Japanese American Traditions

Kokeshi: Wooden Dolls of Japan

It is said that Kokeshi, the familiar wooden dolls of Japan, began in the Tohoku region of Japan perhaps 160 years ago. The climate was harsh, fabric was scarce, but lumber was abundant. During the winter months, craftsmen often made these dolls to sell to tourists visiting the hot springs. They were also used as offerings to the gods.

Kokeshi do not possess the traditional characteristics of the dolls of most childhood memories. Their wooden cylinder bodies are without arms or legs. Their heads are generally a bit large for their bodies, but surprisingly, this does not take away from the beauty of these dolls. Each doll is painted in bright colors with gentle facial features. These days, modernized Kokeshi are ideal for collecting, as each doll is often shaped and painted in a design that is common to the particular region where it was created.

Today, tourists, collectors, and admirers can view and purchase Kokeshi all over Japan. Antique versions are displayed in museums; new creations are often featured in contests and festivals. There is no doubt that the allure of these dolls persists despite the changes they have undergone over the years.

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