Kokeshi dolls origins...

Most of the people don’t even know what a Kokeshi doll is. For someone looking at them from at least 10-15 meters, they look pretty much like the old kitchen tools used by people to smash the garlic in the European area. However, they have nothing in common with the kitchen area, as they are traditional Japanese dolls.

Their origins are still unclear. There are some historians that consider Shinchi Shuraku (in Zao, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan) as the true father of this type of dolls, but still, due to the fact that there are almost no documents about them, this thing can not be known 100% for sure. It is believed that the Kokeshi dolls have been produced and released on the market for the first time in the Edo period, somewhere in the beginning of the 18th century.

Basically, these handmade wooden dolls were meant to be sold to the people who were visiting the onsens(term that refers to the traditional Japanese natural thermal baths) during the spring and summer time.

In the traditional Japanese language, the term Kokeshi comes from “Ko” which actually means small and “Keshi”, term used for naming the dolls. In other words, the term Kokeshi can be translated quite simple: small dolls;

What makes the Kokeshi dolls different from all the other toys? First of all, they are handmade, and more than that, they are entirely made of wood. They don’t have any limbs, as the main design consists of a simple trunk aside of an enlarged head. Usually, the trunk is decorated with flower paintings. The main colors used for decorating the Kokeshi dolls are red, yellow and sometimes black, fact that depends solely of the artist’s will.

Uaually, there 10 traditional types of dolls: Tsuchiyu, Yajirō, Tōgatta, Naruko, Sakunami, Zaō Takayu, Hijiori, Kijiyama, Nambu and Tsugaru. Even though they are traditional Japanese dolls, this doesn’t mean that they can be found all over in Japan. Most of them can be found in specific areas: for instance, the Yajiro ones can be found near and in Shiroishi, while the Naruko ones can be found in the Naruko Onsen area. Basicaly, every Kokeshi dolls represents a certain region.

How To Paint a Kokeshi Doll

Even though Kokeshi dolls are traditional Japanese dolls, this doesn’t mean that in order to replicate them, people need special skills. As long as they follow the normal pattern, it’s quite easy to replicate even from scratch. Obviously, in order to create similar dolls the one ones made by people who live by doing this kind of activity, there may be required several chances, but once the techniques are mastered, there should be no problem to make and paint a Kokeshi doll.

What steps should you follow in order to paint such a doll?

First of all, assuming that you already have the head and the trunk – usually, they are made from 2 different parts that eventually get glued together, but however, there are people that make the doll from a single wooden piece – all you have to do is to get the paint and start working;

Secondly, decorate the trunk with a kimono alike painting or even with textile materials. Normally, a traditional Kokeshi doll is not covered by any textile materials, but modern artists put clothes and even accessories on the trunk. Next, start painting the kimono with dragon models, cherry blossoms or even with Japanese symbols. Pay attention at the required space, since this factor is kind of limited;

The head must be painted with a single color. The only part that is allowed to be dyed in a different color is the hair. Still, it’s important to mention that the traditional ones are usually painted with a short black hair, while the modern ones are given all the sorts of hairstyles and colors.

As for the face itself, use only a thin crayon or a gentile air brush. Usually, a normal Kokeshi doll has small eyes and a small mouth as well as contoured cheeks. Next, just let the paint dry and that’s pretty much it.