7 Mystical Stories Behind Japanese Doll Collecting

Japanese dolls are an ancient craft representing thousands of years of civilization. There were different kinds of dolls representing children, babies, some the imperial court, warriors, heroes, fairy-tale characters, gods and (rarely) demons, and also people of the daily life.

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doll made from folded paper

Some would traced its roots between 8000-200 BC period. There were between 10 to 15 types of traditional dolls depending on the authority. We have featured some kokeshi doll collectors in the country and the stories on how did they started collecting their Japanese dolls.

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Some are kept in Kyoto National Museum ,Peabody Essex Museum, Yodokō Guest House, Museo Pambata and Japanese Doll Museum by karljapz in Lipa, Batangas.

Japanese doll collections can be categorized by the material they are made of such as wood dolls kokeshi, kamo-ningyo and nara-ningyo, clay forms such as fushimi-ningyo, porcelain and among others.

7 Mystical Stories Behind Japanese Dolls Collecting

The rise of people collecting Japanese dolls started in the mid-19th century when Japanese started opening for trade in other countries. There are some Japanese doll aficionados who collect the doll for their artistic craftsmanship. Dolls were then send or bought by rich families and royalties who treasured and cherish the dolls from Japan.

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different kinds of doll including daruma made from folded paper, cloth and plastic

More dolls were brought home after the second world war by American service personnel and travelers from many parts of the world. In the country, the rise of Japanese doll collector were mainly attributed first to hundred of thousands of OFW in Japan  from late 1970’s to early part of this millennium.

Second is the rise of thrift stores in the country which propelled collectors to easily buy pre-loved dolls at a fraction of the cost in the native country.

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7.) Ichimachu dolls are posses by the people who formerly owned these dolls. Some people believe that during the Edo period, spirits of dead person who owned the doll may posses the doll.

6.) Some people believe that collecting the doll will bring prosperity and good luck.

5.) Daruma dolls bring good luck and are sold without eyes. The doll can be made from paper machie, wood, metal or even plastic and represents 6th monk as Bodhidharma who can from India or China to spread the Buddhism. It is customary to paint the eye with marker once you set a goal and fill the second one once who have fulfilled.

Daruma dolls are burned in a special ceremony in Shinto shrines or festival.

4.) Hina- Ningyo are traditional type of dolls displayed in family homes leading up to the Girls’ Day. They are sold in sets and represent an imperial court. Some people believe that collecting and completing the set will help them bring prosperity.

3.) Collecting kokeshi doll can be lucky or may also brings “bad luck”to individuals collecting the wooden doll. It is also widely believed that Kokeshi doll influence the development of Russian matryoshka dolls or nesting dolls.

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Kokeshi and Ainu wooden dolls on display

“kokeshi” was originally written in hiragana, and not from the Chinese syllable  “kanji”. The meanings of the combination of each phonetic syllable.

“ko” could mean two things; either “small”, or “child”. The word “keshi” could pertain to “poppy” or “doll”.

Another term “keshi”could also have been taken from the word “kesu”, which technically means to erase.

If one would definite the two words “child”, and “erase”, in which had its roots to infanticide, which sadly happen quite a bit among poverty stricken areas of Japan during the Edo period. Sometimes due to high infant mortality during the period, Each Kokeshi doll symbolizes 1 dead child.

It was then customary for parents that when a child passes away, they leave a kokeshi doll on the shrine inside the house to represent and honor the soul of the child who departed. Ms. Angelita Chua ( personal friend) collects some quirky kokeshi dolls made from marble or stone.

2.) Teru-Teru Bozu – These are dolls crafted by children and can influence weather. These are also quite rare to encounter at a local thrift stores since they are made from papers or fragile materials.

1.) Hina No Tsurushi Kazari, small handmade dolls which are passed on from mother to daughter to bring good luck. Since they are fragile very few handmade dolls can be seen for sale at the local thrift stores.

Interesting Shell Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi doll is another art form which is found in Japan. These are commonly sold at the tourist market are the creative styles which flourish right after the second world war.

