15 Types Of Traditional Japanese Dolls and Their History

by Takashi Nomoni
types of traditional Japanese dolls

The Japanese and Japanese dolls have a lot of history. Read on to find out the types of traditional Japanese dolls and the meaning behind them. There are many types of Japanese dolls, some represent children, some imperial court, warriors and heores. Some even represent fairy tale characters and gods.

What are Japanese dolls called?

Japanese dolls are called as ningyō in Japanese and literally translates to ‘human form’. Traditional Japanese dolls are often considered as good luck charms and each one has a history of its own. 

Japan is a country teeming with culture in every nook and corner. Japanese traditions are deeply rooted, and we can see specks of it even today. Prospering in its culture and traditions, Japan has become a world-renowned figure for many of its food, culture, and more. One deeply-rooted element in Japanese culture is their Japanese dolls.

Types Of Traditional Japanese Dolls

And I wanted to learn everything about it and see if I could get my hands on at least some of them. Read on to learn about the types of traditional Japanese dolls and where to buy them.

Types Of Traditional Japanese Dolls

Cultural Significance Of Japanese Dolls In Japan 

Japanese doll culture has a long and rich history, dating back to the 7th century. Dolls have been used for a variety of purposes throughout Japanese history, including as toys, religious objects, and symbols of good luck.

In Japanese culture, dolls are often seen as having a special spiritual significance. They are believed to be able to absorb negative energy and protect people from harm. This belief is reflected in the practice of ningyo kuyo, or doll funerals. 

When a doll is no longer needed, it is given a funeral and then buried or burned. This is done to ensure that the doll does not carry any negative energy with it into the afterlife.

Dolls are also used in a number of Japanese festivals. The most famous example is Hinamatsuri, or the Doll Festival, which is celebrated on March 3rd. 

During this festival, families display sets of Hina ningyo, or doll dolls, which represent the imperial court. The Hina ningyo are believed to bring good luck to girls and to protect them from misfortune.

In addition to their religious and cultural significance, Japanese dolls are also highly prized for their craftsmanship. 

Many dolls are made from exquisite materials, such as wood, paper, and porcelain. They are also often beautifully decorated with intricate designs.

Today, Japanese doll culture is still alive and well. There are many doll makers in Japan who continue to create traditional dolls, as well as new and innovative designs. Dolls are also popular souvenirs for tourists visiting Japan.

Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi dolls originate from north-eastern Japan and are simple, yet beautiful. The beauty, durability, and shape of Kokeshi dolls make them the perfect choice for souvenirs.

The Kokeshi dolls are handmade and painted in the colors of black and red. Kokeshi dolls are known for their minimalistic aesthetics, and occasionally sport other colors such as yellow, blue, and green.

Some of the Kokeshi dolls have hair painted on them, whereas some use a separate wood for the hair. All Kokeshi dolls are limbless, which unites them.

What are kokeshi dolls used for?

Kokeshi dolls are simple Japanese wooden dolls with no arms and legs. These dolls a favorite amongst the children. It originated in Nothern Japan somewhere in between the Edo period (1603-1868) and early 19th century.

Types of traditional japanese dolls

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Daruma Doll

Out of all the traditional dolls of Japan, Daruma is the most well-known one. These dolls are said to be good luck charms, bought especially during the New Year. Daruma dolls showcase likeness to Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. The dolls look strange when we look at it for the first time. The strangeness in Daruma dolls is because they do not have pupils.

How to identify japanese dolls

What do Daruma dolls represent?

The dolls remind us about the importance of perseverance. According to Japanese traditions, you need to set a goal when you buy the Daruma doll. Once you have a goal (like a New Year’s resolution), you need to color one of the pupils. You can fill out the other eye when you have achieved your goal.

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Gosho Doll

Gosho dolls look unique and are known as Gosho ningyo in Japan. The Gosho dolls have a distinctive look, and their history goes back to almost 400 years.

The dolls are recreations of children in play and are said to bring good luck. Historically, when Japanese feudal lords (known as daimo) visited Kyoto, Gosho dolls were presented by the Imperial household to them.

