img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="" /
March 27, 2022

How the Most Popular Traditional Japanese Dolls Are Made


Have you ever wondered what exactly is a Japanese Kokeshi doll or how it's even made?  Curious about other East Asian dolls in general?  Well you've landed in the right spot!  Keep reading below to find out a few fascinating facts on how the most popular traditional Japanese dolls are made.


Vintage black and white image of an Asian couple making Japanese dolls
  • Save

Dollmakers in Japan circa 1915 by Elstner Hilton


Japan is a beautiful culture that has a long and storied history with dolls.  It wasn't unusual for dolls to display as heirlooms and a spiritual presence of good luck instead of playtime with children.




Kokeshi Dolls


image of a wooden Kokeshi doll wearing a red kimono
  • Save



The Japanese Kokeshi Dolls are minimalistic dolls and an absolute favorite among collectors. They are painted with beautiful details and are known for their trunk-like figure as they do not have legs or arms.

They are well-associated with Japanese culture and date back to the 19th century. When farmers visited hot springs, they would buy or craft these dolls out of the local trees to bring a momento back to their daughters.

The wood used for classic Kokeshi dolls are called Mizuki- it is a moist wood that does not burn easily. This added a spiritual and mysterious appeal to the dolls.

Just imagine taking a piece of wood and shaping it down to a rounded, smooth base. After creating the two main shapes and attaching them, the crafter polishes and paints the doll. Historically, makers painted the dolls with the same three colors, wearing a Yukata or Kimono. It's an art that has earned the Kokeshi Dolls its place as a classic Japanese ornament, collectible, and gift.


Feeling inspired to make your own Japanese doll?  Start by downloading your FREE Japanese Paper Dolls below.  Don't forget to check out this DIY Dolls blog post too.


Hakata Dolls


image of a Hakata doll wearing a blue and gold kimono
  • Save



Rather than being made with wood like the Kokeshi dolls, Hakata dolls are made from clay. Hakata dolls take a much more realistic portrayal of human figures. A tile builder from the 17th century made the very first Hakata doll in homage to the emperor. Fast forward 300 hundred years and the dolls went from being the humble clay figurine to an ornate figurine made by skilled artisans.

The artisans start from paper sketches of real-life models before ever touching clay. When ready, they knead the clay and begin molding it into the figure they've drawn. Much like any artist, they start from shapes and gradually work down the form into precise details. Once they are happy with their prototype, they can cut it back down to specific pieces and create plasters with them.

They can make as many figurines out of their plaster molds now. To do this, they fill the plasters with clay and then remove the top plaster layer once dried. The pieces are glued back together and dried in the sun before being fired in high heat. The finely powdered shell mixed with glue painted on them as a base gives these dolls their unique outer texture. Another notable touch artists have employed is adding gold leaf. Just imagine the royal feel these dolls can have.


Hina Ningyo Dolls


image of two male and female Hina dolls sitting in front of a gold screen with a small lamp
  • Save


Hinamatsuri is a Japanese festival celebrated annually on March 3.  It is also called Dolls' Day, Girls’ Day, or Girl's Festival.

The festival celebrates the health and happiness of girls. (Isn't that cool? : ) )  The traditional doll displays are meant to symbolize the girls in the family who have reached their first birthday since the previous year's celebration.

The Hinamatsuri dolls (also known as Geisha dolls) are traditionally displayed on a shelf or table in front of a window. They are dressed in colorful kimono and wear elaborate hairstyles with flower crowns, ribbons, and charms.

image of Japanese dolls displayed on stair steps
  • Save


As you can see, Japan has a culture that celebrates dolls and even historically has held beliefs around dolls. Folklore tells of dolls being able to ward off or absorb evil and misfortunes. If you dig deeper into early Japanese history, there were for a time, crudely made dolls were used in rituals to pray for healthy daughters. This prayer for a daughters' long, happy life continues to this day during the festival.

Hina Ningyo dolls share similarities with Hakata dolls for their handcrafted artistry and the devotion required to create them. However, unlike the Hakata dolls, these can be made with more materials instead of exclusively clay. Adorned with rich, delicate fabrics fit for an Imperial emperor or empress, they were typically portraying.

Embroidered details aren't enough for these dolls during the festivals. They are given theatric displays with steps and a luxurious standing screen as a background. Despite them usually portraying an Imperial court couple, there is no shortage in creativity as every doll is unique with its pose, hairstyles, and exquisite outfits.

If the festival is notably upscale, the Hina Ningyo display can go up to 7 steps with 15 dolls. The lower steps hold household items and lower-ranking imperial figures and lead up to the top two royalty.





Kimekomi Dolls


image of a Kimekomi doll wearing a multi colored kimono holding a small gift box
  • Save



At first blush, the Kimekomi dolls appear like a mix of all the previous dolls described here. After all, it is wooden with a fully human body figure and decorated with beautiful fabric clothes. The Kimekomi dolls' origins go back to the 18th century.

These dolls are made with a unique method called Kimekomi. This technique is when grooves get carved into a doll made from a mold. The grooves serve as a place for clothes to be glued seamlessly. It has its own process that is distinctly Japanese. Utilizing the Kimekomi technique and using the signature Japanese shell-based paint, these dolls can be made more accessible to a common collector or as elaborately as the Hina Ningyo dolls.


Japan has a Special Spot in Dolls Around the World.


It seems every country has a special relationship with dolls, but Japan is particularly fond of them. They celebrate them with an annual festival and hold them in high regard as prized possessions and even spiritual guards. The Japanese have even viewed dolls as being alive. With dolls so carefully constructed, it's not hard to imagine that every doll has a spirit from the hands that created it.

Visit the shop
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap