Masaru is an indispensable lucky charm bow toy for New Year’s celebrations in the Fukushima region. At the top of a bamboo stick is a flag inscribed with the words “Good Fortune”. Attached to a hair-string is an unglazed earthenware bell with white rabbit hari on top. When the bell is released from the top of the string, it comes down swinging and making simple yet delightful sound.
At the end of the year, people place this Masaru toy at their household altar, believing it will bring prosperity in business and a rich harvest. From the end of one year to the beginning of the next, major business streets all over Fukushima Prefecture are filled with music and the accompanying calls of “ kyonen ni masaru, fuku masaru, kawansho, kawansho (this new year will be even better than last year, bringing more prosperity. Why don’t you buy? Why don’t you buy?)”. Masaru is a boy’s name and it also means to excel or to be superior. This is why it is associated with the idea of a better year and more prosperity. Masaru also can mean “drive away evil spirits” when it is written with different kanji or Chinese characters. The rabbit hair is said to be associated with “profits”.
At major ceremonies in main shrines and temples such as a year-end fair at the Fukushima Inari Shrine, Juusan Mairi (visit to celebrate being 13 years old), at Kuroiwakokuzouson Mangan-ji Temple and for Dawn Prayer on New Year’s day at Mt. Shinobu Haguroyama Shrine, visitors flock to buy Masaru toys for New Year’s luck. The streets are filled with the pleasant sound of the Masaru bells.
Toto-Awase is a memory game in which the players have to match two cards to create a complete fish illustration and the kanji character that represents the name of the fish. Each card also has a brief description of the fish depicted. These fish are all familiar species in Japan and their illustrations have been beautifully done with colorful paper patterns. The game was created by Toto Koubou in Tango Uocchikan Aquarium, located in Miyazu City, Kyoto.
Since its début on the market in the Spring of 2003, Toto-Awase, with its beautiful illustrations, has gained popularity. The game has the added benefit for children of teaching them the various fish species and their respective kanji characters. The total sale of Toto-Awase games has now exceeded 100,000. The game received a Good Design Award in 2005 and a Good Toy Award in 2006. Currently there are eleven different sets of the memory game according to different regions. The illustrations are elaborate collages with colorful papers of traditional patterns and the box containing the cards is decorated in vermillion and ultramarine - the quintessential colors of Japan. An English version is also made under the name “Card Game Sushi Bar” and it is popular as a souvenir for people to bring abroad.
Karakuri Ningyo or Karakuri Dolls are traditional mechanical dolls of Japan.
“Karakuri” means a mechanical device to amuse people and they were originally found in China around 10th century. Karakuri Dolls are said to have been introduced to Japan in the Muromachi period.
In the Edo period, the gear mechanisms used for clocks began to be used to make moving dolls and the production of Karakuri Dolls began.
At first, they were made as toys mostly for the upper class. They gradually became a popular attraction at amusement parks and widely seen in all over Japan.
In 1662, Oue Takeda began a touring Karakuri-Doll-theater, something unique at the time and during the Kyoho period (1716~1735), Karakuri Monya, using the best Karakuri techniques then available, made a four-wheeled vehicle that was propelled by pedaling.
At the end of the Edo period, Hisashige Tanaka, known as Karakuri Giemon, created “Yumihiki Douji” (the Boy Archer), which is regarded the highest standard of Karakuri dolls made in Edo period.
Karakuri dolls are traditional Japanese precision machines considered to be the foundation for today’s industrial robots.
The Kinoshita-koma wooden horse toy is a traditional handicraft handed down in Kinoshita in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. Kinoshita-koma, along with Yawata-goma of Aomori Prefecture and Miharu-goma of Fukushima Prefecture, are known as the three best wooden horse toys of Japan.
The origin of the Kinoshita-koma wooden horse toy dates back to the Heian period (794-1192). The Tohoku region has traditionally been a horse-breeding area and horses were indispensable for military affairs and agriculture in the old days. It is said that the provincial governors of this region always dedicated horses to the Imperial court whenever Komahiki (the horse exhibition) was held at the Imperial palace. When a horse was dedicated, a horse-shaped wooden ornament was put on the harness around the neck. Later, people began to make wooden horses modeling after this ornament.
Thos wooden horses were sold at the festivals of Mutsu Kokubunji Temple or Hakusan Shrine as the talisman to protect horses and drive away evils. Gradually, they became a popular souvenir item for temple and shrine visitors and farmers began to make them during the agricultural off-season. Their cute figures attracted attention of travelers and they became known all over the country.
