Take Home A Kokeshi Doll

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CRAFT: Take Home a Kokeshi Doll

Many will recognise Japan’s distinctive wooden kokeshi dolls: no arms, no legs, and brightly painted to create a myriad of characters. But what you may not know is that these simple dolls, hand-crafted as toys for children, have a heritage reaching back hundreds of years as one of Japan’s most famous folk crafts.

Originating in the Tohoku region of north-eastern Japan during the Edo era, local craftsmen began making the dolls as souvenirs for visitors to the region’s famous hot spring mountain villages. First produced by kijishi – carpenters who worked using a potter’s wheel – kokeshi techniques soon spread, and before long villages throughout Tohoku were carving their own distinct style of doll.

Today, kokeshi dolls remain one of Japan’s most popular souvenirs. To find your own to take home, look out for stores specialising in traditional Japanese crafts. To pick up a kokeshi with history, head to your nearest shrine market, or for the most authentic selection head straight to the source. In Naruko Onsen village, high in the mountains of Tohoku, ‘Kokeshi Street’ is lined with stores operated directly by kokeshi carvers.

Images: Alex Rebbeck

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