Book Review: Japanese Dolls by Alan Scott Pate (+ Win a Copy!)

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō by Alan Scott Pate

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō by Alan Scott Pate


Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō by Alan Scott Pate (published by Tuttle, 2008) is a gorgeous hardcover book comprising 272 pages and over 400 colour and archival photos of Japanese dolls.

For the art enthusiast, the doll collector, as well as the casual reader, the world of Japanese dolls (ningyō / 人形) is a fascinating one to explore. For many centuries Japanese doll artisans created spectacular works of art, invested with both significant cultural meaning and elemental beauty. The focus of this book is on collecting. What types of ningyō are available for the collector of today? What are some of the features and characteristics which will help collectors identify the ningyō they find and evaluate them? Who were some of the earliest collectors in Japan, Europe, and the United States? How do we preserve and care for these invaluable artifacts from Japan’s past?

This hefty but beautiful book is not only wonderful to look at, it’s a fascinating reference tool as well. Separated into three main sections (‘The Great Tradition’, ‘Types of Japanese Dolls’, and ‘How to Collect Japanese Dolls’) and numerous sub-sections, everything seems to be covered. The focus of the book is on collecting Japanese dolls, with information about where to find them and how to care for them, but there is also a vast amount of background and historical information about the different kinds of dolls that can be found in Japan.

The types of dolls covered in the book are:

  • Festival dolls: hina-ningyo, musha-ningyo, tableau dolls
  • Display dolls: saga-ningyo, gosho-ningyo, isho-ningyo, iki-ningyo
  • Wood dolls: kamo-ningyo, nara-ningyo, kokeshi-ningyo
  • Clay dolls: fushimi-ningyo, hakata-ningyo
  • Mechanical dolls: karakuri-ningyo, kobe-ningyo
  • Theatrical dolls: bunraku-ningyo, takeda-ningyo
  • Play dolls: ichimatsu-ningyo, keue saiko

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of most of those – I hadn’t either! The author tells us that “doll collecting is one of the most popular pastimes in the West”, and I can well believe him. As a child, I had an interest in Barbie and Sindy dolls, but even as an adult I find dolls curiously fascinating (I’d love to own a Licca-chan (リカちゃん) doll (a Japanese Barbie) but have never quite found the excuse to buy one).

However, dolls can be a little creepy too, can’t they? I remember watching a horror film as a kid called something unimaginative like ‘Dolls’ and being thoroughly freaked out that all my dolls would come to life and kill me in the night. It was just as well I had never seen a Japanese mechanical doll at that point as it may have given me nightmares for life.

The author tells us that “ningyō were first introduced to the Western art world as part of the Japonisme movement of the late 1800s”. Since then, all manner of Japanese dolls have been collected, and the West remains intrigues by these foreign objects.

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō does an excellent job of illustrating all of the common types of Japanese dolls one might encounter both in Japan and in antique shops, as well as various kinds of dolls which are less common. For me, the most interesting section of this book has to be the chapter on kokeshi-ningyō (こけし). Whilst I am curious about other kinds of Japanese dolls, it’s kokeshi that have always held my attention, and it’s kokeshi that I adore enough to collect myself.

My kokeshi doll collection

My kokeshi doll collection

Kokeshi are (traditionally) cylindrical wooden dolls hailing from northern Japan. I’ll be writing a lot more about kokeshi in some upcoming blog posts as I encountered some wonderful kokeshi during my recent travels around Tohoku, but for now I will just say that I’m a little obsessed with them and that the eight pages of Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō devoted to kokeshi were, for me, the best eight pages of the book. Originally play-things and souvenirs, kokeshi are still popular today and new, modern designs are always being created alongside the traditional designs. The book goes into detail about the various kinds of kokeshi dolls and how to tell them apart by their regional markings, hairstyles and even nose shape.

Whether you are a collector yourself or simply a Japanese culture enthusiast, this book is sure to spark your curiosity. It’s a book I’m immensely happy to have in my collection, and I know I will be referring to it often!

Buy Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyō by Alan Scott Pate from and and read more at


Would you like to win a copy of Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo by Alan Scott Pate? All you need to do is leave a comment on this blog post telling me something about a doll. It could be a Japanese doll or a doll from another country; one you have owned, or simply seen. Please make sure you leave a valid email address with your comment (this will not be published), as this will be used to contact the winner. The closing date for entries is Friday 19th September at midnight BST.

Would you like a second entry? If you’d like to double your chances of winning, please share this post on Twitter and make sure to mention me (@Ali_Haikugirl) in your Tweet!

Please note that only comments left on this blog post will be accepted as competition entries, and comments left via social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) will not be counted. To qualify for the ‘second entry’ via Twitter, you must also post a comment on this blog post.

This competition is open to EVERYONE, wherever you are in the world! After the closing date has passed, a winner will be selected at random and that person will be contacted directly using the email address provided. The winner will need to supply a postal address for the prize to be sent to, and the prize will be mailed out directly by the publisher. If the selected winner does not respond with a postal address within 14 days of being contacted another winner will be selected in their place.

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Japanese Dolls by Alan Scott Pate (+ Win a Copy!)

  1. I do sometimes find dolls creepy – I think I used to think they had souls when I was a child and I never quite shook that feeling. The Kokeshi dolls are so sweet though – I think their souls would be friendly 🙂 – you have a lovely collection!


  2. My daughters who are only 4 and 2 already own their own Kokeshi dolls that I brought back from Japan for them. They love them. Im hoping to travel back there soon so will have a look out for some others to add to the collection.


    • That sounds wonderful, Sharon! Perhaps when your daughters are a little older they will enjoy going to Japan themselves and picking out their own kokeshi! Thanks for stopping by and entering the competition! 🙂


  3. I’m yet to own a Kokeshi doll, though I do think that they are beautiful. I have a number of victorian dolls which were handed down to me from my grandmother – they certainly range in attractiveness, but it is like owning a piece of history


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