Kokeshi - What is it?
Kokeshi pronounced "caw-kay-she" is a Japanese, handmade, wooden doll.Traditional Kokeshi The original doll, now referred to as a traditional style Kokeshi (style types will be reviewed later on), is created with a round head and cylindrical body shape. The face & body is sometimes adorned with water-colored / acrylic paint. Place your mouse over the image to your right and see it transform to a traditional Kokeshi doll.

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Variations in Translation 
  • The blog  of Nin Wilhelmina translates [Kokeshi =  Ko-child keshi-erasing] (see sources)
  • Alan Booth translates [Kokeshi = (hiragana amalgam) Ko-child Kesu-get rid of]
  • Wikipedia uses  小芥子 which translates to "small" by the Google translation tool.
  • Hashimoto-san, of bokujin website, explains that there is no "accepted" meaning for the word Kokeshi. Some speculate that "Ko" means wooden and "Keshi" means Keshiningyo, Carton Pierre, which was made in Sendai prefecture  [UPDATE 05/08/09] Hashimoto-san was kind enough to contact me & inform me that after speaking to an Antique Doll Collector he learned that the term "Keshi-Ningyo" means Terra Cotta not Carton Pierre. Please visit Bokujin site to see updates & images.

    Yet another example says that "Koke" means wood piece and "Shi" means child. Hashimoto-san supports the later because the meaning of other locution  are clear i.e "kideko" means "Ki- wooden " and "Deko-puppet", Kibouku means "ki-wooden" and "Houku (Bouko) - Stuffed doll", finally "Ko-wooden" and "Keshi - keishi doll" which is in the same structure of them. The common meaning should be "Wooden Small Doll" (further info)

    05.08.09
    Hashimoto-San states, on his site, that the Tokyo Collectors Club in 1940 approved the final translation of Kokeshi to be "Wooden Small Doll".
** Please visit sources for reference links to the information provided above.
Kokeshi - Where is it made?
Shinchi Traditional Kokeshi
Shinchi in Fukushima Prefecture, map courtesy of Shiqenobu AOKI-San @ http://aoki2.si.gunma-u.ac.jp/map/map.html
Their beginnings are often traced back to the Edo period (1600-1868) & the Kiji-shi (wood artisans) in the spa's of Northern Japan specifically, the town of Shinchi in Togatta Miyagi Prefecture which is located in the Tohoku region on Honsu Island.  (Place your mouse over the map to enlarge it.)Traditional Kokeshi Shinchi in Fukushima Prefecture, map courtesy of Shiqenobu AOKI-San.
Kokeshi - What types are there? 
Kokeshi making has expanded through out Japan. The Dento - Traditional Style Traditional Kokeshi This is an example of a 3 inch Dento - Traditional Kokeshi Doll. Kokeshi (PIC) are now classified into 11 different style types including, Togatta, Naruko, Tsuchiyu, Yajiro, Sakunami, Kijiyama, Nanbu, Tsugaru, Zao-takayu, Hijioro, and Yamagata.

Each Kokeshi doll follows a specific technique and style which has often been passed down through many generations of Kiji-shi. The bodies were often painted with black, green or red paints in the forms of rokuro, single or multiple radial lines painted while still on a lathe. Additionally some were adorned with flowers such as the sakura, chrysanthemum and wildflower amongst others. While the Dento Kokeshi may not be as eye catching in color as the Shingata Kokeshi they certainly do captivate viewers with their simple design and sweet whimsical faces.

Note: I hope to go into more detail regarding the styles listed above in a future update. I will be listing some great sources so be sure to check them out.

The Shingata - Creative Style Kokeshi Creative Kokeshi This is a Modern Creative Type Kokeshi by Aoki Ryoka who has won many awards including the prestigious Prime Ministers award. (PIC) are thought to have been started in 1945. Shingata Kiji-shi do not follow a set pattern, or style they have unrestrictive freedom to create a unique one of a kind doll. They are made in different shapes, sizes, colors, and styles. Some have intricate paintings on their cylindrical bodies; portraying an event, an idea, a poem or a story. These type of Kokeshi dolls have become quite popular within the collectors community for their beauty and captivating designs.

Note: There are true "Shingata" Kokeshi which in Japan or even imported are expensive to acquire they sell from 2k and up and are an original, single, unique piece.

There is a sub category of these referred to as the "Creative-Modern" Kokeshi which are quite beautiful and artistically crafted, not to mention affordable, they are however mass produced, with of course some "human" contact for the delicate painting which still makes the piece original. See modern Kokeshi video for more info.
Kokeshi - How is it made?
Kiji-shi, made Kokeshi dolls on hand powered lathes. The following video of a Kiji-shi working on a lathe was produced by japanese-doll.biz For detailed pictures and a step by step description of the doll making process visit their website.

As you can see from the video Kiji-shi use various tools in the process of creating a single Kokeshi doll, it is labor intensive but the results are admirable.
If you would like to see how creative /modern Kokeshi dolls are made today, the mustlovejapan.com website has a great video of the Usaburo Kokeshi Shop in Gunma Prefecture.
1Video copyright of Japanese-doll.biz  
Kokeshi - What type of wood is used?
Various wood type grains
There are various kinds of trees used to make Kokeshi. Some types include Cherry wood (sakura), maple  (taya kaede), Persimmon (haku'un-boku) and the most widely used white dogwood (mizuki).

The wood chosen is usually dependant on the Kiji-shis' vision of the doll & experience with the material. Each type of wood offers a different color, texture and grain pattern which will effect the outcome of each doll.