Sakai Gogatsu Koinobori are koinobori or carp-shaped brocade streamers made in Sakai City, Osaka.
Their origin dates back to the beginning of the Meiji period when a merchant who had a toy and stationery business, on his way back from a visit to the Ise Shrine, saw paper carp made in Nagoya. This gave him the idea of having a Japanese kite maker make the paper carp, which he then sold.
By the middle of the Meiji period, the paper carp were replaced by ones made with brocade cloth and the techniques evolved to accommodate the change in material.
Sakai Koinobori are usually done with a drawing of a boy from a folktale, known as Kintaro, riding on the carp. The traditional elaborate methods are still used, in which the pictures are drawn by hand, one stroke at a time. The brocade cloth is then dyed with the utmost care.
With its graduated shading, subtle brush work and forcible strokes all of which are done by hand, Sakai Gogatsu Koinobori is a notable craftwork that is still highly sought after.
Sakai Gogatsu Koinobori, was designated as a prefectural traditional craftwork by Osaka in 1986. The streamers are still now enthusiastically produced so they can grace the skies of Japan with their elegantly swimming carps.
Obake no Kinta or Kinta the Ghost is a folk toy that originated in Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture.
The toy consists of a head with a string in the back of it. When the string is pulled, Kinta rolls his big round eyeballs and sticks out his tongue. A bamboo spring is concealed in his head which, when pulled, triggers the eyes and the tongue to move at the same time. Kinta with his red face and a black conical hat makes a striking impression on small children and he often scares them a little. He is a popular toy among adults, however. The most important process in making this toy is the making of the bamboo spring. The quality of this spring determines the quality of the toy.
When Kato Kiyomasa built the Kumamoto Castle, there was a popular foot soldier named Kinta who had a funny face and who was good at making people laugh. He was affectionately called “Clown Kinta”. The Kinta the Ghost toy was said to have been created during the Kanei era (1848 ~ 1853) by a doll maker, Hikoshichi Nishijinya, who started making mechanical toys based on stories about Kinta. Because of his unique action, Kinta the Ghost was also known as the Goggle-eyed Doll.
Climbing Monkey is a folk toy that has been handed down for years in the Nobeoka, Miyazaki Prefecture. The toy is put up on a bamboo pole along with Koinobori or carp shaped streamers on “Boy’s Day” – May 5th to pray for the children’s good health and prosperity in the future. When the wind blows, the monkey starts climbing up the pole.
The making of the Climbing Monkey toy is said to have started around 200 years ago as a homemade craft by the samurai wives of the Nobeoka Naitou Clan. There are some popular myths as to why a climbing monkey first appeared. One story says that it was created to admonish Sarutahiko, a Monkey God during the mythical age, who acted violently and ran amuck. Another story is that, before he was victorious in battle, the head of the Arima Clan, a previous occupant of the region prior to the Nobeoka Clan, had a monkey drawn on the war banner that he carried on his back.
The toy is made by first creating a monkey shaped wooden mold. The mold is wrapped with many layers of Japanese paper and then, the back of it is cut to remove the mold. The remaining paper is then stitched up before it is colored. The monkey wears the golden-striped eboshi headgear worn by court nobles and it carries a kozutsumi drum and a gohei (a wand with paper streamers) on its back. His appearance resembles a dancer who performs the celebratory dance before a Kabuki performance. The monkey is then suspended from a banner on which iris flowers are drawn. Although it is not a modern creation, Climbing Money continues to delight children into the 21st Century.
Hisamine Uzura Guruma or Hisamine Quail Toy Car is a traditional folk toy whose history has been passed down for years in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Since Edo era, quail has been a familiar bird in Miyazaki region and local people adore them. It was a local practice to keep the birds to enjoy their calling.
Quail in Japan breed in Hokkaido and northeastern Japan from Spring to Summer, then migrate to warmer areas of Shikoku and Kyushu from Fall to Winter.
Uzura Gurum is a children’s toy based on the quail. Japanese Angelica tree is used for the body and bamboo is used to make the axle of the wheels. On its side is a word, “の”, to pray for children’s safety and happiness.
In old days, the quail toy car was sold at religious festivals in Hisamine Kannon and Kishibo Shrine. They are still loved by the locals and can be seen being displayed by the front entrance of each household.
There are two kinds of quail toy cars in Miyazaki City; One in Hokkedake Yakushi-ji Temple and the other one in Hisamine Kannon. Hisamine quail toy car has a more feminine look.