Kokeshi are wooden dolls of a simple ball and cylinder construction (representing the head and body ? no limbs), originating from the Tohoku north-eastern region of Japan. Kokeshi were first made by craftsmen to sell as souvenirs at onsen hot springs resorts, for which this part of Japan is famous, in the late 19th century. Kokeshi vary by the type of wood used (the most common are paulownia, cherry, maple and white dogwood), as well as their facial features and patterns depending on the town or region they come from. Although it may be difficult to tell, kokeshi are primarily female figures.
Every year there are festivals around Tohoku to celebrate the art of kokeshi, the biggest of all being held in Ōsaki City in Miyagi Prefecture, formerly the town of Naruko, where kokeshi are believed to have first been made.
Dentō-kokeshi denote the kokeshi styles that date from between the late Edo period up until the Second World War. This of course includes the Naruko style kokeshi, the oldest of them all. The Naruko kokeshi is characterized by rokuro lines (or rings painted using the lathe) and chrysanthemum patterns on the trunk, and hair painted on both sides of the face. The neck joint is designed such that when the head squeaks when twisted ? the reason as to why this was developed lies in the name of the town itself, since “Naruko” can also mean “crying child.”
“Creative” Kokeshi (literally “New Form Kokeshi”)
Although there are still families working in the traditional styles of kokeshi that have been passed down through the generations, craftspeople around Japan (particularly in Gifu Prefecture) have been developing their own styles of kokeshi since the 1950s. While modern varieties are often mass-produced, some Creative Kokeshi makers have been granted the status of Living National Treasure. Creative Kokeshi for the most part remain limbless, but many have kimono designs painted onto their bodies, and incorporate different hair styles too.
Photo from http://www.tohoku.meti.go.jp/s_cyusyo/densan-ver3/html/item/miyagi_01.htm
Omizutori is an ancient two-week long festival that occurs at Todaiji Temple in March. This is a truly exciting event that encompasses many rituals, including a fire and water ceremony.
Hinamatsuri is a special occasion in Japan that celebrates girls, wishing for their happiness and health. Have you ever seen one of the signature, grand doll displays? They are an important part of the event, as well as other customs like doll floating and eating special food.