Kokeshi Dolls – Tsuchiyu Style

By Mike Sullivan

In a previous article I discussed one type of Kokeshi Doll from Naruko, altogether there are eleven official kinds of Kokeshi dolls, the Naruko style was started by a woodturner called Matagoro Onuma. The popularity of this doll was particularly sparked by a train line to Naruko that was built in 1915.In the early 1800s woodworkers in Tsuchiyu began making their own style of Kokeshi Doll, as this town is located at the base of Mt. Azuma every year in winter it become impossible to reach the town for months at a time. With little else to do the Tsuchiyu craftsmen developed a Kokeshi Doll that they could sell to guests when visitors started to come again.

The Tsuchiyu Kokeshi Doll is one of eleven official kinds of Kokeshi

Originally the dolls were first made for children to play with in the north of Japan in the seventeenth century; in places like Miyagi prefecture there are many beautiful mountains with onsen (hot spring) villages which were very popular for anyone who wished to have a relaxing experience. It is said that Kamegoro Sakuma, a woodturner, started to make kokeshi dolls from around 1820 and his eldest son, Yashichi, invented the turnable head structure. Thus, the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi Doll became one of the eleven official types of doll that are made in Japan. The Tsuchiyu-onsen village is approximately 30 minutes by car from Fukushima station in Fukushima prefecture and is located in the Arakawa valley, which is between the Azuma Mountains and Adatara Mountains.

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The characteristics of the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi doll

The shape of the Tsuchiyu doll has a cylindrical narrow body but with a slightly wider bottom. Typically the head is smaller than other Kokeshi dolls and on top of the head there is a black coiled pattern like a fish eye that is called “Jya-no-me” or snake eye in Japanese. There is also a red ribbon-like design on each side of the forehead called “Kase” in Japanese. There is a pattern of stripes around the body, which is painted while the doll is still rotating on the lathe, called “Rokuro-sen” in Japanese. However, it is also possible to see this on other kokeshi dolls. The Tsuchiyu-Kokeshi doll has an original and unique pattern which is created by using a lathe called “Kaeshi-Rokuro”, this is a reverse turning technique. Floral designs are also sometimes added and furthermore, there can be eyes with a pupil and lower eyelid which is called “Kujira-me” or whale eye in Japanese. The nose is round and the mouth is similar to Betty Boo. The head is jointed to the body with a closely fitting gooseneck that emits a “cry” when the head is turned. The Naruko-Kokeshi doll also has this characteristic.

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Tsuchiyu Kokeshi Doll makers often participate in competitions

One Tsuchiyu Kokeshi doll maker is Yukinori Jinnohara, he was born in 1947 and is also president of the Tsuchiyu Kokeshi Association. He has received many prizes from Japan Kokeshi dolls contests which have been held in Shiroishi city in Miyagi-prefecture every May since 1959 and other competitions such as the Michinoku Kokeshi Dolls contest, that has been held at Yamagata city in Yamagata prefecture every October since 1980, as well as the Japan Kokeshi Dolls festival which has been held at Naruko hot spring village in Miyagi prefecture every Septembersince 1948.

More can be seen about this kokeshi doll, and other dolls, here.

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