Inspirant Photographer

Ancient Japanese Dolls

     Japan went through a Renaissance period when Geishas (art persons), samurais, shoguns and the arts flourished in Kyoto-the cultural center for the arts.  This golden age was known as the Edo Period ~ 1607 to 1867.  During this period, Japan closed its doors to the rest of the world.  The more it endeavored to conceal its culture, the more other prevailing nations aspired to enter their secret world.


     Scores of handmade dolls were displayed in local villages and cities throughout their country.  They were crafted from resilient bamboo, cedar or soft pine wood.  Their colorful gowns were created from handmade silk containing intricate patterns of flowers representing cherry, quince or chrysanthemum blossoms.  Numerous farmers changed vocations and became doll makers.  The faces of their dolls were painted from crushed oyster shells and their delicate bodies were made from cloth and soft straw that had been left over after their crops had been harvested.  The dolls portrayed ancient classical tales or kings and queens and their entourages, which were composed of 15 main characters.


     By the early 19th century, samurais and the reign of the shoguns (war lords) came to a halt after the West had gained access to Japan.  The samurais became ronin (wandering samurai) because they had no lords to employ them.  Today, only a few of these ancient dolls still exist; however, most of the sets were made to be used for Girl's Day (Hinamatsuri). It's extremely rare to find a traditional doll that is smiling since they felt that portraying someone smiling showed disrespect.  Only one thousand Geishas and the last remnants of the dolls exist today.  Most of the sets had been sold by families trying to recover from financial ruin in WWII.  Doll making has become a lost art in Japan; only a few doll makers still practice this lost art today.