Naruko Kokeshi Dolls


Akihiro Sakurai | Naruko Kokeshi Doll Artisan

Born 2nd June 1951, Naruko Kokeshi doll maker

A Naruko Kokeshi doll maker who received the grand prize called the Prime Minister prize (It is a commendation bestowed by the Prime Minister of Japan) at the Michinoku Kokeshi Dolls contest in 2001 (This contest has been held at Yamagata city every October since 1980 and annually around 100 artisans participate), he also won a prize called the Minister of land, infrastructure and transportation prize at the Japan Kokeshi Dolls festival in 2011. This contest has been held in Naruko hot spring village in Miyagi prefecture every September since 1948 and maintains a yearly participation of nearly 100 artisans.


History of Naruko Kokeshi ~The Iconic model of Traditional Kokeshi~


The Naruko-Kokeshi doll was developed in a place called Naruko-onsen in Oosaki city, Miyagi prefecture. It is a one of the three major kokeshi towns in Japan and is well-known as a hot spring village. Naruko-onsen train station was built in 1915 and the train line to Naruko-onsen helped fuel the growth of this Kokeshi town. Naruko then became the biggest kokeshi town where many Kokeshi artisans live. When most Japanese people hear the word “Kokeshi”, they think about Naruko-Kokeshi.
It is said that Naruko-Kokeshi had its beginnings at the end of the Edo era (1603~1868) when a woodturner called Matagoro Onuma lived in Naruko.

The shape of the Naruko-kokeshi doll is a stable thick cylindrical body with a gentle curved hourglass figure and a square shouldered body. The head is rounded and nearly the same diameter as its body.

The Naruko-Kokeshi hairstyle is a black fringe and with side bangs on each side of the face and the fringe is tied with a red ribbon called “Mizu-hiki”. It is said that these patterns were influenced by a Gosho-doll from Kyoto which had been, and still is, a major cultural center in Japan. A typical doll has a gorgeous hand painted pattern on its body with designs of chrysanthemums such as “Kasane-giku”, ”Hishi-giku”, ”Sha-giku”(similar to Togatta-Kokeshi), “Kaede” (maple), “Botan”(Peony) and so on. Also there is a pattern of stripes around the shoulder and hem, which is painted while the doll is rotating on the lathe.

The most characteristic part of this doll is the squeaking head. Turning the head makes a “crying” sound. This can also be seen in Tsuchiyu-Kokeshi dolls.
When the kokeshi artisan puts the head and body together, the body of the doll is rotating on a lathe. The head, which has a "neck", is held tightly to the body part which has a hole gouged out for the "neck". The friction of the head and body causes a slight burn, in fact smoke can be seen, making the hole slightly bigger. This enables the head with the "neck" to pop into the body part never to come out again. The tight fitting of these two parts of the doll makes it look like the doll is made from one piece of wood, not two.

Places of production: Mainly in Naruko-onsen, but can be found in other places such as Ginzan-onsen,Towada.


Naruko-Kokeshi Eikichi


Naruko-Kokeshi Iwazo type


Naruko-Kokeshi Mannojo