<%-- Page Title--%> Exhibition <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

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Attack of the Kokeshi Dolls

Imran H. Khan

In today's realm, Barbie seems to be the Queen of dolls who has conquered the hearts of all young girls (and some boys too). From a more traditional point of view, we know that there are various types of folk toys from different parts of the world that are quite distinctive to the region of its origin. "All are peculiar to the places where they emerged as well as to the people living there”, says Shibata Chokichiro, Director for Japan Traditional Kokeshi Association. Out of numerous unique folk toys found in Japan, the most common are the Kokeshi, or wooden dolls. These dolls are traditionally simple in construction, made of wood, and shaped with a cylindrical body and round head. They originated as a child's toy in the Tohoku region of northern Japan and the tradition has since been passed on through the generations.

Kokeshi are usually limbless and painted in bright floral designs, kimono or in other traditional patters. Traditional kokeshi can be classified into probably 10 categories based on manufacturing technique, shape, and decoration. In addition, "contemporary" kokeshi are now making the scene, incorporating elements of modern art and sculpture. Kokeshi is now recognised as one of the traditional folk arts in Japan. Kokeshi dolls would probably be Barbie's Great great grand mother as they go back about two hundred years.

The Embassy of Japan in collaboration with Bangladesh Shishu Academy and Bangladesh-Japan Youth Friendship Association has organised an exhibition titled “The World of Kokeshi Dolls”, featuring, probably the most enduring of all dolls, the Japanese Kokeshi Dolls. In this event a great variety of Kokeshi, creative Kokeshi and any other handcrafted wooden toys have been brought from Japan. Among them, some popular faces are the Tsuchiyu, dolls which have a gooseneck-joint with the body tenon inserted into the head and the cylindrical body bulge slightly in the middle. Yajiro was first developed in the village of Yajiro in the city of Shiroshi. The top of the head is painted with multicolored lines drawn in a beret cap pattern. Flowers or leaf patterns may sometimes be added. The Naruko kokeshi had its head joined to its body with a close fitting gooseneck that emits a “cry” (hence called the crying doll) when the head is turned. A special painting technique called uterakashi is sometimes used in the body. The Nanbu was developed from an unpainted, pacifier-shaped toy with a movable head. These dolls are characterised by their simple painting and their movable head. The Tsugaru's head and body are of one piece. Some have a wasp waist while others have heavyset shoulders, reflecting the influence of the Naruko kokeshi.

This event, which will remain open till the 3rd of November, can serve as a tool to showcase the amount of respect and admiration that the Japanese have for their cultural heritage.

Traditional Kokeshi
This began when Tohoku's kijiya, woodworkers making bowls and other household items, turned their craftsmanship to creating wooden dolls that visitors could buy for their children. As the typical features were being transmitted from master to apprentice, father to son, some of them got distinctive to certain localities. The fact that traditional kokeshi, with their simple limbless structure, have so long been treasured as dolls in Japan can be appreciated in the context of an affinity for siplicity and omission often seen in Japanese culture.

Wooden Toys
Traditional Tohoku kokeshi artisans also made other kinds of wooden toys using the same style and techniques. They are usually classified into: Tops--consisting of numerous varieties of tops (koma). Some of their tops not only spin but also mover in different directions. Among them are hitting-koma, wrestling-koma, singing-koma, and much more. There are also vegetable basket koma, a wooden basket filled with many tops in the shape of vegetables; Kitchen and Household Items --consisting of toy teas sets, charcoal cooking braziers and kettles, mortars and pestles, pots and water jars; Moving Toys which include toy ducks, demons, tigers, horses, as well as four-wheeled wagons, trains and automobiles; Dolls for the Girl's Festival --where the dolls vary from those dolls that are patterned after the traditional dolls. They also have accessory items made of wood, including lanterns, votive offerings and various other implements; Other Toys have an assortment of toys such as the self-righting tumbler doll, a small drum with string-attached balls that strike the heads when the handle is rotated and other such items.

Creative Kokeshi
Whereas traditional kokeshi exhibit a recognisable local character, creative kokeshi are completely free in terms of inspiration, shape and painting, the only traditional constraint being their manufacture by means of the lathe. Unlike traditional kokeshi, they do not display any of their distinctive local colour nor the techniques that had been passed down through the generations. They simply represent one-generation-only, original piece of art by individual craftsman. This is relatively a new concept where most of the artists try to express certain themes through their work.




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