominant type is the Naruko variety originally made in Miyagi Prefecture, which can also be found in Akita, Iwate, and Yamagata Prefectures. The main street of the Naruko Onsen Village is known as Kokeshi Street and has shops which are operated directly by the kokeshi carvers.
"Creative" kokeshi (新型こけし shingata-kokeshi ) allow the artist complete freedom in terms of shape, design and color and were developed after World War II (1945). They are not particular to a specific region of Japan and generally creative kokeshi artists are found in cities.
The woods used for kokeshi vary, with cherry used for its darkness and dogwood for its softer qualities. Itaya-kaede, a Japanese maple, is also used in the creation of both traditional and creative dolls. The wood is left outdoors to season for one to five years before it can be used.
Traditional types 
- Tsuchiyu (土湯系): Tsuchiyu Onsen (Fukushima), Iizaka Onsen (Fukushima), Dake Onsen (Nihonmatsu)
- Yajirō (弥治郎系): Yajirō (Shiroishi)
- Tōgatta (遠刈田系): Tōgatta Onsen (Zaō)
- Naruko (鳴子系): Naruko Onsen (Ōsaki)
- Sakunami (作並系) or Yamagata-Sakunami (山形作並系): Sendai (incl. Sakunami Onsen), Yamagata, Yonezawa, Sagae, Tendō
- Zaō Takayu (蔵王高湯系): Zaō Onsen (Yamagata)
- Hijiori (肘折系): Hijiori Onsen (Ōkura)
- Kijiyama (木地山系): Kijiyama (Yuzawa)
- Nambu (南部系): Morioka, Hanamaki Onsen (Hanamaki)
- Tsugaru (津軽系) or Nuruyu (温湯系): Nuruyu Onsen (Kuroishi), Ōwani Onsen (Ōwani)
See also 
- Newman, Michelle. "Kokeshi Dolls". Travelworld International Magazine, March/April 2007. Accessed 7 May 2009.
- Booth, Alan. Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan. New York: Kodansha International, 1996, p.129. ISBN 1-56836-148-3.
- Shiono, Hiroshi; Atoyo Maya, Noriko Tabata, Masataka Fujiwara, Jun-ich Azumi and Mashahiko Morita (1986). "Medicolegal aspects of infanticide in Hokkaido District, Japan". American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology 7 (2): 104. doi:10.1097/00000433-198607020-00004. PMID 3740005.
- こけしに関するＱ＆Ａ (Japanese) / Q & A on Kokeshi (English). Accessed 7 May 2009.
- Togatta Hot Spring, Japan-i. Accessed 7 May 2009.
- Brendan Sinclair (March 8, 2007). "GDC 07: Miyamoto speaks". GameSpot UK. Retrieved 2007-06-16.
- McDowell, Jennifer E. "Kokeshi: Continued and Created Traditions (Motivations for a Japanese Folk Art Doll)," pp. 263-269 [PDF 279-285 of 317]; retrieved 2012-12-4.
Media related to Category:Kokeshi at Wikimedia Commons