Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, Part 4

B 33 Vintage boy ichimatsu

Dolls for Entertainment and Play

While all of the ningyo are invaluable to collectors of Asian art, it is the play dolls that are most endearing to doll enthusiasts. “Huggable” dolls, made for and played with by children, carry that undeniable charm of a childhood from long ago, or one in progress right now.

B 34 Bunraku Japanese traditional performing arts

Bunraku theater puppets. Note black hooded puppeteers who do not show up on the stage during a performance.

Bunraku-ningyo or Theatrical Dolls for Puppet Theater: Although there are several types of puppet or theater dolls in Japan, Bunraku puppets are perhaps the most complex and layered, and are considered as one of the most sophisticated doll forms in the world. The puppets are themselves of simple construction with loosely attached limbs for great mobility, and detachable heads for interchangeability. Their depth and mystery comes from how they are transformed on stage. Puppeteers wear all black with hoods to manipulate the puppets on stage, sometimes with as many as three operators per puppet. They transform the inert doll magically in great dramas of emotion, power, pathos, agony, heroism, and loss. To quote Alan Scott Pate once more, “Such is their extraordinary sense of vivacity onstage, that to see them on their stands, inert, after a performance it is difficult to believe that they are actually inanimate.”

B 35 Karakuri Japanese mechanical doll

Karakuri Mechanical Doll with western clockwork mechanism

Karakuri-ningyo or Mechanical Dolls:  Just as with the European automaton, there are dolls in Japan that can move by means of strings, hand cranks, and knobs, for home entertainment. Some are simple, such as a karakuri gosho figure who lifts his arms to don a mask. Some are more complicated tableaux. Many of these are divided into four categories: musicians, transformations, animal scenes, and performers. The facades of the bases depict longevity motifs such as cranes, turtles, bamboo, and pine.

Karakuri ningyo showing base with motifs

Karakuri ningyo with music box mechanism, showing base with motifs

 

B 36 Keue saiko Ningyo with wigs

Keue Saiku doll with many wigs

Keue Saiku: Almost all of the keue saiku depict animals, so could be classified as gangu, or toys, rather than ningyo. However, the interchangeable wig doll falls within this category. The figures portray at once a sense of whimsy and profound realism. “Saiku” means fine workmanship, and “keue” means thread planting, indicating the creation of these toys involved fine crafting by individually inserting silk threads in the figures.

B 37 Mitsuori kneeling woman

Mitsuore-ningyo illustrating the way in which the doll can fold its legs to kneel in the Japanese style.

Mitsuore-ningyo or Three Fold Dolls: Mitsuore, as well as ichimatsu, are also called daki-ningyo or huggable dolls, and are meant to be held and dressed. This is a style of doll that is more familiar to gaijin, or foreigners. This doll, introduced in the late 18th century, was an expensive toy doll with a technically complicated structure. It is pliable with cloth upper arms, easily dressed for a change of clothing. Because of the hollowed out backs of the thighs, this doll can stand, sit, or kneel.

B 38 Three Geiko with a Doll 1938

Three Geiko (higher-level apprentice Geisha) with a Doll 1938

As well as being play dolls for children, the daki-ningyo were also popular with geisha (“arts person”) and maiko, (“dancing child” or apprentice geisha). This is evidenced by images in woodblock prints and photographs in the mid-Edo through Showa periods. This type of photo became a populay souvenir for tourists after Japan was opened in 1853.

B 39 Japanese Boy Ichimatsu with Haori Better Quality 1

Ichimatsu Boy from author’s collection. His hair is painted on.

Ichimatsu-ningyo: While still holding artistic appeal, these are truly huggable play dolls depicting children of about six or seven years of age with their bendable fabric portioned limbs, and often a squeaker in their mid-sections.

B 40 Mitsuori Ningyo Boy Edo Period 2

Mitsuori Ningyo Boy, Edo Period. Of note is the shaved hairstyle of the period with longer hair in front of the ears.

Most early ichimatsu, before the Friendship Dolls of 1927, depicted boys. These dolls are individually artist made from molded parts covered with gofun, with some being more artistically rendered than others. A paper bearing the artist’s signature wraps the torso before the doll is dressed.

DSC03181

Ichimatsu from the author’s collection. Note the two babies in the front of the photo.

Ichimatsu depicting younger babies and miniature play doll families are also made as children’s toys.