You will find Gosho dolls posing with different objects. There are different meanings attached to them.

Modern japanese dolls

Okinawa Shisa

The Okinawa Shisa doll holds great significance in the culture and folklore of Okinawa, a subtropical island region of Japan. Let’s explore the significance of the Okinawa Shisa doll:

Okinawa Shisa
  • Guardian and Protector

The Okinawa Shisa doll is traditionally believed to be a guardian and protector against evil spirits. Shisa are mythical creatures with a combination of lion and dog features. 

They are typically depicted as a pair, one male (with an open mouth) and one female (with a closed mouth). 

These pairs of Shisa are placed on rooftops, gateways, and entrances of homes, temples, and other buildings to ward off malevolent spirits and bring good fortune.

  • Symbol of Okinawan Culture

The Shisa doll is deeply rooted in Okinawan culture and serves as an iconic symbol of the region. It is often considered a cultural mascot and represents the distinct identity and traditions of Okinawa. 

The sight of Shisa statues throughout Okinawa is a common and cherished sight for both locals and visitors alike.

  • Folklore and Legend

The origin of the Shisa can be traced back to Ryukyuan folklore and mythology. According to legend, the Shisa possesses the power to repel evil spirits and bring protection to households. 

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The open-mouthed Shisa is said to ward off evil spirits and negative energy, while the closed-mouthed Shisa is believed to keep in the good fortune and positive energy.

  • Decorative and Artistic Value

The Okinawa Shisa doll is highly regarded for its artistic value and craftsmanship. These dolls are meticulously sculpted and painted with vibrant colors, intricate details, and traditional patterns. 

They serve as decorative items in homes, gardens, and public spaces, enhancing the aesthetics and cultural ambiance of the surroundings.

  • Cultural Identity and Tradition

The presence of the Shisa doll reflects the strong cultural identity and pride of the Okinawan people. It represents their unique heritage and historical connection to the Ryukyu Kingdom. 

The Shisa is deeply ingrained in Okinawan traditions, festivals, and ceremonies, reinforcing the cultural fabric of the region.

  • Tourism and Souvenirs

The Okinawa Shisa doll has become a popular souvenir for visitors to the region. It serves as a tangible memento of the vibrant Okinawan culture and is often purchased as a symbol of protection and good luck. 

The popularity of the Shisa dolls has extended beyond Okinawa, with replicas and interpretations available in various parts of Japan.

The Okinawa Shisa doll holds great cultural and symbolic significance in Okinawan culture. As a guardian and protector, it embodies the folklore and mythology of the region, offering a sense of security and well-being. 

These decorative and intricately crafted dolls not only showcase the artistic traditions of Okinawa but also represent the unique identity and spirit of the Okinawan people.

Oiran Doll

The Oiran Doll holds great significance in Japanese culture and is an iconic representation of the Edo period’s elite courtesans known as “oiran.” Let’s explore the significance of the Oiran Doll:

  • Historical Context

The Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan was marked by the flourishing of the entertainment district known as the “pleasure quarters” or “Yoshiwara.” Oiran were highly skilled and sophisticated courtesans who entertained wealthy clientele with their beauty, charm, and talents. 

The Oiran Doll captures the essence of this era, reflecting the elegance, allure, and cultural traditions associated with these high-ranking courtesans.

  • Symbol of Beauty and Elegance

The Oiran Doll represents the epitome of beauty and refinement. It is meticulously crafted with exquisite details, including intricately embroidered kimonos, elaborate hairstyles adorned with intricate hairpins, and delicate facial features. 

The doll embodies the idealized image of an Oiran, capturing the grace, poise, and aesthetic appeal that were highly valued during that period.

  • Traditional Costumes and Accessories

The Oiran Doll’s attire is meticulously recreated, showcasing the elaborate and distinctive costumes worn by Oiran. These costumes are adorned with luxurious fabrics, intricate patterns, and vibrant colors. 

