A hōko (這子, lit. "crawling child") is a kind of soft-bodied doll given to young women of age and especially to pregnant women in Japan to protect both mother and unborn child. Traditionally, hōko dolls were made of silk and human hair, and stuffed with cotton. The dolls could be made for both boys and girls. Boys' dolls would be given up and "consecrated" at a shrine when boys turned fifteen, while girls would give up their dolls at marriage. The dolls were given to children either at birth, or on special days shortly after birth.
Hōko can be traced back to "talismanic figures" from early Japanese history, and are likely related to the concept of using paper dolls (hina), as "stand-ins for people." The use of katashiro (“substitutes”) in spiritual practice as stand-ins to take on the brunt of a person's sins or misfortune also played a role in the creation of hōko dolls.
Amagatsu (天児; derivation unclear), are another type of doll similar in function to the hōko doll, documented back to at least the 11th century with a mention in The Tale of Genji. These were originally made of wood or bamboo, with the body and arms traditionally in a "T" shape and with a round head attached on top. Sources mentioning the specific term hōko start appearing in the Heian period, but are more apparent in the Muromachi period of Japan's history. In later years, the amagatsu and hōko dolls became essentially the same thing, with the dolls more commonly made out of cloth and other soft materials.
- Japanese traditional dolls
- Kokeshi dolls
- Apotropaic magic
- Concealed shoes
- Witch bottle
- Hama Yumi
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