C A 28 dollhouse size play ichimatsue dolls

These miniature dollhouse sized ningyo are from the author’s collection. The okaasan and otosan are 4″ tall. They come in a little basket with a lid.

B 44 Miss Tottori 1927 send-off party

Miss Tottori: Photo from the 1927 send-off party (Sending from Japan to USA)

Torei-ningyo, Friendship or Ambassador Dolls: The most famous of the ichimatsu-ningyo are the Friendship Dolls who were sent to America in 1927 after 12,739 department store variety “Blue-eyed” dolls were sent to Japan the previous year as an overture of goodwill following discrimination of Japanese citizens in the United States.

B 42 Japanese girls with blue eyed dolls

Japanese girls holding blue eyed dolls sent to Japan in 1926 from American children

Whole volumes have been written about these dolls and their experience as they have come back into the public awareness since the 1980’s.

B 43 Miss Wakayama by Hirata Goyo II

Miss Wakayama by Hirata Goyo II

They are each 32″ tall, dressed in exquisite furisode (long sleeved formal kimono), and were accompanied with stands, accoutrements, accessories, a passport, and a ship ticket.

B 45 Miss Fukuoka Full Dogu

Miss Fukuoka/Gunma Full Dogu

These highly artistically rendered dolls are the starting point of the Japanese Art Doll Movement. 45 of the original 58 dolls are now accounted for, though they are not all identified correctly, as their stands and accessories were mixed up in their early touring of the United States. Miss Fukuoka/Gunma resides at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene, Oregon. Please click on the link below in “For More Information” to experience Alan Scott Pate’s 2014 lecture (69 minutes) on the Japanese Friendship Dolls at the Schnitzer Museum

B 46 BJD female

BJD girl

BJD Dolls: No overview of Japanese dolls can be complete without a mention of the wildly popular among young people today, BJD (ball jointed dolls).

B 47 BJD male nude

BJD nude male

The Volks company is one of the outstanding creators of these highly detailed dolls, often with the popular Japanese “anime” look.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Ningyo of Japan serve significant cultural roles as ritual, guardian, and votive objects, as art for admiration, and as entertainment and toys for adults and children. Though dolls of Japan have been collectible as art in the west since the late 19th century, collectors of antique dolls are just beginning to discover the beautiful, “kawaii” ningyo. Kirei desu ne!

B 48 Dreamland by Charles Deter Weldon

Dreamland by Charles Deter Weldon circa 1883

 

For More Information:

Kaonis, Donna. “A Visit with the Herrings.” (Japanese Dolls) Antique Doll Collector, October 2015.

Kita, Terry. The Sun Shines For Us All: The Friendship Dolls From Japan. Valparaiso, IN: Valparaiso University, 2015.

Pate, Alan Scott. “Good, Better, Best: Evaluating Japanese Ichimatsu Dolls.” Antique Doll Collector, March 2017.

Pate, Alan Scott. “Courtesans and Heroines: Japanese Fashion Dolls from the 18th Century.” Doll News, Summer 2019.

Pate, Alan Scott. Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2008.

Pate, Alan Scott. Lecture: Japanese Friendship Dolls. Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, February 4, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBNGH2mno5A

Pate, Alan Scott. Ningyo: The Art of the Japanese Doll. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

Stern, Itsuke and Anthony. “Wonderful Japanese Kokeshi Dolls.” Doll News, Winter 2015.

Stewart, Jennifer Anne. “Beyond Oceans and Decades: In Search of Ningyo.” Blog Post: https://quintessentialantiquedolls.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/beyond-oceans-and-decades-in-search-of-ningyo/

Make Japanese paper dolls: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=in38zVtiiZI

Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, Part 1

Japanese girl in kimono with Ichimatsu ningyo 1920

It is no wonder that Japan and its culture appear mysterious and exotic to Americans.  For over 220 years, the foreign policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate (the last feudal military government) barred nearly all foreigners from entering Japan, and the common people of Japan were barred from leaving the country. In 1853, American ships commanded by Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japan to American and Western trade.

Commodore Perry Dolls brought from Japan in 1852

Japanese dolls (three fold or Mitsuori) given as gifts to Commodore Perry in Japan, 1853

From the first trade negotiations, Perry brought back a pair of Japanese mitsuori dolls. However, a Japanese play doll had already made its way to Germany, perhaps by a Dutch trader in 1851, resulting in the German style of doll known as Motschmann or Taufling.