The doll’s ensemble includes a multi-layered kimono, an obi (sash), and accessories such as a hand-held fan, an elaborate hairstyle, and hair ornaments. The doll’s accessories and attire symbolize the opulence and status of the Oiran.

  • Cultural Heritage and Artistry

The creation of Oiran Dolls requires exceptional craftsmanship and skill. Artisans meticulously handcraft each doll, paying close attention to details, from the facial features and intricate hairstyles to the hand-sewn garments and accessories. 

The process of making Oiran Dolls follows traditional techniques, ensuring the preservation of the artistry and cultural heritage associated with these dolls.

  • Cultural Appreciation and Education

Oiran Dolls provide a window into the history, culture, and social customs of the Edo period. These dolls serve as educational tools, allowing people to learn about the aesthetics, fashion, and rituals of the time. 

They offer a glimpse into the lives of Oiran and the intricate hierarchies and traditions within the Yoshiwara district.

  • Collectible Art and Decoration

Oiran Dolls have become highly sought-after collectibles and decorative items. Their exquisite craftsmanship, historical significance, and cultural allure make them prized possessions among collectors and enthusiasts. 

Oiran Dolls are often displayed in homes, museums, and exhibitions as a way to appreciate their artistic value and share the captivating history of the Edo period.

The Oiran Doll represents a significant chapter in Japanese history, capturing the beauty, elegance, and cultural traditions of the Oiran courtesans. 

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo

These dolls serve as a reminder of the rich heritage of the Edo period and continue to captivate audiences with their intricate details and historical significance.

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo, also known as Hachioji Carriage Dolls, hold great significance in Japanese culture, specifically in the Hachioji region of Tokyo. 

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo

Let’s explore the significance of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo:

  • Historical Connection

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo has a long history dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). It originated as a form of entertainment for the daimyo (feudal lords) and wealthy merchants of the region. 

The dolls were created to be mounted on small carriages or floats and were paraded during festivals and celebrations.

  • Symbol of Prosperity and Good Fortune

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo is believed to bring prosperity and good fortune to the community. The elaborate dolls are adorned with vibrant costumes, decorative accessories, and intricate craftsmanship. 

It is believed that by displaying and parading these dolls, the community invites blessings, abundance, and positive energy into their lives.

  • Artistry and Craftsmanship

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo is renowned for its exquisite artistry and craftsmanship. Skilled artisans painstakingly create the dolls using traditional techniques passed down through generations. The dolls are made from a combination of materials, including wood, fabric, and lacquer. 

The artisans pay meticulous attention to detail, from the intricate facial expressions to the intricate clothing and accessories, ensuring that each doll is a work of art.

  • Festival Performances

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo plays a central role in local festivals and celebrations. During these events, the dolls are mounted on beautifully decorated carriages and paraded through the streets accompanied by traditional music and performances. 

The procession of the dolls creates a vibrant and festive atmosphere, drawing communities together and fostering a sense of cultural pride and unity.

  • Cultural Heritage and Preservation

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo serves as an important cultural heritage of the Hachioji region. Efforts are made to preserve and pass down the traditional techniques and artistry associated with these dolls. 

Local communities, artisans, and organizations work together to ensure that the tradition of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo continues to thrive and be appreciated by future generations.

  • Tourism and Cultural Exchange

The uniqueness and beauty of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo attract tourists from both within Japan and abroad. Visitors have the opportunity to witness the craftsmanship firsthand and experience the rich cultural traditions associated with these dolls. 

The popularity of Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo has also extended beyond Japan, with replicas and exhibitions showcased in various parts of the world, promoting cultural exchange and appreciation.

Hachioji Kuruma Ningyo embodies the artistry, history, and cultural heritage of the Hachioji region. Through their vibrant presence, these dolls bring joy, prosperity, and a sense of community to the people of Hachioji. 

They are a testament to the craftsmanship and cultural pride of the artisans and serve as a reminder of the rich cultural tapestry of Japan.

Japanese Geisha Dolls

Geisha, in Japan, means a person of art. A Geisha doll represents the women who provide entertainment to men in public places. You will find Geisha dolls adorning beautiful kimono, with an instrument in hand. The Geisha dolls have an exaggerated elegant leaning-back pose.

