NIHONMONODiscovering Japan [Nihon] through authentic craftsmanship [Honmono]

Dolls that soothe the heart ”Kimekomi Doll Artist, Junpei Ishikawa”

Dolls that soothe the heart
”Kimekomi Doll Artist, Junpei Ishikawa”

Love the dolls

”I don’t really like dolls being kept in glass cases. I want them to breathe the same air as we do.”

So said Junpei Ishikawa in a gentle manner. He is a doll artist who makes ”kimekomi” dolls in Iwatsuki, known as the town of dolls. His predecessor, his father, is a leading figure in the world of doll making, and was designated Intangible Cultural Property by Saitama Prefecture. He learned the art of doll making under his father, and succeeded the name Junpei Ishikawa. He not only makes ”hina ningyou” for girls’ festival and ”gogatsu ningyou” for boys’ festival, but various dolls that express the warmth of the human heart.

Creates faces as well as bodies.

Generally, dolls are made by division labor. That means, there are different artisans who specialize in making the head, the body, the hair, clothes etc. His father originally specialized in making the head.

”But then I thought, a doll is not just a collection of parts. I wanted to make everything by myself, the face, the hands, the feet and all,” said Ishikawa.

After that, he learned drawing from a teacher of sculpture, and now every process of doll making is done in his workshop. This is a very rare thing indeed, even in Saitama Prefecture where the largest production volume of dolls in Japan are boasted.

Blowing life into the small figure.

The kind of dolls Ishikawa makes are called ”kimekomi” dolls. The figure is made from powder of paulownia trees and ”shoufu” glue mixed together to make ”touso”, grooves are carved on the figure, and pieces of cloth are pushed into the grooves to dress the body. The face is made of baked ”hakuundo”(a sort of clay), painted with ”gofun”, then eyes are drawn with a very thin brush. Gradually, the doll will have expression.

There was one doll in the workshop, which was intended for Nakata. He began to dress the doll under Ishikawa’s supervision. The doll began to look as if it took life. Then Ishikawa again said, ”I’ll be glad if you would keep the doll outside the glass case.”
Japanese have the custom to display dolls to make wishes for the loved ones on occasions such as ”Hinamatsuri” and ”Tango no Sekku”. The attentiveness of the handiwork in making the dolls seemed to blow life into the small figure of a doll.


Doll artist Junpei Ishikawa the second
Saitama, Saitama Prefecture