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shell , wood are the medium used in this kokeshi

Omiyage Type

These are not the traditional styles nor creative style of kokeshi, but these types are considered  for the tourist market or (omiyage) type. Some experts do not accept that these are kokeshi. Most made from wood among other items like sea shells, plastics, fabrics which are less expensive alternative.

These omiyage types reach their popularity between 1960’s to mid-1980’s. These souvenir toys often have the name of the  tourist site (onsen) printed or written on them. Some may have the date, purchaser’s name, or location of purchase written on the bottom. Some Japanese treasured these toys, and displayed them in a small glass case. Omiyage are very collectible in Japan.

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shell kokeshi ( collection of Ms. Angelita Chua) – This used 4 kinds of sea shells

Sea shell which is commonly seen in coastal areas were also used in making of Kokeshi dolls, These are very popular souvenir items sold and caters to younger collectors.

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Collector

Ms. Angelita Chua is a kokeshi collector from San Jose del Monte , Bulacan . She started to collect quirky objects like kokeshi dolls way back in 2010. She would focus on the creative styles.

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pair of kokeshi doll used 2 kinds of sea shells

She have seen a lot of kokeshi dolls made from shells and nuts but most of them are in poor conditions. Some have missing shells , broken shells or missing parts.

Any information with regards to the origin of these kokeshi dolls made from shells will be highly appreciated.

Note: Due to lack of time , only few kokeshi dolls were featured. All photos are taken by the author with the permission of Ms. Angelita Chua.

 

Shisa: Tales of Stone Dog Guardians

Shisa, Shiisa or Shizi are an ordinary feature when one visit the island of Okinawa and southern prefecture of Japan. The creature looks like hybrid of pekingese dog, lion and cat.

Introduction and Origin

There are many stories which surround the origin of the introduction of Buddhism having been introduced to Japan from Korea in 552 CE. It was during Nara period (710-794), lion guardians was popularized in the country and are found in temples and shrines. These might have come from China and Korea.

Some of the original guard dogs are made of wood and originally placed indoor. It was only between 14th and 15th century that stone dogs are created for outdoor and the horn was gradually replace with the current version.

There are a variation of the guardian lions found in many other parts of Asia, including mainland Japan and Korea where they are called Komainu. Which are mostly found in Buddhist temples and shrines.

As more pottery kiln rose the popularity of shisa within the region. It was also the time that shisa sitting on a red tile roof of buildings or as guard dogs in entrance of one’s abode. Some buildings like schools, hospitals, enterprises, airports and even malls have shisa guarding their entrances.

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Shisha guardian dogs made from ceramic ( circa 1980’s)

Folktales and Legends

There are several folk tales which may have started from the Tomimori Village in the late 16th century near Kochinda Town in southern part of Okinawa.

Villagers of that area sought out Saiouzui, a Feng Shui master, to ask him why there were so many fires around the area. He believed they were because of the power of the nearby Mt. Yaese. Hence Shisa dogs were places facing the mountain to ward of the negative elements and fire.

Since placing shisa at the entrance to the village, there hasn’t been a single fire in the village.

Another popular tale originates in the 17th century surrounding the village of Madanbashi south of Naha the capital city.

A visiting Chinese envoy at the Shuri court gave the king of Ryukyu (now Okinawa) a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa-dog (locally called Iri-nu). The king found it as nice present and wore it underneath his clothes. This serves as a good luck charm and amulet.

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Shisha dogs with bell

According to this legend, Madanbashi village were regularly attacked by a giant fire dragon.

A local priestesses (noro) recalled a dream. She inform the visiting king to stand on the beach with the Shisa figure held high towards the dragon. She gave this information to a young local boy, Chiga, who delivered the message to the king.

She gave this information to a young boy, Chiga, who delivered the message to the king. From there the king went to face the dragon and performed the actions as told by Chiga.

As the dragon was ready to attack, the priestess told the king to hold up the necklace to the monster. There rose a thundering roar and the Shisa came to life, three large boulders fell from the sky pinning the monster and crushing its tail.

