Friday, June 24, 2022

Japanese Dolls World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo.
Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

by Alan Scott Pate


ISBN: 978-0804849777
Hardback, 272 pp

Dolls, models - usually small - of humans and used by children for play but also used in magic and religious ritual, seem to be fairly universal and are found all over the world and date back millennia. Collecting dolls is also a widespread phenomenon not limited to any geographic area or specific time, and it is about the collecting of Japanese dolls that this book begins.

With short chapters on such things as the first Western collectors of ningyo, looking behind the scenes of a Meiji-era Japanese Doll Shop, etc. and the book ends with hints and tips for those who may be thinking about starting to collect Japanese dolls, including a list of dealers around the world who specialize in them, but the greatest part of the book focuses on the dolls themselves.

Page from the book showing text and photos
Copyright Tuttle

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo covers eighteen different styles of dolls across seven broad categories, and while there are plenty of other types of Japanese dolls, most with regional variations, it covers most of the types of doll you are likely to come across. There are the obvious types such as the dolls found on display at Hina Matsuri, but also several types of mass-produced ceramic dolls and the extremely simple Kokeshi wooden dolls. Interestingly bunraku puppets are also included as are two types of karakuri ningyo, mechanical dolls.

For me, the most intriguing are the iki-ningyo, known as "living dolls" which exhibit a realism that cannot be surpassed and are truly miniature sculptures. For each style of doll we are given the origins of the style and its historical development, but more importantly perhaps, the context for the dolls, how they fit into the broader culture, the whys of their purpose etc.

More meaning is found in the costumes, the poses, the humans that the dolls are modeled on, leading us to a greater appreciation of any dolls we may come across. However, the best reason for buying this book are the photos, 400 of them, almost all full color, some whole page, and all very detailed. This is most definitely a coffee table book that will draw you in after flipping a few pages. For anyone thinking about collecting Japanese dolls, this book is a gold mine, but anyone interested in Japanese art and culture will find plenty to expand their knowledge.

Japanese doll.
Copyright Tuttle

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Review by Marshall Hughes.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

Japanese Crafts In Kyoto

Japanese Craft Stores in Kyoto 京都

Japanese crafts are often regarded as formal and for special occasions only. But this is not true. Just as many handicrafts are simple, inexpensive, and created for everyday life. And even simple, daily-life things are skillfully and patiently created by Kyoto craftsmen, who pride themselves on making beautiful things that last for a long, long time. Here are some arts and crafts from Kyoto's most famous stores.

Lacquerware Soup Bowls.

Lacquerware Soup Bowls

New black or dark red lacquer tableware is expensive. But Kyoto's Uruwashi-ya offers you a great solution: used lacquerware. Used or antique lacquerware is very reasonable. However, you should inquire about how it will hold up in dry climates because lacquer is ideally suited to high humidity environments. On the south side of Marutamachi, east of Fuyacho. Open 11 am - 6 pm, closed on Tuesdays. Tel: 075 212 0043.

Brushes & Brooms

Need a handmade brush or broom to clean the house or your garden? Then you've come to the right place. Naito Shoten, an early 19th-century handmade brush and broom shop, has everything you could possibly hope for. Everything from large to small, including brushes for long glasses, pot cleaners, and mats (from ¥400). On the north side of Sanjo, just west of the Kamogawa River. Open daily 9.30 am -7 pm. Tel: 075 221 3018.

Kakimoto, Kyoto.

Japanese Washi Paper Table Decorations

Warm to the touch and naturally colored, Japanese handmade paper or washi can easily be adapted to serve as a table cloth, coasters, and for all kinds of other table decorations. And best of all: washi is so strong that it can be used over and over. For a great selection of washi, go to Kamijikakimoto, on the east side of Teramachi, about 100 meters north of Nijo. Tel: 075 211 3481. (

Japanese Crafts In Kyoto.

Japanese Bamboo Takehei 竹平

In operation for over 100 years, and now in its 4th generation, Takehei Shoten is known by many as Japan's bamboo specialist.

Within their vast warehouse, they stock about 100 different kinds of specialty bamboo, ranging from the standard to the very exotic. The age-old expertise that Takehei has built up over 100 years is sought out by bamboo artisans, architects, traditional musicians, designers, and antique dealers from all over the country.

