Weekly Shiritori #50

Last week’s post was about maiko (まいこ / 舞妓), so this week I need to start with こ (ko). A big thank you to everyone who joined in this week and played the game – UK Seikatsu who suggested koi (鯉 / carp), kokeshi (こけし / traditional Japanese dolls), cosplay (コスプレ/ costume play), kotatsu (こたつ / a table covered by a blanket with a heater underneath), koto (琴 / a traditional stringed instrument), koma (独楽 / spinning top), and kome (米 / rice); lovelycomplex22 who also suggested kokeshi; JayDee who suggested konbini (コンビニ / convenience store); and thepicklemelissa who suggested kodomo (子供 / child). In the end, with two votes, I decided to write about…

Kokeshi (こけし)


If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll probably already know that I’m a big fan of kokeshi, which are traditional Japanese wooden dolls. In the picture above you can see some of my collection. The two plainer wooden ones in the middle are the more traditional kind, and the painted, brighter ones are more modern. A couple of the shorter ones at the front aren’t even real Japanese ones (they’re Momiji message dolls), but the large colourful one on the left is the kind you can buy easily at souvenir shops across Japan today.

Interestingly, if you search for ‘kokeshi’ (in English) on Google images it brings up a lot of images of modern, colourful dolls like this:

Kokeshi - Google images

But if you search for ‘こけし’ (in Japanese), it brings up more images of traditional dolls:

Kokeshi - Google images

Kokeshi are originally from northern Japan, and are still made in the Tohoku region today. However, they are available to buy all over Japan, and also outside of Japan (in the UK, you can buy them from places like The Japanese Shop). When I was at Hyper Japan recently (blogs about that coming soon – I promise!) I saw quite a lot of kokeshi dolls for sale and had to restrain myself! I think they’re really beautiful and make a wonderful souvenir from Japan. If I had the space and money, I would buy a lot of them! I like the individual character each doll seems to have – especially the older traditional dolls. You can often pick up kokeshi dolls at flea markets in Japan and, next time I have the chance to go to one, I will definitely be having a look. When I was last in Tokyo I picked up a couple of dolls and would have bought more but I was worried about my luggage allowance. These are some I left behind…

Meiji Park Flea Market

Although kokeshi can be found in Japan for very reasonable prices, they are collector’s items and can be very expensive, depending on the age and craftsman. A quick glance on eBay is  enough to prove that people are willing to pay for kokeshi dolls – there are dolls on eBay, some selling for more than £500 and many around the £100 mark. (Just FYI, if you also like kokeshi dolls, don’t look on eBay! It’s very, very tempting!!)

Kokeshi have been around since the Edo period (1600 – 1868), and were probably sold to people as souvenirs even at that time. Even the traditional ones vary hugely in their designs and styles, and the different decoration and shape is usually related to the area in which they were produced. Next time I go to Japan I would love to pay a visit to the Naruko Onsen Village, where the main street is known as Kokeshi Street. There are shops there operated directly by kokeshi carvers, and it would be amazing to see them at work and buy directly from the source.

Naruko Kokeshi Dolls © JNTO

Naruko Kokeshi Dolls © JNTO

The Naruko Onsen Village in Osaki City is located in the mountains that form the border between Miyagi, Yamagata, and Akita Prefectures, and it is composed of five hot springs resort areas, each with its own distinctive characteristics. Naruko Kokeshi dolls are handicraft products characteristic of the area (wooden dolls with spherical heads that make a creaking sound when they are twisted around, cylindrical bodies, and no limbs) and they have been specified as national craft products. There are several manufacturing plants spotted around the hot springs village, and some offer doll-painting participation-type programs. (JNTO)

There is also a kokeshi museum in Osaki, which I would also love to visit. Apparently it’s only about 5 minutes by taxi from JR Naruko-onsen Station, so it should be quite easy to get to even if you’re travelling around by train.

 Japan Kokeshi Museum

Japan Kokeshi Museum:74-2 Azashitomae, Naruko-onsen, Osaki-shi, Miyagi

Traditional kokeshi dolls from the Tohoku region are categorised into ten or eleven types, which correspond to different onsen (hot spring) areas. They are: Tsugaru (津軽系) or Nuruyu (温湯系), Nambu  (南部系), Kijiyama (木地山系), Naruko (鳴子系), Hijiori (肘折系), Zao-takayu (蔵王高湯系), Sakunami (作並系) or Yamagata-Sakunami (山形作並系), Tsuchiyu (土湯系), Togatta (遠刈田系) and Yajiro (弥治郎系). (Yamagata-Sakunami is sometimes categorised separately from Sakunami, making eleven categories.) Originally there were only around three different groups though – Tsuchiyu, the east side of Zao Mountain, and Narugo. Experts would be able to tell which areas certain kokeshi were from, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t have a clue – I just think they look pretty! It would be fascinating to study the dolls though, and to learn the differences between dolls produced in different areas. See this Q&A on Kokeshi for a really interesting read!

Here’s a fantastic video showing how Kokeshi dolls are made, courtesy of JapanStore.jp:

So, now you all know what to buy me for Christmas! 😉

Tsuchiyu Kokeshi


Kokeshi (こけし) ends with し (shi), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “shi”. We’ve had ‘shi’ a number of times, and I’ve already written about: shiritori, Shikoku, Shibuya, Shizuoka, Shinjuku, and Shisa, but please join in with your suggestions and I’ll give you a mention next week. It’s getting tougher now as the year comes to an end (only 2 weeks to go!), so I really appreciate your ideas and input! But don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v

Also, as the year is coming to an end, I’m starting to think about next year’s weekly series. I want to try something new, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, please leave a comment below! 😀

7 thoughts on “Weekly Shiritori #50

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