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Ningyo, 人形,  にんぎょう - Traditional dolls in Japan are known by the name of 'ningyō', which means 'human figure' in Japanese. Some experts see a continuity in the making of human images by the ancient Jōmon culture in Japan (8000-200 B.C.E.) and in the Haniwa funerary figures of the subsequent Kofun culture. Expert Alan Pate notes that temple records refer to the making of a grass doll to be blessed and thrown into the river at Ise Shrine in 3 B.C.; the custom was probably even more ancient, but it is at the root of the modern Doll Festival or Hina Matsuri.

They are various types of Japanese dolls, some representing children and babies, some the imperial court, warriors and heroes, fairy-tale characters, gods and (rarely) demons, and also people of the daily life of Japanese cities. Many were traditionally made for household shrines, for formal gift-giving, or for festival celebrations such as Hina Matsuri, (March 3, the Doll Festival or Girls' Day) or Tango no Sekko or Kodomo no hi (May 5, Boys' Day or Children's Day). Some were manufactured as a local craft, to be purchased by pilgrims as a souvenir of a temple visit or some other trip.

Around the year 1000, several types of dolls had already been defined, as we know from Lady Murasaki's great novel The Tale of Genji. Girls played with dolls and doll houses; women made protective dolls for their children or grandchildren; dolls were used in religious ceremonies, taking on the sins of a person whom they had touched. Probably the first professional dollmakers were temple sculptors, who used their skill to make painted wooden images of children (Saga dolls). The possibilities of this art form, using carved wood or wood composition, a shining white "skin" lacquer called gofun made from ground oystershell and glue, and beautiful textiles, were vast. Important figures of this kind included very large images of legendary heroes, often with mechanical action built in, which topped festival carts brought out and hauled through town for a civic festival such as Kyoto's Gion Matsuri; mechanical theatrical scenes, which were a popular form of entertainment; and Bunraku puppets, a theatrical form which rivaled and inspired the Kabuki theater, and survives today.

In the Edo period (about 1603-1867), when Japan was closed to most trade, there developed both fine doll makers and a market of wealthy individuals who would pay for the most beautiful doll sets for display in their homes or as valuable gifts. Sets of dolls came to include larger and more elaborate figures, and more of them. The competitive trade was eventually regulated by government, meaning that doll makers could be arrested or banished for breaking laws on materials and height.

Karakuri puppets or dolls are mechanical; they include the large figures on festival floats and smaller entertaining scenes, often with a musical element accompanying the movement.

Gosho dolls show fat, cute babies in a simplified form. The basic gosho is an almost-naked sitting boy, carved all in one piece, with very white skin, though gosho with elaborate clothing, hairstyle, and accessories, female as well as male, became popular as well. They developed as a gifts associated with the Imperial court, and "gosho" could be translated "palace" or "court."

Hina dolls are the dolls for Hina Matsuri, the Doll Festival, also known as Momo no Sekku or the Peach Festival. They can be made of many materials but the classic hina doll has a pyramidal body of elaborate, many-layered textiles stuffed with straw and/or wood blocks, carved wood hands (and in some cases feet) covered with gofun, and a head of carved wood or molded wood compo covered with gofun, with set-in glass eyes (though before about 1850 the eyes were carved into the gofun and painted) and human or silk hair. A full set comprises at least 15 dolls, representing specific characters, with many accessories (dogu), though the basic set is a male-female pair, often referred to as the Emperor and Empress.

Musha or warrior dolls are usually made of materials similar to the hina dolls, but the construction is often more complicated, since the dolls represent men (or women) seated on camp chairs, standing, or riding horses. Armor, helmets, and weapons are made of lacquered paper, often with metal accents. There is no specified "set" of such dolls; subjects include Emperor Jimmu, Empress Jingū with her prime minister Takenouchi holding her newborn imperial son, Shoki the Demon-Queller, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his generals and tea-master, and fairy-tale figures such as Momotaro the Peach Boy or Kintaro the Golden Boy.

Ichimatsu dolls represent little girls or boys, correctly proportioned and usually with flesh-colored skin and glass eyes. The original Ichimatsu were named after an 18th-century Kabuki actor, and must have represented an adult man, but since the late 19th century the term has applied to child dolls, usually made to hold in the arms, dress, and pose (either with elaborately made joints or with floppy cloth upper arms and thighs). Baby boy dolls with mischievous expressions were most popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, but in 1927 the Friendship Doll Exchange involved the creation of 58 magnificent 32" dolls representing little girls, to be sent as a gift from the Children of Japan to the Children of the United States, and the aesthetic of these marvelous dolls influenced dollmakers to emulate this type of a solemn, gentle-looking little girl in elaborate kimono.

Kimekomi refers to a method of making dolls. The ancestors of Kimekomi dolls are the Kamo ("willow-wood") dolls, small dolls carved of willow and decorated with cloth scraps. Kimekomi dolls start with a carved and/or molded base of wood, wood compo, or (in some modern dolls) plastic foam. A design of different patterned cloth scraps is planned out, and the base is grooved so that the edges of the cloth can be hidden in the grooves. The cloth is glued on and the edges tucked in. The head and hands (if any) of the doll are usually finished with gofun; the hair may be part of the molded head or be a separate wig. These dolls have become a very popular craft and kits with finished heads can be purchased. The method is also used by some of Japan's finest and most avant-garde dollmakers, who enjoy adapting the old materials to new visions.

Silk-skinned or "mask-face" dolls became a popular craft in Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, allowing the individual to design elaborate kimono for dolls representing women of various periods of Japanese history, particularly the Edo period. Dolls of this type continued to be made and were a popular item for servicemen and tourists to bring back after World War II, though they also might choose dolls representing similar subjects made with gofun faces.

Kokeshi dolls have been made for 150 years, and are from Northern Honshū (main island) of Japan. They were originally made as toys for children of farmers. They have no arms or legs, but a large head and cylindrical body, representing little girls. From a simple toy, it has now become a famous Japanese craft, and now an established souvenir for tourists.

Daruma dolls are spherical dolls with red body and white faces without pupils. It represents a priest who founded Zen about 1500 years ago. Daruma doll is a charm to bring good fortune and fortitude to accomplish your goals. Fill in one eye when you make a goal or wish, the other when your wish is fulfilled. You can make a wish throughout the year, but it is common in Japan to do this typically on New Year's Day.

Bisque dolls are made of fired clay. Fukuoka is a traditional center of the manufacture of bisque dolls, and Hakata ningyo are famous throughout Japan.

Anesama ningyo and shiori ningyo (literally "big sister dolls" and "bookmark dolls," respectively) are made of washi paper. Anesama ningyo tend to be three-dimensional, whereas shiori ningyo are flat. Anesama ningyo often have elaborate hairstyles and costumes made of high-quality washi paper. They often lack facial features. Those from Shimane prefecture are especially famous.

More recent and less traditional Japanese dolls that have become popular are ball-jointed dolls (BJDs), particularly the Super Dollfie made by Volks. BJDs are very realistic-looking fashion dolls whose popularity has spread to the US and other countries.

Information source: “Japanese traditional dolls.” Article date: 18 Jan. 2008. Retrieved: Wikipedia. 8 Feb. 2008 <Japanese traditional dolls>.





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