So what is a traditional Japanese Kokeshi Doll ?

I love traditional Japanese Kokeshi Dolls, and if you know of my work you will have seen that much of my original artwork and craft products are variations on these lovely figurines, but where did they originate . . . . 

The traditional Japanese Kokeshi Doll is made of wood, has a cylindrical body and a round head, usually with the head disproportionally large when compared to the body.
These beautiful wooden dolls originated in the Tohoku region of Japan at some point between the 16th to 18th centuries. They were made by woodworking artisans (known as Kijiya) to sell to tourists, and because they were handcrafted and hand-painted, no two traditional dolls are the same.
Traditional Kokeshi Doll shapes and patterns are particular to a certain area and are classifed under eleven types:

  • Tsuchiyu (土湯系)
  • Yajirō (弥治郎系)
  • Tōgatta (遠刈田系)
  • Naruko (鳴子系)
  • Sakunami (作並系) or Yamagata-Sakunami (山形作並系)
  • Zaō Takayu (蔵王高湯系)
  • Hijiori (肘折系)
  • Kijiyama (木地山系)
  • Nambu (南部系)
  • Tsugaru (津軽系) or Nuruyu (温湯系)
The most common is the Naruko type. The main street of the Naruko Onsen Village is known as Kokeshi Street and has shops which are operated directly by the Kokeshi carvers.
Kokeshi Doll beauty is in their simplicity, typically they have very simple facial features, sometimes literally only a few basic lines depicting eyes and mouth, and simple patterned themes on the body (commonly simple floral designs). Antique dolls originally were decorated in red and black, occasionally yellow.
Kokeshi Dolls are still being handcrafted today,  new designs tend to be more brightly coloured but are still based on the same simplistic design and can be found widely in craft shops and online.


A contemporary form of these traditional Japanese dolls can be found in the popular and collectable Momiji Dolls. These dolls are different from Kokeshi Dolls in that they contain a small space in the base for a secret message card to be hidden, for this reason they are also known as Momiji Friendship Dolls and are often given as a gift to show friendship and love. The giving of a small gift is part of the culture of Japan and is known as omiyage.

You can see many of my Kokeshi Doll inspired artwork and craft items on this website and also on my artist pages at

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