Book Review: Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki

When we heard Manami was publishing another iconic Kokeshi book, we just had to get our hands on it! We adore her previous Kokeshi art book; Kokeshi from Tohoku with Love – we used to sell this title in our store and kept a few copies for ourselves.

This latest title, published by Tuttle, will be your go-to guide for learning, identifying, planning your next Kokeshi-inspired trip and buying new and vintage Kokeshi.

Of course none of Manami’s books are complete without hundreds of colourful photos. You’ll find captivating images of the Kokeshi themselves, artisans in their ateliers and the scenic onsen towns where they’re located.

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki - Group of Kokeshi

What’s Inside Japanese Kokeshi Dolls

Chapter one features an overview of all 12 traditional Kokeshi styles (including one new and slightly controversial style). You’ll also find out more about their history, the social and cultural context of their production, their rise and fall in popularity throughout the decades and more about the onsen towns that became hotspots of Kokeshi craftsmanship.

We enjoyed finding out more about the painstaking craft process; from chopping down trees for wood, to making iron tools, peeling and drying the wood for several years, carving and shaping the wood with a lathe, sanding and polishing and finally delicately hand painting those serious-cute features.

We also learned a lot more about the different styles and what makes them all unique. We have a few vintage Naruko Kokeshi which is the most common style. These usually feature red chrysanthemums and have a head that squeaks when it’s turned. We’re also now obsessed with the Nakanosawa style! Those blushing faces with startled eyes are so adorable.

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki - Vintage Naruko Kokeshi
Vintage Naruko Kokeshi

Chapter two delves into the newer styles of modern and creative Kokeshi, crafted in Japan and overseas. In previous decades modern Kokeshi production was more anonymous and production-line focussed to meet mass-market demand. These days many creative Kokeshi artists are creating high-end collectors pieces: Kuninobu Okura, Cookies and Tree Tree Ishinomaki, and international artists like Cynthia Gibson.

Chapter three features fascinating interviews with Kokeshi artisans (including many female artisans) – their lives, background, processes, inspiration and more. These interviews are rare and so beautiful to read.

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki - Yoshinori Niiyama
Yoshinori Niiyama in his studio

Chapter four, our favourite addition, takes you to the scenic regions of northern Honshu prefectures with some travel itineraries you can’t miss. Visit the makers and their shops plus plan side trips to see temples, go hiking and experience traditional festivals. This chapter is sure to inspire a whole new wave of Kokeshi tourism! We’re planning on visiting Tsuchiyu Onsen on our next trip (one of the closest Kokeshi spots to Tokyo). Another must-see is Naruko Onsen which hosts the Kokeshi Doll Festival each September as well as 20 ateliers and even hotels with vast Kokeshi collections.

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki - Nakanosawa
Nakanosawa Kokeshi

There’s also a whole guide on how and where to buy Kokeshi: both in Japan and overseas. This guide makes it really easy to get your Kokeshi fix wherever you are! It’s also inspired us to add some brand new Kokeshi to our collection to support the artisans (we currently only have vintage Kokeshi). We’ve been to some of the Japan locations (Kokeshka in Kamakura and the Kokeshi Cafe in NishiOgikubo) and we’re adding a few more to our list. There are also plenty of overseas websites – or you can order directly from the artisans if your Japanese communication skills are up to scratch!

Japanese Kokeshi Dolls by Manami Okazaki - Tadao Watanabe's studio in Tsuchiyu Onsen
Tadao Watanabe’s colourful studio in Tsuchiyu Onsen

Buy the book

Looking for a copy of Japanese Kokeshi Dolls? Manami has been selling Kokeshi + Book packages on Instagram at @tonbibooks. You’ll also find it at some of your favourite independent and large publishers internationally. Let us know where you found your copy and we’ll add the link here.

Book Depository

In the UK:
Coles Books
Sway Gallery

In Australia:
Crafty Squirrel

The Details

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Format: Hardcover with jacket
Date Published: 11/30/2021
Illustrations: over 350 full-color photographs
Number of Pages: 168
Size: 8 X 8

Thanks to Tuttle for sending a digital copy to review!

All images copyright Japanese Kokeshi Dolls.

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