Takehei also exports bamboo materials overseas (mainly to antique dealers, interior decorators, landscaping specialists, and architects). As the fastest growing plant in the world (1.2 meters in 12 hours), bamboo is a remarkable material that remains the preference for many of Japan's traditional designs and utensils.

Their curved window frames (for a Japanese home or tea ceremony room) are just one of Takehei's many unique products. (There are only a handful of artisans left in Japan that can make frames of this high quality and intricacy.)

Takehei is located on the west side of Omiya, north of Gojo. Open from 9 am to 6 pm, except on Sundays and public holidays.

403 Omiya-gojo, Shimogyo-ku
Kyoto 600-8377
Tel: 075 841 3803

Kanzashi Hair Ornaments 幾岡屋.

Kanzashi Hair Ornaments 幾岡屋

Ikuokaya has been doing business in the world-famous Gion district for more than 150 years. They specialize in kanzashi hair ornaments, fans, bags, and accessories.

Stepping into the shop, one enters the world of accessories that add to the exotic charm of the geiko: splendid, colorful kanzashi (hairpins), exquisitely designed handkerchiefs, little richly patterned silk bags with drawstrings, sandalwood combs. Many of the patterns and designs express the seasonal elements for which Japan is so well known: flowers, bushes, and important symbols like the moon, pine trees, cranes, and rabbits.

Ikuokaya is located on the south side of Shijo, east of Hanamikoji. Open 11 am-7 pm (closed Thursdays). Tel: 075 561 8087. Gion-Shijo Station is the nearest station.

577-2 Gionmachi Minamigawa

Asahi-do Ceramics, Kiyomizu, Kyoto.

Asahi-do Ceramics 朝日堂

Asahido is one of the most famous of Kyoto's Kiyomizu yaki pottery stores. It has been a landmark for generations of visitors to Kiyomizu Temple since its establishment in 1870.

From everyday tableware to one-of-a-kind tea ceremony bowls by well-known ceramic artists, Asahido has something for every taste and budget.

The relaxing atmosphere of the traditional Japanese interior offers a welcome break from sightseeing, and the colorful items are displayed under warm, soft lighting. It almost seems more like a ceramics museum than a store. There is also a tea room and gallery space, which exhibits selected ceramic art.

Asahido's exquisite merchandise has won it an international clientele, and it has also been privileged to supply items to the Japanese Imperial Household. However, the wide range of items is sure to provide anyone with many excellent and affordable souvenir ideas. Asahido goods can also be bought at other places around Kyoto: in the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel, the Kyoto ANA Hotel, and Arashiyama Syoryuen in Arashiyama.

Also try Asahido Toan, located just a few shops down the street from the main Asahido store for a range of Japanese crafts.

Asahido Toan offers a range of authentic Japanese traditional crafts, including woodblock prints, bamboo items, incense, as well as Kiyomizu yaki pottery. Open daily from 9 am to 6 pm. Packing and delivery service available. Located on Kiyomizuzaka, in front of Kiyomizu Temple. All major credit cards are accepted.

1-280, Kiyomizu
Kyoto 605-0862
Tel: 075 531 2181

Access: Take the Kyoto city bus #206 from Kyoto Station to Gojozaka bus stop, then a 10-minute walk.

Kita no Tenmangu.

Kyoto Fleamarkets

Japan is well known for its temple and shrine flea markets, and Kyoto boasts two that draw crowds from around the country: one at Toji Temple, in south Kyoto, and the other Kita no Tenmangu, in northern Kyoto. The market at Toji is called Kobo-san by locals, which refers to the monk who founded the Kobo sect of Buddhism. It is held on the 21st of every month, on the grounds of Toji. Shoppers in the know arrive very early and bargain hard. Four days later, on the 25th, "Tenjin-san" is held at Kita no Tenmangu Shrine.

Though they are both pilgrimages and take place on religious grounds, the overall feel at both is that of a lively outdoor market. At both, antiques, clothing, statues, fabric, kimono, and fresh vegetables are for sale at booths set up early in the morning by vendors who often come long distances to sell their wares. Ceramics such as tea bowls and pots are also widely available. Pictured above left are good luck charms--mainly for driving and luck on university exams--that are sold at Kita no Tenmangu.

