DESCRIPTION OF JAPANESE DOLLS AND FOLK TOYS
Japanese decorative and folk art toys trace their lineage back to prehistoric examples of miniaturized humans who were thought to have religious or magical significance. Throughout Japan's history, the artifacts you see have been used by different members of Japanese society for a variety of reasons. The Japanese doll, for instance, is not only a child's plaything, but Buddhist monks would place dolls in dioramas to explain allegories, or dolls may be used to portray a significant event, such as the investiture of an emperor. Today, a doll festival is held each year on March 3, whereby young girls formally display dolls elaborately attired as nobles and members of the royal family. Similarly, on May 5, young boys display warrior dolls in colorful armor of the medieval period.
The first doll you see is of a girl under a flowering tree. It is made of molded clay and then heavily coated with powdered chalk. While the tree is not visible, by the doll's delicate features, you can almost imagine how she is enraptured by the sight and smell of perhaps a flowering plum tree.
The next two dolls are "dressed" dolls and are made of carved wood. Their limbs and faces are coated with white chalk, the hair is elegantly coiffured and the costumes are of expensive brocades. The first doll is of a girl with wisteria in hand, singing from the kabuki play "Fuji Musume", and the second is of the "Lion Dance" from the kabuki play "Kagami Jishi".
The simple, cylindrical doll with a round head and no arms or legs is a favorite folk toy in Japan. Believed to have been originally made by traveling woodcarvers, the kokeshi doll is often painted with concentric circles of yellow and red and collectors can often pinpoint the locality of a kokeshi doll's origin by the distinctive painted facial expressions. The kokeshi doll you are looking at is particularly elegant and has won the Prime Minister's Award and the Ministry of Industry and Trade Award.
Mechanical dolls and toys, as you see in the next three examples, became popular in the 1700's. The first is of Ghost Kinta. Kinta was a follower of Kato Kiyomasa, a famous daimyo of the late 16th century, and was very popular because he was always bringing laughter to the local people. Ghost Kinta still brings humor to those who see him. The courageous tiger and the graceful fish are also examples of folk toys from this period.
Traditional toys date back to at least 700 A.D., but they experienced the greatest popularity during the Edo period (1600-1868) when Japan was at peace and people other than the aristocracy had enough time to produce and enjoy folk toys. There are almost 1000 different types of folk toys, which can be divided into three groups. The first group are simple playthings for children and the whistling top, (note the square cut in its side) spun with a whipcord, is a good example. The second group are artistic toys which can be enjoyed by children and admired by adults, such as kites with beautifully decorated pictures of historical figures.
The third group of folk toys are those which were originally religious in character. Horses are kept in Shinto shrines as divine creatures and are paraded on festival days. Cows are exhibited for good health, particularly those with boxes of gold on their backs.
Japanese handcrafted toys, made in different areas of Japan, are created by farm families supplementing their incomes as well as artists who are trying to preserve an ancient tradition. Regardless of their source, folk toys continually provide amusement and admiration to people of all ages.
The Japanese Folk Toys Exhibition has been provided by The Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta.