Exquisitely crafted Japanese dolls made with care and attention to provide children with years of pleasure

A history and tradition of dolls in Japan

   As in many Western cultures, the origins of dolls in Japan can be traced back to religious beliefs. Various types of dolls evolved in different areas of Japan, from those modelled on animals, believed to be good luck charms, to human-like dolls used to pray for the good health of children. Doll-making techniques also differed from place to place. While some dolls were made as attractive playthings for children, others had the more serious purpose of conveying prayers or supplications.
 Japan has four distinct seasons, and there are numerous festivals to celebrate the changing of the seasons. The Dolls Festival on March 3 and the Boys Festival on May 5 come from a tradition of decorating homes to pray for good health for the young occupants. These two festivals were popular with the wealthy classes in ancient times and typically celebrated with specific types of dolls. Subsequently, during the Edo period, the festivals were embraced by the general populace, particularly in Edo (modern-day Tokyo).
 As demand for dolls for seasonal festivals increased, doll-makers from Kyoto and all over Japan came to work in Edo. While Kyoto dolls tended to be refined and elegant, dolls in Edo were typically austere and unsophisticated, reflecting the more subdued "Edo chic" sensibility.

Dolls with soul

 Two main styles of seasonal doll emerged during the Edo doll boom, called Kimekomi and Ishogi.
Kimekomi dolls are made of wood, and the kimono is glued into grooves cut into the wooden body. Ishogi dolls, meanwhile, are made of straw, and the clothing is sewn separately and put on the straw body.
 Founded nearly a century ago, Matsuzaki Ningyo is an established doll maker using a variety of traditional techniques. We are one of the few artisan producers still making both Kimekomi and Ishogi dolls today. Under the koikko brand, we produce a wide range of dolls made using traditional techniques. Our workshop is filled with skilled artisans of all ages, from their early twenties to late seventies.
 Unlike other producers, at Matsuzaki Ningyo we make our heads, as well as the torso sections, from original models. Third-generation doll-maker Mitsumasa Matsuzaki explains why.
 "Because we make the heads and faces ourselves, the artisans are able to put more expression into every doll. They fashion the rest of the doll to suit the type of face and the facial expression. The result is a more balanced and more complete doll, with a real sense of soul."
 The distinctive rounded features are a key characteristic of Matsuzaki Ningyo dolls. Dolls of children wearing armour are popular for the Boys Festival. Matsuzaki Ningyo dolls are available in a variety of different facial types, and purchasers often like to choose a doll that resembles their own child.

Modern creations featuring traditional techniques

 Matsuzaki Ningyo dolls are lovingly crafted using traditional techniques, yet tailored to modern sensibilities. This approach is particularly evident in the Anima series, which features rhinoceros, toucan, and insect motifs. Our key focus is traditional Kimekomi dolls that hark back to the Edo period.
 The rhinoceros, for example, is made by roughly fashioning the body out of a clay paste of Paulownia powder and glue, then carefully filing it down to create the final form. The body is then coated with multiple layers of a white pigment made from seashells to produce a smooth surface. Grooves are then cut into the body and filled with glue to hold the clothing. Off-white sections are made by applying several layers of thin translucent Japanese washi paper. The thin paper allows the base colour to be visible. The distinctive gold horns are coated with a pigment of powdered gold flakes mixed with thin gelatin, then rubbed with a tool made out of the teeth of sea bream to add a touch of gloss. The combination of matte and glossy sections adds a marvellous sense of depth and expression.
 "I learned how to do this from a Noh mask maker," explains Matsuzaki. "The rubbing action aligns the gold particles and restores the inherent gloss in gold. It is one of several traditional Japanese techniques that are employed in the new Anima line-up. The passion and enthusiasm of our experienced artisans is evident in every doll."
 Matsuzaki insists that Japanese dolls are the most intricate and delicate in the world. He is committed to exploring new ways to promote Japanese technical prowess and esthetic brilliance to the world.