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

Buy this book from Amazon USA | UK | Japan

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

More on Kokeshi

GoodsFromJapan stocks a wide range of kokeshi dolls.

Purchase a kokeshi doll direct from Japan for your home or business.

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