Japanese doll price

Japanese Hakata Doll

Hakata dolls are a type of traditional Japanese dolls that are traditionally crafted in Fukuoka. And often sold as souvenirs as small trinkets in Japan tourist shops. This one of the best gifts to give someone who really likes Japanese culture or something to take back for your friends as a souvenir. Hakata dolls are usually a type of porcelain doll that isn’t usually glazed but rather fired. 

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Check it out Hakata dolls on Amazon below!

types of traditional dolls

Hina Dolls

Hina dolls are significant for the Hinamatsuri festival, which is also known as the Doll Festival. The festival takes place every year on March 3 and celebrates the girls of the nation and their bright future. The ornamental Hina dolls used during the festival represent the Emperor, Empress, and other royal representatives from the heian period.

A full set of Hina dolls consists of no less than 15 figurines representing the heian period. On the other hand, a basic set only contains a pair of male and female.

Antique japanese dolls
Japanese doll maker

Bunraku Puppets

The origin of Bunraku puppets can be traced back to Osaka in the 17th century. Bunraku puppets are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are famously used in modern theatre performance. 

Typically, three puppeteers operate these puppets as they are used in live performances and require quick change of emotions. 

The puppeteers themselves make the costumes for the Bunraku puppets and are hand painted by specialists 

Karakuri Dolls

Karakuri dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are automated. These dolls too, like the Bunraku puppets, can be traced back to the 17th Century. 

When translated, Karakuri means trick. These dolls were named so as they are mechanical dolls and ‘trick’ the person to think these dolls have come to life!

But in reality it’s the mechanism of the hidden cogs and springs that are carefully hidden that make the dolls move. 

Karakuri dolls are designed to perform different movements like dancing or even serving tea!

Ichimatsu Dolls

The Ichimatsu Dolls originally represented a popular 18th-century kabuki actor and gained popularity by the 19th century. The name of these dolls come after this actor. However, at one point, the term Ichimatsu was associated with realistic-looking dolls of children and babies. Often, you will find Ichimatsu dolls with glass eyes and a solemn expression.

Kimekomi dolls

Kintaro Dolls

Kintaro Dolls are popular among children. Children get these dolls during one of Japan’s holidays called the Tango no Sekku holiday. The dolls represent the legendary Kintaro child and offer inspiration to children. It motivates children to exhibit bravery and strength.

Miniature japanese dolls

Gogatsu Dolls

Musha Dolls are also known as warrior dolls. These dolls are the favorites of boys. However, making these dolls is a complex process; unlike other dolls, they have to be seated on camp chairs or horses. As the name suggests, they come carrying weapons, armor, and shield, just like the warriors.

This type of traditional Japanese dolls are displayed of Japanese boys’ day celebration on 5th May.

Japanese daruma doll

Kimekomi Dolls

Kimekomi refers to the clothes worn by the doll. You will find these dolls in gift shops and craft stores around Japan, but now, there are a few online e-commerce sites are selling them.

The Kimekomi dolls come dressed in a classic Japanese style clothing. The 18th-century technique of making these Kimekomi dolls consist of cutting patterns into hard foam or softwood. The artisan tucks the cuts with layers of fabric.

Japanese dolls kokeshi

These were some of the most popular types of traditional Japanese dolls that you can easily find on Amazon. Get them to decorate your house or to gift them to a loved one. These dolls will amplify the beauty and aesthetics of your home.

Apart from these, many other types of traditional Japanese dolls are exquisite and remarkable, both for their craftsmanship and meaning attached to it.

Kyoto Doll

The classic Kyoto Dolls are masterpieces crafted by skilled artisans. They play a decorative and sophisticated role in Japanese society.

Often, each of the parts of the doll is handcrafted separately by a separate expert. While one artisan does the hands and limbs, another does the hair. The clothes are taken care of by a textile expert.

Since so many artisans are involved in crafting the Kyoto doll, it is expensive. However, it is long-lasting and often becomes part of the family heirloom.