Tenjin-san is west of Nishijin, Kyoto's traditional weaving district also has geisha dance performances on occasion.

The markets date back many centuries, and in addition to food and clothes, and antiques they also feature games for children. There is, for example, the goldfish scoop: with a flimsy net children attempt to scoop up goldfish, which if successful they can take home. There are other cards and shooting games that will be familiar to anyone who has been to an American carnival. The vendors at the games are usually young and in many cases borderline yakuza. Count your change.

Crowds are worst when the weather is good, after 10 am, and at year's end. The smart shoppers will arrive by 6 am to pick through the best goods.


Toji Temple

Take the Kintetsu Railway local train one stop from Kyoto Station to Toji Station. Walk two blocks west. (Tel: 075 691 3325)

Kita no Tenmangu Shrine

Take the 59 bus from Shijo or Sanjo in downtown Kyoto.


Take the Keifuku Railways train to Kita no Hakubaicho, and walk two blocks along Imadegawa Dori. (Tel: 075 461 0005)

Chionji Temple

Chionji flea market is on a much smaller scale than Toji and Kita no Tenmangu, specializing in hand-made crafts. Chionji market is held on the 15th of each month, and it is often easy to get a space on the morning of the market. The market is on the grounds of Chionji Temple on the northeast corner of Hyakumanben near Kyoto University.

Buses #17, #201, #206. (Tel: 075 781 9171/075 961 0005 to register)

Washi paper art.

Kurotani Washi 黒谷和紙

Kurotani is well-known for its wagami ('rice' paper) production. Appreciation for this lifetime-absorbing craft has led to the paper art of Kurotani being designated an Important Cultural Property of Kyoto.

The history of Kurotani village traces back eight centuries to a warrior of the Taira Clan who, having failed at battle, saw it as his duty to leave an art form for following generations. A communal determination to stay with the traditional techniques employed from the start have led to paper of consistent quality, and to world-wide fame.

Wagami, or washi, is made from the Paper Mulberry tree of the Mulberry Bush family, characterized by its durable, fibrous quality. The delicate beauty of each sheet is apparent, and kept in good condition this kind of paper lasts literally a millenium or more - a stunning technical achievement for the craftspeople of the Heian era.

In the centre of Kurotani the Wagami Exhibition Hall provides paper information (mainly in Japanese). It also offers also a tour of neighborhood homes and workshops, where the paper making process can be viewed. Visitors have the opportunity to produce paper themselves and to purchase products made from washi such as wallets, name card holders, greetings cards, notebooks and zabuton cushions.

Kurotani Washi Kaikan
3 Higashidani, Kurotani-cho
Ayabe City
Kyoto 623-0108
Tel: 0773 44 0213

Monday-Friday 9 am-4.30 pm closed weekends and national holidays.

Take the JR Sanin Main Line from Kyoto Station to Ayabe Station (70 minutes by limited express) and exit the station from the south exit. The Kurotani Washi Kaikan is a two minute walk from the Kurotani Washi Kaikan Mae stop on the Aya Bus Kurotani Line.

Kiyomizu Pottery.

Kiyomizu Pottery Complex 清水焼

Elegant shape, graceful design, and pure, intense colors - these are the qualities that have drawn generation after generation to Kyoto's Kiyomizu yaki ceramic ware.

Born in the area around Kiyomizu-dera Temple - which sits nestled in the Higashiyama hills on the eastern side of Kyoto, Kiyomizu yaki has had a marked impact on the culture of Kyoto and Japan, and is admired and collected around the world.

Kiyomizu yaki traces its origins to the 5th century, and has evolved and changed over many centuries. Colors were introduced in the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), and were followed some years later by over glazing techniques to give an added luster to items after firing. In the late Edo Period, a momentous change took place: the potters of Kiyomizu shifted from earthenware to Chinese-style porcelain.

Modern Kiyomizu yaki is a product of all these innovations, and is characterized by penetrating blue, yellow, and green colors and by intricate and refined designs. It is also famous for its unmatched durability.

Only a few traditional wood-fired noborigama kilns remain around Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Indeed, the area is no longer the center of Kiyomizu yaki production, although there are still many fine shops in the winding streets that lead to the temple.

