Ibaraki Prefecture has long been famous for its bamboo, ever since the 2nd lord of the Mito Domain, Tokugawa Mitsukuni (Mito Komon), first began to protect and encourage their cultivation.
Hitachi bamboo dolls are handmade from high-quality bamboo such as Japanese timber bamboo, as well as 'moso', 'monchiku', 'kurochiku, 'toratake', 'susutake' and 'gomatake' bamboo.
These dolls are made from bamboo that has been naturally dried over 2~3 years and is oil-free. Each part of the doll is made from bamboo and pieced together using bamboo nails. Colors and patterns are then painted on the carved and sculpted surface of the bamboo.
Usually the dolls are based on figures in Noh and Kabuki drama and are very elaborate. There are also dolls that depict local characters, such as the Komon and Umemusume dolls. Lovely animal figures for each year of the Chinese zodiac are also carved from bamboo using the same technique as the dolls.
Miharu papier-mache craft is believed to have originated when Akita Morisue, the 4th lord of the Akita Clan based at Miharu castle, invited a doll-maker from Edo to introduce the art and culture of Edo and Kyoto to his locality.
There is uniqueness and beauty in this simple craft. Between 1688 and 1703, one samurai in the Miharu clan is said to have retired and begun crafting dolls using traditional Japanese paper and a technique known as 'tsutsumi'--a papier-mache doll-making skill from Sendai prefecture. This skill gradually became more refined and today it is practised in Takashiba Dekoya, in the Abuyama mountain district.
Papier-mache models of Tengu, Ebisu, Ooguro, Otafuku, Daruma and Mai-ningyo are made from wet Japanese washi paper, then dried and painted. The figures are engaging and colorful, and embody good fortune, as well as carry a natural earthiness.
Born in Kashima City, Saga Prefecture, in June 1954, Shigeto Suzuta is a dyeing artisan and an official member of the Japan Handicraft Association.
Shigeto learned the art of dyeing from his father, Teruji, who had dedicated himself to the revival of 'nabeshima-calico', which had lost popularity after the Taisho period.
The dyeing style of 'nabeshima-calico' is unique in that it is the only Japanese calico to use wood or paper molds. The fabric produced from this method is very elegant.
Shigeto, preserving the technique revived by his father, evolved a new dyeing style that has received high commendations, such as the NHK President Prize at the 45th Traditional Japanese Handicraft Exhibition.
While dyeing fabric at his studio, Shigeto also makes the 'nogomi doll', created by his father to 'enrich our harsh society'. This doll is a simple clay bell featuring one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. It is very popular as a mascot because it is small and beautifully colored. Some of the animals have been featured on New Year stamps: in 1963 and 2001.
Japan is well known as a country for doll-making. In particular, Kyoto has a long history in doll-making.
Kyoto ceramic dolls (Kyo-toh-ningyo) are colored and unglazed dolls made in Kyoto. Although these dolls have a naive, sweet image, they are also very delicate and have an attractive brightness.
Busshi (sculptors specializing in Buddhist statuary) and nohmenshi (sculptors specializing in Noh masks) also would sculpt dolls such as Kamo-ningyos and Gosho-ningyos for the nobility. However, dolls gained general popularity in the Edo period, when mass production became possible from cast molds.
Kyo-toh-ningyo is one type of doll-making that developed at this time, and was appreciated by the public as accessible, simple and cute dolls.
Today’s Kyo-toh-ningyo are integrated with late-Meiji Hakata-ningyo. These dolls set new trends at the time and achieved new aspects of artistry and creativity.
Generally, these figures are made in small numbers, though there are many varieties in shapes and forms. For instance there are Kyo-toh-ningyo dolls made for the doll festival (Hina matsuri), and for boys festivals, as well as historical figures, zodiac animals, and the dolls combined with bells. Zodiac dolls and bell-dolls are very popular, since they are believed to bring good luck.