About two years ago I was rummaging through a garage at an estate sale and I came across this weird figurine. I had no idea of the age, what it was used for, or supposed to be for that matter. However, something about it intrigued me and I had to bring it home. Plus, it only cost $.50! I asked as I was paying what this thing was for and the lady at the money box stated she thought it was some kind of doll and that she believed it had been purchased as a souvenir when the family had been in Japan years ago. So, I left with my strange little treasure and did not think much more about it after that.
Then about a year after later, I was at another estate sale and found two more similar dolls. This time the sellers gave me a little more info. They stated that these were Kokeshi dolls that the family had brought back from a trip to Japan. So, the stories were similar and my research could begin.
(pulled from Internet)
Apparently, these dolls originally date back to the Edo Period (1600-1868), but the reason for their creation varies depending on which site you visit. The exact city or region of their origin also differs, but I have included some of the stories that I found. Some people believe they were first made in an area known for forestry and lumber production. Because the workers in this region had very little money, but plenty of wood scraps they would use them to create very simple (no arms or legs) dolls for their children to play with. I also read that some historians believed these dolls were created to stand in place of unwanted children (as in infanticide- how sad) or children lost to injury or illness. I found several sites that seemed to confirm that once these dolls grew in popularity they started being produced in all different areas of Japan for all different types of businesses associated with the tourist trade. Basically they became souvenirs.
So, that is the Cliff Notes version of the Kokeshi Doll history. These dolls are very simple, made of wood with very few, if any, features to them, both carved or painted on. Some of the newer dolls or those from bigger cities show the artisans started to branch out and add more color and carving to their creations.
One of mine (far right) is one of the very simple variety. However the colors are pale and nontraditional so I am not sure how old this one is. Typical colors for these dolls are red and black with some yellow. I also have two of the "creative" versions that have more of a carved structure to the hair, clothing and even some added accessories. All three have a Japanese character mark on the bottom showing the maker, but the two with more color also have a "Schmid Bros." sticker. I cannot find out much about that company, other than that they were importers of small toys, figurines, etc and they were based in Massachusetts. I am beginning to think they are not that old, however I have found sites stating their item, marked Schmid Bros, Inc. dates back to the late 1800's. So, your guess is as good as mine as to when this business started up and when they began importing Kokeshi dolls. Some of my research suggests that some time during the 1940's these dolls started trickling over to America. I am sure the war had something to do with that. If anyone knows any more about these dolls or this company please let me know.
My favorite tidbit that I came across during my searches: The Nintendo Wii creators modeled the players after the Kokeshi doll. That explains the resurgence in their popularity on everything from fabric
Fabric sold at Volksfaden.com.
I believe these are actually vintage, but they are sooo cute! From ChopSueySistersHawaii.com.