Searching all of Japan for handcrafted items that express its heart and soul, our proprietor, KASHIYUKA, presents things that bring a bit of luxury to everyday life. Her pursuit this time took her to a hot spring town in Miyagi prefecture and an encounter with Sendai Kokeshi, a simple, traditional toy, lathed from local wood and hand-painted.
Small things are sweet and pretty. That’s all I could think, looking a kokeshi doll small enough to nest in the palm of my hand. That’s when Mr. Suzuki, third-generation director of the Ganguan Kokeshiya studio, located in Aiku Osenkyō, Miyagi prefecture, told me that, “Kokeshi dolls were originally made for small children to play house with.”
“Its origin is a doll made on a lathe in the late Edo era throughout the Tohoku region by the kijishi. Those are the artisans responsible for producing the wooden trays and bowls to be finished in urushi lacquer. It’s said that they made the dolls exclusively for the pleasure of their children.”
What a lovely story! And that’s why the torso of the doll is so thin. It’s easily held in a small hand. This traditional shape is unique to the six prefectures that comprise Tohoku, and there are various patterns to distinguish specific areas, such as the Naruko style of Miyagi and the Tsugaru style of Aomori. Mr. Suzuki makes Sendai kokeshi in the Sakunami style, which dates from the end of the Edo era. It’s painted in a characteristic black and red.
“They’re made of mizuki wood, from a type of tree found in Tohoku. The white color is well-suited to making dolls,” says Mr. Suzuki.
First, a long block of mizuki is set on the lathe and spun at very high speed. A planing blade is applied to reduce it to a fundamental form. Various types of blades are used along the process, gradually bringing it to its final shape. The wooden doll, its beautiful grain running from the head through the torso, is then polished and finished. Even before the face is painted on, it has a clear, doll-like presence.