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Finishing a Kokeshi

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. They are exchanged amongst friends with written messages stored within them as tokens of friendship.

History and etymology[edit]

The origin and naming of kokeshi is unclear,[1] 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. A plausible theory is that "kokeshi" is derived from wooden ( ki, ko?) or small ( 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[2] 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 It is said that these dolls were originally made during the middle of the Edo period (1600–1868) to be sold to people who were visiting the hot springs in the north-east of the country.


Various Kokeshi

"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 The most dominant type is the Naruko variety originally made in Miyagi Prefecture, which can also be found in Akita, Iwate, and Yamagata Prefectures.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[edit]

Traditional types often correspond to a single or multiple onsen located within the Tōhoku region.[3]

Popular culture[edit]

The design of the Mii avatars on Nintendo's Wii video game console is based on that of kokeshi.[4]

In the manga Kimi ni Todoke (volume 8, chapter 30) Ryu thinks to himself that the main character Sawako (aka Sadako) looks like a kokeshi doll. [5]

Sora no Otoshimono shows the doll at some points, usually Ikaros is pulling the head off and back on

In the manga/anime Nichijou, one of the main characters, Yuuko, is hit by a kokeshi doll on the way to school.

The NJPW professional wrestler Tomoaki Honma uses the "kokeshi" (a falling headbutt) as his finishing maneuver.

The dolls of the Kimmidoll brand are based on kokeshi dolls .

Kokeshi dolls were in Kamisama no Iutoori, a survival game manga with supernatural elements.

In episode 6 of the anime Death Parade, it is revealed the character Ginti collects kokeshi dolls. His bar room has shelves filled up with various kokeshi dolls, as well as some of them also standing on the top of the bar.

In popular parlance, kokeshi is synonymous with 張形 (harikata), or dildo.

In the anime Kiniro Mosaic, the kokeshi doll is a recurring image in the series, as central character and exchange student Alice believes her friend Shino strongly resembles one.

In the video game series Yo-Kai Watch, kokeshi dolls are a common type of item the player may obtain.

See also[edit]


Japanese postage stamp showing kokeshi
  1. ^ Newman, Michelle. "Kokeshi Dolls". Travelworld International Magazine, March/April 2007. Accessed 7 May 2009.
  2. ^ Togatta Hot Spring, Japan-i. Accessed 7 May 2009.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Brendan Sinclair (March 8, 2007). "GDC 07: Miyamoto speaks". GameSpot UK. Retrieved 2007-06-16. 
  5. ^ "Kimi ni Todoke 8" (in Japanese). Shueisha Booknavi. Retrieved 2010-01-14. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Category:Kokeshi at Wikimedia Commons