Some 20 years ago, most of the potters and kilns moved into Yamashina on the other side of the Higashiyama hills on the Tozai subway line. The new Kiyomizu Pottery Complex not only gave the potters spacious new workshops, but also allowed the introduction of more efficient gas-fired furnaces to replace the traditional wood burning kilns.

Today, the Kiyomizu Pottery Complex houses twenty ceramic artists, nineteen handicraft pottery companies, and a range of other ceramics related companies. Thanks to the centralized supply of electricity and natural gas for firing the kilns, the artisans are free to concentrate on the artistic aspects of their work, and can offer a stable supply of high-quality items.

The works produced at the Kiyomizu Pottery Complex are in the vanguard of modern Japanese ceramics. Altogether, the artisans turn out yearly some 5-6 billion yen worth of tea ceremony bowls, vases, tea cups, and many other items, and hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the complex every year.

The 35 years since the complex was opened have seen a wave of renewed interest in traditional arts and crafts in Japan, and especially in Kiyomizu yaki. The Kiyomizu Pottery Complex has played a major role in this revival, and serves as a reminder in our technology-driven world of the beauty that can only come from hand-crafted objects.

Kyo-yaki (Kyoto ceramics) and Kiyomizu-yaki have been formally designated as a traditional handicraft by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Kiyomizu Pottery Complex (京焼・清水焼工芸館)
Kawatakiyo Mizuyakidanchi-cho
Kyoto 607-8322
Tel: 075 581 6188

Access: Keihan Bus #29 or #29A from Yamashina Station (20 minutes). Alternatively take a Keihan Bus #88B from Shijo Kawaramachi Station (20 minutes) or from the Kiyomizu Gojo bus stop (10 minutes).

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Friday, June 17, 2022

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls Book Review

Book Review: Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls

ISBN: 978-4-8053-1554-5
By Manami Okazaki
Tuttle Publishing, 2021
168 pp, hardback

Book Review: Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls.
Japanese Kokeshi Dolls: The Woodcraft and Culture of Japan's Iconic Wooden Dolls

Covering every aspect of kokeshi dolls that you can imagine, and probably some that you can't, Manami Okazaki's book is as educational as it is beautiful.

Kokeshi have exploded from their origins in hot springs towns in the Tohoku (Northeast) region of Japan sometime in the 1800s.  You can now get kokeshi that are cat-themed, ninja-themed, ice cream-themed, Astro Boy-themed, hat-themed, mushroom-themed,  and 1960s psychedelic-themed. That's just for starters. Have you ever wanted a doll with mompe pants? These days, that's no problem.

There are perhaps 300 full-color pictures of kokeshi that are new and old, big and small, cute and scary, and traditional and, er, less than traditional. There are also pictures of some of the famous artisans who make them. Most of the pictures of kokeshi are of very high quality and will pique the interest of the reader.

The book opens with a short explanation of what exactly kokeshi are, what kinds of wood they are made from, a brief history of the dolls, and a description of the craft of making the dolls. Next up is a section on the 12 recognized traditional styles of kokeshi, followed by a section on what are called modern kokeshi.

Traditional kokeshi, which are still almost exclusively made in the Tohoku region, adhere to historic models, while contemporary kokeshi "have no formal rules, and are completely free from the constraints of tradition."

The contemporary kokeshi can be incredibly ornate and thought-provoking. Readers may especially be attracted to the works of Sendai's Noboru Wagatsuma. Admittedly, his work can be a bit out there, with Roswell alien and cheeseburger kokeshi among his more interesting efforts.

Example page from the book.
Example page from the book © Tuttle Publishing

The book also covers other interesting artisans and their histories. These pages often include websites, email addresses and even phone numbers to call if you are a serious buyer.

The last 25 pages are two-to-four-page sections on traveling to the prefectures - pretty much all in Tohoku - where most kokeshi makers can still be found, and also where you can go to buy kokeshi if you are in Tokyo, Australia, Europe, the Middle East or America.

Japanophiles who know the traditional Shinto belief that dolls have souls may be aware of the annual doll blessing and burning ceremony in Tokyo. You can't just throw away dolls, they must be blessed and then burned by a priest in an atmospheric ritual. This is also true of kokeshi, and their ceremony is held annually at a shrine in Miyagi Prefecture.

