Ahhhh. I tell you what, a hand-carved object is a breath of fresh wood shavings. In an age where we’re shocked at eating veggies straight from the garden and most can’t use a jackknife to shave a spear or hunt a squirrel, a guy with a lathe and a piece of native hardwood seems almost magical. Case in point, Yasuo Okazaki, born in 1954, started making Kokeshi dolls after high school. He’s been making them for over 40 years and the process is mesmerizing.
Making of a Kokeshi doll
Kokeshi dolls come in different styles based on the region they’re made in, the style of the artist and even the climate on the day they are carved and hand-painted. There are 11 styles in all and Yasuo specializes in Naruko.
“The Naruko style of Kokeshi [was] developed at Naruko hot springs. One of the unique characteristics of these Kokeshi is that their heads squeak when turned. They have kind faces and flared shoulders and skirts. The stripes at the top and bottom of the body are painted on the lathe, and the body is often painted with a chrysanthemum motif. The bangs are painted like the dolls sent as gifts from the Imperial Palace. Naruko Kokeshi wear a red headdress.”
The video shows exactly how the signature squeak is made by carving out a cavity in the body in which the neck is fit into while the body is still rotating on the lathe. If you think the painting looks like tedious work, that’s one more part of the process that is assisted by the lathe, until you get to the wispy face and flower details. Have a look…
“The wood used to make Kokeshi dolls are from Cornel, Mono maple, Cherry trees and Pagoda. Trees are cut and dried during winter time, and artisans continue to dry them enough to shape them on a potter’s wheel with a plane or a knife, called Bankaki. The artisans then draw the Kokeshi’s face and body, then apply wax on it.”
The Sendai Kiji Workshop in Sendai, Miyagi, Japan covers the traditional arts and crafts and the process of the craftsman. While you would be better served to hop over to Sendai and purchase a fresh Kokeshi, you can find new and vintage versions on sites like etsy and ebay and made-to-order Kokeshi dolls at online stores like japanstore.jp where a Naruko style doll can be bought for JPY2,450 (US $21.50).