Teru Teru Bozu

While this may not be a doll in the typical sense, it still forms an essential part of the traditional Japanese doll culture. Children make these either using white paper or white cloth. The dolls (puppets) are said to bring good charm that brings good weather. They are hung upside down to bring rain. Imagine being able to change the weather as per the mood!

What are different types of traditional Japanese dolls?

The different types of traditional Japanese dolls are:

  • Kokeshi Dolls
  • Daruma Dolls
  • Gosho Doll
  • Geisha Dolls
  • Hakata Doll
  • Hina Dolls
  • Bunraku puppets
  • Karakuri Dolls
  • Ichimatsu dolls
  • Gogatsu Dolls
  • Kimekomi dolls

Kokeshi dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are handmade and traditional painted in red and black.

Daruma dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are meant for good luck charms.

The Gosho Dolls types of traditional Japanese dolls that were gifted to the Japanese feudal lords by the Imperial household.

The Geisha dolls types of traditional Japanese dolls that represent the female Japanese entertainers who perform various traditional Japanese art forms.

The Hakata dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are traditionally crafted in Fukuoka and are popularly sold as souvenirs.

The Hina dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that represent the emperor, empress, and other royalty from the Heian period during the doll festival.

The Ichimatsu dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are realistic-looking dolls of children and babies with glass-eyes and solemn expression.

The Kintaro dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are one of the most popular among children.

The Musha or Gogatsu dolls are types of traditional Japanese dolls that are represent warriors and the Kimekomi Dolls are popular in gift shops and craft stores around Japan. 

What do Japanese dolls symbolize?

Different types of Japanese dolls symbolize different things. Back in the day, some traditional Japanese dolls were used as toys by little girls while some other Japanese dolls were handmade by mothers or grandmothers and believed that it would protect their children.

Some traditional Japanese dolls were also used in different ceremonies and it was believed that these dolls would take the sin of the person who touched it. 

Some dolls represent historical figures, while some represent an ideology. It is a fascinating and knowledgeable journey. I am here to take you through this intriguing journey into the world of traditional Japanese dolls. Let me know which one caught your attention at once.

Dolls in today’s Japan

Today, not all types are made and enjoyed by the youth, as they once used to be. The tastes and preferences of the younger generations have changed. In today’s time, the Japanese prefer dolls that are figurines. They are willing to pay a high price for it if they have to. Despite not all types coming to the market like they used to, Japan’s doll culture has developed over the years.

You will also find limited edition figurines in the Japanese market for which people bid. Currently, most of them depict anime characters, which are not only popular in Japan, but all over the world. The figurines have special features such as costumes, expressions, and poses.

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Many people travel to Japan solely to acquire limited edition figurines. This popularity all over the world shows how flourishing the Japanese doll culture is. The culture has not only developed but has also expanded.

The Japanese dolls are an exquisite and pristine form of art that holds deep meanings and is rooted in the traditions of Japan.

Types of Japanese Dolls: FAQs

How are Japanese dolls made?

Japanese dolls, or ningyo, are traditionally handmade from a wide variety of materials, including wood, clay, paper, and ivory. While the earliest ningyo were simple wooden figures, over time they became increasingly elaborate, often featuring detailed facial expressions and elaborate costumes. Today, Japanese dolls are still prized for their beauty and craftsmanship, and there are a few things to look for when identifying them.

One key characteristic is their small size; most ningyo are less than 18 inches tall. Another is their articulated limbs; unlike traditional Western dolls, which have joints that allow them to be posed in a limited number of positions, ningyo can be moved into a wide range of natural-looking positions.

What are Japanese dolls called?

Japanese dolls, known as ningyo, have a long and rich history. Their origins can be traced back to the Dogu, clay figurines that were used in religious ceremonies in ancient Japan. Over time, ningyo began to take on a more decorative role, and they became popular gifts for special occasions.

Today, ningyo are still cherished by many Japanese people and are often displayed in homes as part of traditional decor. The most popular type of ningyo is the hina doll, which is traditionally given to young girls on Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Day.