The quality of the pictures and content of this square-shaped book are easily good enough to display on your coffee table. The book may also nudge you into purchasing a kokeshi or two, even if you hadn't planned on it.

Review by Marshall Hughes

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Examples of contemporary kokeshi dolls.
Contemporary kokeshi dolls © Tuttle Publishing

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Calpis Soft Drink

Calpis カルピス

by Johannes Schonherr

Calpis bottles in a Japanese supermarket.
Calpis bottles in a Japanese supermarket

Calpis is a classic Japanese soft drink sold as a concentrate and based on fermented milk, first introduced in 1919. It has a slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain yoghurt.

Though Calpis is often just mixed with water or milk for quick consumption, the variety of its uses is endless. It can be mixed with any kind of fruit syrup or fruit juice, it can enhance the taste of ice cream or served as part of a cocktail.

Some people consider Calpis to be a refreshing summer drink, others drink it throughout the whole year, some appreciate its healthy properties, others just enjoy the taste. In any case, Calpis is one of Japan's most popular soft drinks.

Searching for the original Calpis concentrate in a Japanese supermarket can be a bit confusing at first. In the chilled drink section you always find a variety of ready-to-drink Calpis sodas. Looking for the concentrate, you have to go to the non-chilled section which is usually not that far away but definitely on a different set of shelves.

Calpis advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1920.
Calpis advertisement in the Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1920

History of the Drink

The history of the drink started in the year 1904 when Japanese businessman Kaiun Mishima (1878-1974) travelled to Inner Mongolia. He encountered there a drink named airag (in other parts of central Asia known as kumis) made from mare milk fermented with lactobacilli.

Weakened from the exhausting travel, he recovered very quickly after consuming the drink a few times. He also liked the drink's acidic flavor and he concluded, rightly, that airag played a great part in enabling the people of Inner Mongolia to stay healthy in the harsh climate of the region.

Mishima returned to Japan with the mission to create a similar drink, a drink that "can contribute to people's lives", as he said.

Since in Japan mare milk was hard to come by, he focused on cow's milk. After studying lactobacilli and the related fermentation processes for more than a decade, Mishima's newly established company introduced Calpis to Japan for the first time on July 7 1919.

Calpis ready to drink.
Calpis ready to drink

Calpis Bottle Design

July 7 is in Japan the much celebrated day of Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival. Two lovers in heaven, punished by the gods and thus separated by the Milky Way, are allowed to meet only that one night in the year.

The original bottle design of Calpis already featured the stars of the Milky Way in the form of multiple dots on a black background. Today, the bottles are white but still show lots of polka dots. The connection of Calpis to Tanabata stays on.

Popularity of Calpis

The drink was an instant success after its inauguration. As a concentrate, it didn't require refrigeration and thus could easily be stored even during the hot summer days. Consumers quickly got inventive and came up with all sorts of recipes on how to use the drink.

Mishima saw his company blooming until he died at age 96 in 1974. Perhaps his frequent consumption of Calpis had an impact on his lifespan?

In the 1980s, ready-to-drink chilled Calpis soft drinks started to appear on Japanese supermarket shelves in plastic bottles. Much research had gone into them to appeal to the tastes of as many as people as possible.

Still, that development came as a big surprise to many. "We always had our private family recipe on how to make the best Calpis drink," many wondered, "Now, the mix in the plastic bottles is how Calpis is supposed to taste like?"

Some thought that the ready-to-drink sodas were superior, other stayed on with their family traditions.

In 2012, brewery giant Asahi Group Holdings acquired Calpis.

Variety of Calpis Products

Today, the original Calpis concentrate is still available in every Japanese supermarket while the variety of the chilled Calpis sodas is almost endless. By now, Calpis candies and other sweets are also available.

An inscription on the top of the standard 470ml bottle of Calpis concentrate states that using one fifth of Calpis for a 150ml glass, you get 15 drinks out of one bottle of Calpis. It doesn't say what to mix the drink with but one might assume that it means either water (carbonated or not), milk or soya milk. Some people might argue and say that they get either much more or much less out of a bottle. It's all a matter of personal preferences.

The inscription below the logo translates to Peace to the Body, meaning that the drink is both relaxing and healthy. A remark reflecting Kaiun Mishima's original intentions.

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Buy Calpis from GoodsFromJapan

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