Throughout the history of mankind, what represents human beings has attracted people; one of such pieces is a doll. Edo Kimekomi Ningyo is a kind of dolls Japanese artisans make by hand.
Like that of other countries, the Japanese history of dolls starts as an artifice to use in rituals. As the time went by, however, such usages of dolls have gone and begun to be loved as a daily article or toy. The completion of the culture of Japanese dolls can be seen in the Edo era, in which Edo Kimekomi Ningyo was born; therefore, Edo Kimekomi Ningyo can be said to be one of the original dolls in the Japanese history.
As you may know, Edo means the old name of Tokyo, and Ningyo means “doll” in Japanese. So, what is “Kimekomi”? Kimekomi’s original form is a verb, “Kimekomu”, which means, “Fit something into something else perfectly”. When you watch old Edo Kimekomi Ningyo, you will notice that their wearing is put into a gap on the “skin” of the doll. Yes, this explains: their wearing is fitted perfectly into the skin; therefore, they are called “Edo Kimekomi Ningyo”.
The origin of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo
Edo Kimekomi Ningyo was born during 1736 to 1741, in Kyoto. A man, Tadashige Takahashi, made dolls during work breaks then. The material was willow, which was also material for articles to use in festivals. Tadashige was a subordinate of a shinto priest, so he got some cloth of the uniform of shinto priests to make his dolls “wear” it. As the willow was growing up around the river named “Kamo-gawa”, the early days of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo saw that they are called “Yanagi Ningyo”, “Kamo Ningyo” or “Kamo-gawa Ningyo”.
In the middle of the Edo era, this skill came down to Edo, the current Tokyo, and it was mixed up with many other factors to be Edo Kimekomi Ningyo. After the movement, the doll creators in Kyoto disappeared and Tokyo became the main area of the culture.
How to make Edo Kimekomi Ningyo
The first Edo Kimekomi Ningyo (or Kamo Ningyo) was made by carving willow, but the later ones were also made by molding, which was conduce to the success of mass production of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo. Having said that, of course, the mold is made by the masters of Japanese dolls, so the value of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo is still intact.
The material of dolls in case of using such molds is called “Toso”, which is a kind of clay made from sawdust of paulownia and shofu-nori (wheat starch paste). This material is so light and durable. Thus, Edo Kimekomi Ningyo is easy to carry and life-lasting.
Of course, after molding the shape, the artisans paint some colors on the surface. Here, Kimekomi is done. They dress the doll in great wearing in the same way as it was done to the first Edo Kimekomi Ningyo with the help of some kinds of glue. So, you can say that what differentiates Edo Kimekomi Ningyo from other dolls is the way they are dressed. If their dress is fixed on the surface, it may well be Edo Kimekomi Ningyo.
This tells another thing: you can “unclothe” the dolls. (If you actually do that, it will require the historical technique to put the dress on them again, though; it’s not recommended.) This means that the shape of the body is the most important part for Edo Kimekomi Ningyo. When you watch Edo Kimekomi Ningyo, it’s more enjoyable to look at the body shape of the doll, which reflects the skill of the creator.
How to choose your favorite Edo Kimekomi Ningyo?
When you browse Edo Kimekomi Ningyo, you may well be surprised at the number of them. Thanks to mold, there are many dolls commercially available now, but how should we choose one from them?
Although mold is used, the last phase to finish the doll is mainly by hand, including painting and “Kimekomi”. Therefore, each of the dolls has different faces. Some may look smiling, and others may motherly. So, the first spot to look at when purchasing a doll is its face. Let’s choose your favorite one, “face to face”.
Of course, what they are wearing is also important. When you find their attire nice, that one can be your choice.
Other point to watch carefully is the story of the doll. As mentioned above, the completion of the culture of Japanese dolls is met in the Edo era, and this is because the era saw many cultures and entertainment were embedded into expression of creation of dolls. Therefore, the title (or caption) of dolls became much more “poetic” in the later era of Japan.
So, when you feel something special in a piece of Edo Kimekomi Ningyo, you should ask what the caption of the work and the meaning. If it’s really special, the doll must have its own name and story.
The current Edo Kimekomi Ningyo
Now, Edo Kimekomi Ningyo is not always a doll. The shape is sometimes a Japanese ball, mari, or an animal of Oriental Zodiac. For the ones of human shape, on the other hand, hina-dolls (which is traditional dolls to display on March 3, Hina-matsuri, in Japan) and Seven Deities of Good Fortune (which are 7 deities that Japanese people believe in as the herald of good fortune) are popular. Such dolls are also embodiment of Japanese culture, so they are perfect as the gift for your friends.
In addition to these commercial products, some people still make Edo Kimekomi Ningyo by themselves; they make their original and unique doll as an artist. One of such artists say that the artisans like him will disappear soon, for the younger manufacturers do the job separately without enough practice. This man also makes dolls for commercial availability but does all the procedures by himself, which add the taste of uniqueness to the products.
“We are striving to make the “one-of-a-kind” masterpiece, whose most important part is the idea. It’s therefore difficult and fun,” says he.
【日英対訳】日本の歴史100 100 Things on Japanese History