What do Kokeshi Dolls symbolize?

Kokeshi dolls are traditional Japanese wooden dolls that have been around for centuries. These charming dolls are often given as gifts, and they symbolize a number of different things. For example, kokeshi dolls are said to represent the strength and resilience of the human spirit. They also symbolize the important role that women play in Japanese culture.

In addition, kokeshi dolls are often given to people who are recovering from an illness, as they represent the hope for a full and speedy recovery. No matter what they represent, kokeshi dolls are cherished by people all over the world for their beauty and meaning.

What is a Kabuki doll?

Kabuki dolls are traditional Japanese dolls that are often used as decorative items or souvenirs. They are typically made of wood or porcelain, and they feature intricate paint jobs that depict scenes from Kabuki theatre. Kabuki dolls usually have an elongated neck, exaggerated facial features, and elaborate clothing. These characteristics are meant to represent the stylized acting that is often seen in Kabuki theatre.

Kabuki dolls are typically red or white in color, and they often come with a stand that allows them to be displayed upright. While they originated in Japan, Kabuki dolls are now popular collectors’ items all over the world.

What are Ichimatsu dolls made of?

Ichimatsu dolls are a type of traditional Japanese doll that date back to the Edo period. They are made of a material called hinoki, which is a type of cypress wood. The dolls are carved and painted to resemble human beings, and they are often dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. Ichimatsu dolls were originally used as toys for children, but they have also been used as religious objects and as lucky charms. Today, they remain popular collectibles, and many people consider them to be works of art.

Are Kokeshi dolls good luck?

According to Japanese folklore, kokeshi dolls are said to bring good luck to their owners. These traditional dolls originated in the Edo period in Japan, and were originally made as toys for young girls. Kokeshi dolls are typically made from wood, and have a simple cylindrical shape with a large head and small body. They usually have painted faces, and their clothes are often decorated with traditional Japanese patterns.

Although they are now popular souvenirs for tourists, kokeshi dolls still hold a special place in the hearts of many Japanese people. Given their long history and cultural significance, it’s no wonder that these charming dolls are believed to bring good luck to those who own them.

What do Japanese people believe about dolls?

Japanese people have a long and rich history with dolls, and they believe that dolls have a special spiritual significance. Here are some of the beliefs that Japanese people have about dolls:

  • Dolls can absorb negative energy and protect people from harm. This belief is reflected in the practice of ningyo kuyo, or doll funerals. When a doll is no longer needed, it is given a funeral and then buried or burned. This is done to ensure that the doll does not carry any negative energy with it into the afterlife.
  • Dolls can be possessed by spirits. This belief is often based on the story of Okiku, a doll that is said to be possessed by the spirit of a young girl who drowned. The doll is now on display in a temple in Japan, and it is said to cry tears of blood.
  • Dolls can bring good luck. Many dolls are believed to bring good luck to their owners. For example, the Daruma doll is a popular symbol of perseverance and good luck.
  • Dolls can represent the imperial court. The Hina ningyo dolls, which are displayed during the Hinamatsuri Festival, represent the imperial court. This is a symbol of the importance of family and tradition in Japanese culture.

These are just a few of the beliefs that Japanese people have about dolls. While not everyone in Japan believes in these beliefs, they are a part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Get the Japanese dolls home today!

These dolls are beautiful, give aesthetic pleasure, and hold a meaning so deep, you will be awestruck. In this article, I listed some of my favorites from the world of traditional Japanese dolls. From the goal-achieving Daruma doll to the exquisitely beautiful Geisha doll, the collection is stunning.

The dolls are a big part of Japanese culture. Now that you know the beauty, simplicity, and deep meaning behind these creations, why not bring one home today?

These dolls will not just adorn the aesthetics of your home, but will also give your decoration a whole new meaning to it. Imagine explaining your guest the deep meaning and purpose behind the Geisha doll or the Daruma doll. They will be fascinated by the story, and your decor will have a whole new meaning to them as well.

Without further ado, get any of these dolls home today. Let me know if you already own one of these dolls, or wish to own one soon.

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