Unable to move around, the creature eventually died and was later overgrown with foliage, trees and vegetation. It is later known as Gana-Mui forest near Naha- Ohashi bridge. People have erected large stone shisa to protect the place from evil spirits.

Since then, the inhabitants of Madanbashi continue to gather every year, on August 15th lunar calendar to offer prayers and offerings (mainly fruits , steam buns and foods) to protect the people of the village.

During the closing months of the second world war, Some shisa dogs found in the island were used by some local as shield against gunfire by the allied forces.

The guardian dogs as a talisman against evil spirits and good luck. These are an indispensable element in the lives of Okinawans.

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pair of shisa in different posture

Male and Female

There are many beliefs on the gender of these guardian dogs, Some believe that male shisa had a wide an open mouth to wards off evil spirits, and the one with a closed mouth, a female, keeps good spirits in.

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a pair of shisa dog -one close mouth and one with open mouth

Depending on who you ask, which one is which might differ. Some believe that the one with an open mouth is male and he is scaring the evil away, but others say that he has the mouth closed to keep evil out of the home. The female with an open mouth is sharing good luck with others, while the one with closed mouth keeps the luck inside the house.

Popular Culture

The popularity of these arouse after the end of the second world war, Shisa were popular souvenir items which range from small figurines, t-shirts, toys, clock, paper weights, bells, sharpener, terracotta pots among others.

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shisa figurine is a popular souvenir item from Okinawa

Shisa Collection

She started collecting the items 5 years ago, when her immediate relative gave her a pair of shisa figurine upon visit to the island. She then fell in love with these items and started buying them in Japanese thrift stores within Fairview or Lagro area.

The collector had over 3 dozen Shisa figurines in different sizes. Sometimes, shisa figurine would not come in pair and some items would have missing tails or broken head.

References:

Adopted from Legends of Okinawa by Chizue Sesoko

Arroyo, Kelly : Shisa dogs of Okinawa

Mariko Uehara Roland, Kijimuna and Shisa ( Bilingual ), October 21, 2011

Personal interview with a shisa collector

Okinawa Prefectural Government. Archived from the original on 2009-10-08. Retrieved 2010-08-09.

Shisa : Mythical creature of Okinawa

Miniature Samurai Ningyo Figurine

We are walking around Fairview- Regalado Avenue in Quezon City a couple of weeks ago together with some of my friends who collects kokeshi wooden dolls. I accompanied them into one of the Japanese surplus stores after a small eyeball at the nearby SM Fairview- ( Lagro) .

While shopping for some surplus items from Japan. We spotted an interesting Japanese wooden kokeshi doll which depicted the famous Japanese folk hero Shimizu no Jirocho.

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miniature samurai ningyo kokeshi doll about 2.1 inches tall

This is quite small about  height: 2.1 inches (5.4 centimeters) weight: 0.2 ounces (7 grams)and was just lying in on the floor. The seller thought it was something else.

It was rather good condition with marks and scratches from handling and discoloration and stains from age and display.

We suspect that this wooden item was probably created in the late 1980’s. The wood is still in almost perfect condition.

Initially, the store clerk ( tindera) wanted Php 20.00 for a small item, We managed to haggle the item down to a more manageable price of just Php 10.00. She told us ”  It was a rare find”.

We told her that it was also rare to see small item lying on the floor.

My friends bought a lot of plates, bowl sets, some kokeshi dolls. The store clerk persuaded to add some interesting freebies, after the short haggle.

Since my friend is not interested in samurai kokeshi item. This wooden figurine was given to me as a small token for accompanying them.

I also bought some cups and bowl set at the store for personal use and for potting some succulents. This was indeed a wonderful find.

Artisinal salt from Japan

I met Ms. Calara Lapus ( president) Mama Sita foundation during the launching of Buhay Carinderia at Rizal Park Hotel in Manila.

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She gave me small pack of about 5 grams of different kinds of salt from Japan. The pack cost Y 390 or about Php 184 .

These salts is one way to promote using local salt from different regions of Japan and are popular souvenir items from Japan.

She is also advocating the use of natural salts from the country.