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What is a Hakata Doll?

People have asked me what a Hakata Doll is. I only knew from what my mom bought in Japan in the early 1950s. However, there are some web resources such as this one:www.japonic.com/art/hakata.htm which has a brief history.

Japanese Hakata dolls are the best known craft items from Fukuoka Prefecture, which lies in the north of the island of Kyushu. The origin of this local specialty goes back to around 1586-1608.
In that year the feudal lord of Fukuoka, Nagamasa KURODA, was having a new castle built. One day he noticed one of the workmen making dolls from the clay used for the palace's tile roof. The workmanship was so superb that the ruler employed the craftsman to make dolls and ornaments for the castle.
Sohichi, the doll maker, passed his secrets down through his family and the sons were doll makers for four generations. As a youth, however, the fifth Sohichi revealed a weakness for "sake". This, plus lack of patience for detailed work, made his father reluctant to put the family's reputation in his hands.
The professional secrets were given to the doll maker's daughter who passed them on to her son, the sixth Sohichi. This man, too, was a heavy drinker, but for all of that he was skilled craftsman. Soon after the revolutionary war in 1858, he died without passing his trade secrets to his next generation.
About eleven years later, a group of artists pooled their talents to revive the art of making pottery dolls. They developed a highly finished substitute, which in 1885, was exhibited at the national exhibition representing the arts of Hakata.
Originally called the Sohichi-yaki (Sohichi Pottery), it gradually became known as the Hakata doll after the place of its birth.

Another website: www.dollsofjapan.co.uk/hakata-doll.html tells more...bringing the story to the 20th century. Among other things, this site explains these dolls (figures really) were made of painted unglazed pottery.

Originally the dolls were known as "Hakata Suyaki Ningyo" (Hakata bisque-ware dolls), but the "suyaki" part of the name was removed when two works were awarded prizes at a prestigious exhibition in Tokyo in 1890 and from that time the dolls came to be known simply as Hakata Ningyo.

Toward the end of the 19th century the craft blossomed from making folk toys to making decorative dolls intended to please the eye. Their delights first gained international recognition at the 1900 Paris Exposition. In 1924 further international acclaim came when three dancing-girl Hakata dolls won the silver prize in the Paris World's Fair. Since that time the appeal of these graceful and delicate dolls ahs spread across the globe and the art of Hakata dolls was recognised as a traditional national art by the Japanese Government in 1976.

The Hakata Doll, as noted in this website: www.existenz.co.jp/fn2.htm is handcrafted although fragile.

The handcrafting process consists of four steps.
1.Form a model with plaster.
2.Jam clay into plaster model and peel off the plaster.
3.Heat the clay doll in a kiln. Dolls are heated only to about 900 degrees Fahrenheit, sufficient for earthenware. Pottery requires up to 1300 degrees Fahrenheit.
4.At the end of process, an artist paints the clothes on the doll. In other words, miniature Kimonos are not created for the doll. Of course, other details are also added, such as realistic facial expressions.

Because the dolls were earthenware, they break easily. The process, including the fact that clothes were not fashioned for the dolls, made them also inexpensive.

Still, the form and the individual painting make each doll a unique work of art. In fact, customers could request and receive dolls with a particular kimono pattern and still pay a reasonable price for such a customized piece.

Hakata dolls are still made and sold, but the ones my mom bought are from a firm which no longer exists and sometimes are not considered true Hakata but have their own following.

The website:www.existenz.co.jp/hakata%20urasaki.htm talks about the Urasaki Hakata doll which were the kind my mom bought.

During the Korean Conflict (June 1950 - July 1953) most U.S. military went through a base at Fukuoka because it was near Korea. This was near Hakata where Hakata dolls were made.

Soldiers (and my mom) wanted Japanese souvenirs so the post exchange (PX) made a large wholesale order of the dolls from Urasaki. The owner of the Urasaki doll store, Youichirou Urasaki, died in 2004 in a traffic accident. After his death the store was closed.

However, long before that the style of doll was discontinued. The Urasaki doll was finished with a surface coat which helped waterproof the paint. Unfortunately, this waterproofing dulled the finish. Americans preferred this, though, because it made the doll easier to clean.

As soon as the Americans left, though, this style was discontinued. Japanese preferred the unwaterproofed versions with the more vivid colors. These kind of dolls were usually displayed in glass cases to prevent dust from entering.

After more than 50 years, though, the waterproofing on the Urasaki Hakata dolls is no longer effective, so water must never be applied to them, otherwise the paint will rub off. Only dry cleaning methods should be used and these dollars should be protected just like traditional Hakata dolls.

Not all the dolls purchased by Americans were Urasaki. Similar Hakata dolls were created by other firms and sold in the PX as well, but the dull finish caused by the waterproofing puts them in the same class as Urasaki. Two not from my mom's collection were made by other firms: Kyoto Classic and Original Arnartcreation. The labels are usually found on the base of the figure.

Urasaki Hakata dolls should feature the label "Urasaki Dolls - Fukuoka Japan" and also a cleaning instruction label:'"Washable" Hakata Urasaki Dolls! This doll can easily be cleaned with soft cloth dipped in cold water'

Among the possible problems with these dolls: breakage, missing paint and missing "parts." While Urasaki dolls were not costumed, they usually had pieces of rope, woven hats or implements added to the figure to provide additional realism. While the figure may survive for decades, these parts may not.

A Urasaki doll (Item #8--a man eating while sitting) purchased from a thrift store (not part of my mom's original collection) is a good example. While there is no paint loss or smudge, the hand holding the dish was broken and glued back on (not aligned well, either) and there are rough spots and a chip from the dish. In addition, it looks like he used to wear a hat to cover this hole on the top of his head. Most probably it was a miniature woven hat of grass or reeds. The doll still has its chopstick and small rope accessory for the collar of the kimono.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 5th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
I've never had one of the all-clay dolls, but I used to collect the large clothed Japanese dolls that have the laquer over wood faces and glass eyes, and also tons of kokeshi dolls. I must have had 50 kokeshi dolls at one point!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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