This page was designed and is maintained
began this page in Fall 1996, simply because I found that the Web was a
wonderful, rich, cheap source of pictures and sometimes information about
Japanese dolls, or ningyo (ningyou, ningyô), a subject that interested
me. I needed a project for experimenting with Web authoring, and this seemed
to me a topic which would be of interest to many. I have learned a lot
as the site grew, and my little essays on the dolls have become longer.
The Web has grown, also, and I can no longer hope to include links to all
the sites which tell about ningyo.
Welcome, and I hope you enjoy the many links you will find here!
This site is intended for those who wish to learn more about ningyo. Its goal is educational, not commercial. Although I link to commercial sites which have pictures of dolls, I don't sell, appraise, or offer advice on selling dolls.
Some types of dolls I have NOT included are the Plastic Princesses (Barbie-type dolls, who fit nicely into the Japanese tradition of Beautiful Ladies), Anime dolls representing the cartoon literature of Japan, and electronic paper dolls (KISS), which are popular on the internet.
There are more and more Japanese sites which require a Japanese browser (and the ability to read Japanese!) which describe, illustrate, or sell dolls. I have included some such sites with wonderful photos, indicating that they are "Japanese text" sites.
Websites with illustrations of many types of ningyo:
Doll Museum--Japanese Dolls is a wonderful illustrated primer showing
the various types of dolls and the names they have been given.
For more information about
particular types of dolls, try the articles posted on these websites: L'Asie
Exotique - Published Articles (Tim Mertel's Circa & Arts
of Asia articles on warrior dolls, gosho dolls, and festival dolls)
In Japan, over the past millenium, the making of human figures has moved comfortably between the talisman and the souvenir, the sacred object and the plaything. Dolls, for which the broadest term is ningyo (`written with two characters, meaning "human figure''), have a spiritual significance; they seal friendships, protect or purify those who use them, and help young girls and boys explore their roles in society. Their history also reflects the development of relgious and political ideas, and an economy of local crafts for export. They may be made of wood, reeds, paper, pottery, or even ivory, and dressed in the finest cloth, often woven or painted especially with appropriately tiny motifs.
There are several criteria for classification: materials (kamo = "willow") or method of construction (kimekomi = cloth "tucked in" a grooved base); distinctive shapes (kokeshi, tachibina, hoko); locality of origin or production (Nara, Saga, Kobe dolls); theatrical names (Ichimatsu, Takeda); names associated with festivals or other activities. Any one ningyo may be classified in all these ways. I will not be including all these types but only the ones I have found depicted at various sites on the Web.
American interest in Japanese ningyo right now probably springs at least
partly from the "geisha" dolls brought back by U.S. military personnel
stationed in Japan in the 1940s and 50s. I remember seeing tall, elegant
dolls in cases in the house of a childhood friend whose late father had
been a naval officer. Fifty years later, many of these dolls are coming
on the market and can be found at auctions and in antique shops.
The year 1000: A famous testimony to the use of dolls as protective devices, purification tokens, and playthings with elaborate houses, is the Tale of Genji of Murasaki Shibiku, written in the years 1000-1025. I have made a page for the ningyo in Genji.
The year 1944: The deep meaning of dolls in Japanese culture can be understood through the research of American anthropologist Ellen Schattschneider, who is studying the role of dolls in Japan's military effort of World War II. Dolls allowed civilian women to feel they were part of the war, and pilots to feel they were supported; and, later, allowed families to mourn the boys who had died without marriage and children. See Mystery of the Mascot Dolls.
Ningyo Lover's Movie Guide:
Looking for a movie that will tell you something about your ningyo? Try--
books in English on Japanese dolls: