The Kokeshi Ningyo dolls are the most popular of all Japanese folkcraft. They come in all sizes and shapes, and their specific forms, facial features and painted patterns identify the region where they are made. The art is passed from master to apprentice, and while the basic carving of their distinctive shapes is done by the apprentice, each is hand-painted by the master.
The origin of Kokeshi is thought by some scholars to invoke the protection of the gods. It is said that in very olden days during years of famine, girl children often had to be sold as indentured servants for the family’s survival. Girl children were not considered as important as boy children who had the responsibility of carrying on the family name and heritage, while girl children were inevitably “given away” in marriage. Thus the Kokeshi Ningyo is almost always a girl; a memorial to the child lost through hardship or perhaps even through marriage. Today they are considered collectors’ items.