The Dolls of Japan Are Not Just Child’s Play
What do you get for the man who has everything?
How about a doll? An inanimate doll. Ok, let’s try again.
You have a wide range of choices for the grown-up boy such as action figures, models, toy soldiers, and miniatures. But there is a stigma attached to men playing with dolls … or collecting, well, dolls, as Dark Helmet experiences in a memorable scene from Spaceballs.
Aside from gender assumptions, there is also the assumption that dolls, miniatures, action figures, etc., are for children. If you are collecting them, you are still collecting items created for children. This attitude doesn’t diminish the profits toy companies earn from selling these items to young players and adult collectors alike, but it can diminish the appreciation of the artistry that master craftspeople devote to creating unique, hand-made toys like dolls as well as the venerable history and traditions of doll making.
The traveling exhibition, “The Dolls of Japan: Shapes of Prayer, Embodiments of Love,” sponsored by The Japan Foundation, showcases both the artistry and cultural history of Japanese doll making.
In October, this exhibition was featured in “Men who play with dolls,” an article for the Asia One News website, and described as “an art exhibition, a fine survey of Japan’s rich culture and creativity.” While the Japan Foundation is composed of “mostly grown men steeped in business and foreign trade … their ‘hobby’ is readily forgiven, though, because the 80 examples on view … are quite fascinating, and certainly not toys.”
The wide variety of Japanese dolls is well represented and includes: turned wood kokeshi dolls in both traditional and contemporary creative forms, dolls that reflect the Kabuki and Noh theater traditions, a reproduction of an ichimatsu, a realistic child doll, that was given by Japan to the U.S. in 1927 as a sign of friendship, and dolls made for the Girl’s Festival and Boy’s Festival, when families display dolls as a form of prayer for the fortunes of their children.
The Girl’s Festival dolls in the exhibition were created by Tokyo’s oldest doll making company, Yoshitoku.
“This set of dolls was meticulously crafted by more than 10 artisans using complicated tools,” says Masaru Aoki of Yoshitoku. … “Each artisan employs his own particular skill – whether it’s making the eyes or the ears or nose or hair or the costume. There aren’t a lot of these artisan groups anymore, and most of the members are elderly,” Aoki laments. “The younger generation always neglects artistic craftsmanship.”
Yoshitoku has been making and selling dolls for 300 years but continually struggles to preserve the craftsmanship. At the same time it reaches out to the young with modern variations, like the Darth Vader samurai doll it made for the Boy’s Festival.
If you’ve had dolls made by hand by a custom artisan, or if you are a doll maker, leave your comments below. CustomMade would love to add custom dolls to our custom dollhouses and accessories gallery for the enjoyment of children and collectors alike.