German Taufling papier mache circa 1851

German papier mache taufling, circa 1851

Japanese dolls, or Ningyo, have influenced western dolls since at least 1851, and perhaps earlier, as the thread doll form (keue saiku) were among the first ningyo introduced in the US in 1799 by American ships from Salem Massachusetts contracted to fulfill Dutch treaty obligations during the French Revolution period.

Thomas Nast Santa Claus with taufling-ichimatsu

Thomas Nast (German-born American) Santa Claus with taufling/ichimatsu doll.  Printed in  Harper’s Weekly 1881

Ningyo have fascinated Victorian Europe, and have continued to be mesmerizing souvenirs in America since more frequent contact with Japan after WWII. In order to understand the place of ningyo within Japanese culture, however, it is necessary to understand more about the culture of Japan.

torii-itsukushima-miyajima-big

Shinto is the native religion of Japan, though Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity are widely practiced there now, as well. Shinto involves nature worship, meaning that natural phenomenon such as sun, wind, trees, mountains, and water are considered as divinities. Torii, the traditional Japanese gates, are so popular in Japan’s culture that they have come to be known in the western part of the world as one of the characterizing features of Japan. The Torii is a gateway that signals the transition from the profane to the sacred, and is usually located at the entrance to Shinto, as well as to Buddhist, shrines, though it is also used to mark an area believed to have a deep spiritual meaning.

Tanabata Star Festival

Tanabata Star Festival

There are five sacred or holy days in the Shinto tradition. These auspicious days are January 1 (New Year), March 3 (Hina Matsuri or Girl’s Day), May 5 (Tango no Sekku or Boy’s Day), July 7 (Tanabata or Star Festival), and September 9 (Choyo or Chrysanthemum Festival).

Shinto is also animistic, meaning to see life in what we consider to be lifeless things. Dolls, therefore, have a deeply ritualistic meaning in Japan because of their ability to be surrogate human beings. “Ningyo” means human form, while “doll” is typically defined as a small human figure used as a child’s toy.

Dogu

Dogu    The earliest recognizable dolls in Japan are prehistoric clay dogu figures, as old as 12000 BCE.

As ritual objects, ningyo are used as spirit vessels and votives for deities, as references to a particular person, child, infant, or unborn child, and can confuse malevolent forces, thus protecting children from danger and disease. Because of their sacred nature, ningyo are not merely disposed of; rather, they are given funerals at the end of their function with ceremonies concluding with burning the dolls or floating them away on water. (as we shall see . . .)

Just as western dolls are categorized in time periods usually corresponding to British ruling monarchs, ningyo are dated by Japanese imperial periods. In regard to antique ningyo, we are most concerned with Edo period through Showa period.

Periods of Japanese History

*  Early Japan (until 710)                                            *  Edo Period (1603-1868)

*  Nara and Heian Periods (710-1192)                      *  Meiji Period (1868-1912)

*  Kamakura Period (1192-1333)                                *  Taisho Period (1912-1926)

*  Muromachi Period (1338-1573)                              *  Showa Period (1926-1989)

*  Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603)                *  Heisei Period (1989-present)

Categories of Ningyo

Japanese dolls can be categorized by the materials they are made from, such as cloth, wood, clay, or paper. However, it is much more enlightening to get to know ningyo within their place and purpose in Japanese culture. Therefore, we shall explore the dolls as Ritual, Guardian, and Festival Ningyo; Display or Appreciation Ningyo; and Play and Entertainment Ningyo, though these categories are also not clear cut. For example, the Ambassador or Friendship dolls are ichimatsu ningyo; however, they are obviously not play dolls. Rather, they carry a significant ritual purpose as ambassadors of goodwill, and they are intended for display. Likewise, kokeshi originated as souvenir dolls for display, yet they also have ritual significance, and some kokeshi seem intended as play dolls, as we see with the mini wobble headed dolls from my collection.

DSC03194

Author’s collection of miniature play kokeshi ningyo. The tallest doll is 4″.

In the next post, Part 2 of Ningyo: An Overview of Japanese Dolls, we will explore the first category listed above–Ritual, Guardian, and Festival Ningyo. (Bibliography will be listed at the end of Part 4.)