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Protecting and Caring for your Kokeshi

Written by Madelyn Molina in 2021

Enclosed Display Cabinets

Keeping your Kokeshi in enclosed cabinets will help in lowering the maintenance of your Kokeshi by having to do less frequent dusting. It will also protect your Kokeshi from some direct light and visitors' hands who may unknowingly want to pick up a Kokeshi because it's so cute! Additionally it will protect them from pets tempted to use them as chew toys or jumping on your displays and knocking the Kokeshi over *gasp*.

Use Gloves

Even if you just washed your hands, dirt, natural oils or even moisture e.g. sweat can be on your hands and transfer onto your Kokeshi. It has happened to me! I¡¯ve held a Kokeshi in my hand momentarily and once I set it down the red paint has transferred onto my hands *cringe*. I've ordered a pack of cotton gloves for a nominal price and it helps give me peace of mind knowing my Kokeshi dolls will be safe from me inadvertently causing them damage

Avoid Natural Light

Depending on the type of Kokeshi doll natural light will cause fading in two parts (1) paints used to decorate the Kokeshi and (2) color change of the wood.

Kokeshi are painted with sumi-e ink or oil-based paint in some instances natural dyes or wood stains are used. Most recently even acrylic paint markers are used. The fading can occur at different levels with some colors affected more than others. From my experience I have seen quicker fading of yellow, green, purple and finally the reds and black. If you must keep your Kokeshi in a bright room, at least try to keep them away from direct sunlight

Fluorescent Lights Also a No No

As we mentioned earlier Natural light is not Kokeshi Friendly but neither is fluorescent lighting. They will also cause fading of paint and color change to the wood. If you must have some lighting LED lighting is preferred because they do not emit ultraviolet light and they also do not generate as much heat as other lighting. We will look at temperature later on in this care guide. It is recommended to only use light when showing your collection or viewing it, otherwise keeping them covered will help them keep their colors vivid and wood from darkening or drying too quickly.

Dust Pile Up

Dust can create a very hard to remove layer of dirt especially on sōsaku Kokeshi with detailed carved features or dentō Kokeshi with chatter work. Dust can creep into the crevices and give your Kokeshi an unappealing look. One of the best ways to minimize dust is to keep your Kokeshi in enclosed display cabinets. The next best thing is to dust them frequently. Use a lint-free cloth to wipe them down and for those detailed carved areas and chatter work use a natural, soft to medium bristles, make up, brush to remove that hard to get to dust. Investing in a cordless air duster may be a good solution for some.


You may have thought smoke odors or vapes would not affect Kokeshi but they do! Nothing will impact a potential buyer, if you intend on selling your Kokeshi or Trading them in the future, from buying your Kokeshi if they come with cigarette or vape smells or any other odor for that matter. If this has happened to you where you purchased a Kokeshi with a foul odor I recommend using Mainstays Closet Odor Eliminator which is made of activated charcoal. Just simply place your Kokeshi next to it for a few days and the odor will be absorbed and gone. I have successfully done this to a few Kokeshi I received with cigarette odor.

Museum Wax / Bees Wax

Wood finishes can diminish over time and need some care. Only remove old wax that is flaking and can be easily removed with an eraser sponge or lint-cloth. Once the Kokeshi has been wiped down use Museum Wax or Bees Wax to apply a new coat of protection. This is especially great on Kokeshi that seem to be drying. Naturally not all Kokeshi have a finish, adding a finish may change the color of the wood so testing prior to applying is highly recommended and if the Kokeshi did not originally have a finish reconsider adding one as it changes the original state of the Kokeshi.

Bugs Away!

Kokeshi may attract carpet beetles, spiders and other insects that will bore into them and make unsightly holes. Handle your valuable Kokeshi with gloves to keep oil and dirt from hands from transferring onto your Kokeshi or smudging the paint and inspect your Kokeshi for any bugs. Any holes found should be inspected and treated. There are various ways to treat wood that have bugs. One is to place the Kokeshi for several days in a plastic bag with moth balls (you can later use the activated charcoal to remove any odor left behind). Some of our members have recommended freezing the Kokeshi in a plastic bag for a few hours (I'm not sure how I feel about it since my concern would be cracking). After you decide how to handle the bug problem, plugging the hole with some wood glue is a good idea to avoid new inhabitants.

Avoid Too Hot or Too Cold Temperatures

Wood can experience dimensional movement with the change in temperature but more specifically when there is a change in RH (relative humidity) the recommended moisture level by Woodcraft is 8%. Your Kokeshi should be kept in a temperature-controlled part of your home and in temperatures that you are comfortable in at around 70-72 degrees. Very hot temperatures can hold more moisture which can cause expansion of wood and cracks and cold temperatures can cause the expansion of wood which also can lead to cracks and dryness of the wood.