The roots of ”hina-ningyo” (Kakinuma Ningyo Pt. 1)

Hinamatsuri, also called Doll's Day or Girls' Day, is a special day in Japan. Hinamatsuri is celebrated each year on March 3. Platforms covered with a red carpet are used to display a set of ornamental dolls representing the Emperor, Empress, attendants, and musicians in traditional court dress of the Heian period.

2018-09-10 Hideki Motosue   Souvenirs, Traditions & History, Saitama,

Among the many seasonal enjoyments of Japan is a festival on the 3rd
of March known as the “momo-no-sekku.” This is a festival to pray for the health, future, and happy marriage of young girls.
When a girl is born into a family, they are warmly presented with hina-ningyo by their relatives. On the day of the festival, these dolls are displayed in the household.

Costumed dolls and wooden dolls

The manufacture of hina-ningyou is divided into two types, ishogi ningyo (costumed dolls) and kimekomi ningyo (wooden dolls).
The bodies of costumed dolls are clothed in kimono, but the wooden dolls have grooves carved into the torso into which fabric is inserted so as to hide the edge of the clothing. The costumed dolls are exceptional for the sharp, adult expressions on their faces.



Today we will introduce the Edo kimekomi (wooden) dolls. The unique charm of these dolls lies in their clothing, their poses, and their chubby, childlike faces. We went to Kakinuma Ningyo (a maker of kimekomi dolls) in Koshigoya, Saitama to learn more about the charms of kimekomi.



It takes many people with many different skills to produce these dolls. Including the platform and decorations, 20-30 craftsmen can be involved.



Modern and compact

What is truly impressive is that while adhering to traditional building methods, the dolls must be compact enough to fit into modern-day cramped living spaces.



They should also be modern and unique. While known as the “Imperial Prince Decoration,” this is actually a pair comprised of a prince and a princess. Joined at the shoulders, this is an unusual and romantic pair of dolls. Aren’t the needlework and the delicate pattern of the kimono beautiful?



In this one we see a young and lovely expression.

The bright yellow and peach colors serve to bring out the cuteness.



In contrast to the previous doll, this one is in a subdued, more traditional style kimono.
The prince sitting on a chair is unusual.



The use of haute couture cloth makes this a collaboration of East and West.
It’s unusual in that its novel and fashionable, but still has a taste of old Japan.
Our impression of the Kakinuma dolls was that they combined tradition with modern clothing and modern poses.
With their clothing and accessories that are popular with today’s youth and their detailed and varied expressions, these dolls challenged my long-held beliefs about Japanese dolls.




The roots of the doll-displaying tradition

When something bad happens, hina-ningyo are meant to protect a child by taking her place, therefore a family with one daughter should have one hina-ningyo and a family with three daughters is supposed to purchase three. This can be expensive, and there aren’t many households large enough to display multiple hina-ningyo sets, so some people resort to simply supplementing their collection with “three court ladies” or “five court musicians,” or purchasing things like “standing hina” or battledores instead of full doll sets.
From long ago, the Japanese have considered dolls not as art to be observed, but as a normal part of everyday life to be played with in a carefree manner. The current habit of Japanese youth to decorate their rooms with anime characters and robot figurines may have its roots in this tradition.





Each of them has their own unique expression.
It’s as if they might get up and move.
If these kimekomi dolls do suddenly start to move then we’ll certainly be able to make a cute promotional video.

Let’s send hina-ningyo



These hina-ningyo will be displayed together with wooden plaques bearing the name and birthday of a young girl. They are sitting together in wooden boxes waiting to be delivered.
One can feel the love and happiness.
A picture just isn’t the same, so we hope that you’ll have a chance to view this traditional Japanese art in person some day and that you’ll be as impressed as we were!

Kakinuma Ningyo
Created in 1950 by 1st-generation doll maker Toko Kakinuma. Manufacturers of Edo Kimekomi hinakazari and boy’s festival dolls.
The current president, Toko Kakinuma (the second) has been recognized by METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and the governor of Tokyo as a master traditional craftsman.
After learning about the delicate inlays and special coloring techniques involved in the creation of kimekomi, Mr. Kakinuma continues to strive to improve his techniques and to keep the “Toko Brand” fresh by incorporating current trends and innovative techniques.

In the 1st half we talked about hana-ningyo and Kimekomi dolls.
Please keep your eye out for the 2nd installment in which we’ll feature an interview at the kakinuma factory!


2-174-4 Shichizacho Koshigaya, Saitama

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Hideki Motosue


I was born in Fukuoka prefecture and raised in Wakayama prefecture. I’m a lover of pork ramen and umeboshi and a freelance designer. I command the 'foot soldiers' at Tadaima Japan.

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Address 2-174-4 Shichizacho Koshigaya, Saitama
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