The Edo Kimekomi doll is a traditional Japanese craft with 280 years of history that's still adored by Japanese people today. Unlike ordinary dolls, Edo Kimekomi are made using a technique called “kimekomi,” whereby fabric is inserted into grooves carved into the body to form clothing for the dolls. Many of these dolls are compact in size and can be placed in small spaces, making them stylish and convenient decorations for modern Japanese homes. In this article, we’ll dive into the history and production of this traditional craft of Tokyo and Saitama.
The History of Edo Kimekomi Dolls
Edo Kimekomi dolls are crafted in the Bunkyo and Taito wards of Tokyo along with Saitama City and Kasukabe City in Saitama Prefecture. In contrast to “kitsuke dolls,” which are dressed up in kimono, Edo Kimekomi are made by carving thin grooves into the original shape and inserting cloth into them.
The making of kimekomi dolls in Japan began about 280 years ago. It is said that their origin came from Tadashige Takahashi, who worked at Kamigamo Shrine in Kyoto between 1736 and 1741 and made dolls from pieces of wood leftover from making tools used in ceremonies and dressing them in leftover pieces of kimono fabric.
Later, craftspeople who left Kyoto for Edo (modern-day Tokyo) spread this doll-making technique, eventually evolving into Edo's unique version of the kimekomi doll. Up until the early Meiji period (1868-1912), the dolls were made the conventional way by hand-carving wood. In the latter half of the Meiji period, however, the method of making the body by fitting clay into a mold was invented, making mass production possible. In 1978, Edo Kimekomi dolls were designated as a traditional craft by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). At that time, a part of Saitama Prefecture, along with Tokyo, were recognized as production areas for Edo Kimekomi dolls.
Characteristics of Edo Kimekomi Dolls
The most distinctive feature of Edo Kimekomi dolls is the unique decoration technique. While ordinary dolls are dressed with sewn kimono, Edo Kimekomi are dressed by inserting the clothing into grooves carved on the body. Furthermore, Edo Kimekomi are characterized by a slender face with well-defined eyes and nose. Their sharp impression contrasts starkly from Kyoto dolls, which are more plump and round. Crafted with exquisite technique from head to toe, Edo Kimekomi dolls are beautiful in every detail. From making the face to the color scheme of costumes, the techniques and tastes vary from artist to artist, reflecting their own individuality in each doll and adding to their charm.
The body and head of Edo Kimekomi dolls are made separately and attached at the end. Being crafted entirely by hand, individual dolls each have a different and distinctive expression. Their production can be roughly broken down into the following 11 processes.
① Making the prototype of the body
The prototype for the body is made using clay according to a size and shape decided in advance.
② Making the mold based on the prototype
The prototype is placed in a wooden frame. Molten sulfur is poured into the frame to make a mold called a "kama.”
③ Filling the mold with clay
The body is made by filling the mold with clay called “toso,” which is a mixture of paulownia wood powder and glue.
④ Gofun coating
"Gofun," a pigment made from crushed seashells, is kneaded and dissolved into glue and painted onto the body.
⑤ Carving the grooves
Grooves for holding the garments in place are carved into the body.
⑥ Inserting garments into the grooves (kimekomi)
Garments are inserted into the grooves to hold them in place.
⑦ Making the head
The head is made from a toso or plaster finer than what was used for the body.
⑧ Coating the head
Multiple coats of gofun are applied to coat the head.
⑨ Painting the face
The eyes and lips are drawn on with a thin brush. Since the face-painting process determines the quality of the doll, it requires a high level of concentration and skill on the part of the craftsperson.
⑩ Attaching the hair
The hair is glued into the grooves carved for planting the hair.
⑪ Gluing the body and head
The body and head are glued together and ornaments are attached.
Edo Kimekomi Dolls Today
The crafting techniques used to make Edo Kimekomi dolls have been handed down for over 280 years, and the dolls themselves are still loved by many people. One of the reasons for their popularity is their size, as the majority are compact enough to be displayed in small spaces, blending seamlessly with modern homes.
The dolls have also gained a large number of fans through new initiatives such as the development of collaborative products. In 2019, a collaboration with Japan's most popular anime, Pokémon, was launched. By collaborating with the universally adored Pokémon, Edo Kimekomi dolls gained further prominence across the world.
Throw Bad Luck Away From You! Amabie (Blue) Doll Making Kit
Founded in 1919, Mataro Doll have been making traditional crafts such as Kimekomi Hina dolls and “Gogatsu” May dolls for about 280 years since the Genbun era (1736-1741) of the Edo period. This product is a doll-making kit from Mataro Doll of the Japanese spirit "Amabie," who wards off plague and disaster. This reasonably priced kit allows you to make the doll yourself while filling it with your own wishes. It makes a great gift for others as well as yourself, allowing one to craft their own one-of-a-kind good luck charm. It also comes in pink.
Related article: ▶ The Complete Guide to Japanese Dolls
Maneki Neko, Checkered Pattern
Toko Kakinuma, the second generation of Kakinuma Dolls (est. 1950), is a certified traditional doll craftsman who has received numerous accolades for his innovative doll-making. This checkered maneki neko was made using his refined Edo Kimekomi doll-making techniques. While the maneki neko is already considered an essential lucky charm, the checkered pattern also embodies prosperity due to its continuous, uninterrupted pattern.
Maneki Neko, Wish to the Star (Horizontal Folding)
Also made by Kakinuma Dolls, this is a rare maneki neko with both hands raised. The design of the cat looking up with glistening eyes and hands clasped in prayer is utterly adorable! This style of maneki neko has the double meaning of inviting business success and general good fortune and prosperity.
Edo Daruma (Large) Red
This is a typical Edo Kimekomi doll made in the shape of a red daruma. Along with the luck brought by daruma, the color red itself has been used since the olden days to ward off evil spirits. For this reason, it boasts the oldest history compared to other colors as a good luck charm warding off illness and calamity. Because of its association with household safety and good luck, it remains a popular color in Japan even today.
Edo Daruma (Large) Yuzen Gold
This gold-colored daruma is made of luxurious "Kyo Yuzen," the same material used to make high-grade kimono. Gold is said to have the effect of inviting wealth, and is often used to wish for success in life and prosperity in business. With a large pattern on the back, its beautiful appearance can be enjoyed from any angle. Choosing where to display it is half the fun!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.