Rise of the Kokeshi
Latest interior trend
You may not have heard of the latest interior trend on the block. Yet. But there is something rising through the ranks of popularity in the world of home interiors and they go by the name of Kokeshi. Over the last year, there has been a steady rise in demand for these handcrafted vintage wooden Japanese Dolls.
The exact origin of Kokeshi is somewhat unknown, but they date back around 150 years. Several stories are told about their beginnings, including one of farmers returning from the hot springs in Northern Japan with handcrafted Kokeshi dolls for their children. Many people believe the dolls hold spiritual significance and even have the power to prevent fire! The latter most likely came about due to the moist wood used to make Kokeshi. Whatever their true beginnings, they have certainly started to capture the attention of collectors and interior lovers.
Handcrafted by Artists
In the 1960s and 70’s, they had a boost in popularity in Japan and production of them increased but Kokeshi have never been churned out en mass in large factories. That’s not what they’re about. They have always been individually handcrafted by a few selected artists. These artists hand their skills down through generations and develop their own signature shapes and painting styles. Kokeshi crafting is a serious business in Japan. Competitions are held regularly to determine the finest artists and designs. The highest honour is the Prime Ministers Award which has been won by artists such as Sansaku Sekiguchi and Sadao Kishi.
What to look for
Knowing a few key words and shapes will help you identify the age, style and sometimes even the artist. ‘Dento’ (made up to the 1950’s) are traditional shapes and simply designed with just the head and body. Many were made as children’s toys, so have thinner bodies for small hands to hold, some even have rattles in their heads (‘Gara Iri’). Some of the most interesting Kokeshi have tight-fitting heads, which rotate and squeak (‘Hamekomi’), designed to imitate the cries of a baby.
‘Sosaku’ are the more un-restricted, creative and lifelike dolls, made from the 1950s onwards and often includes limbs, hair and accessories. Some artists even create bespoke Kokeshi according to the height and weight of a baby so they can be gifted to celebrate a new birth!
The vast array of styles, patterns and shapes means Kokeshi collecting can become quite an obsession, this combined with the history and traditions all seem to have contributed to capturing interior lovers imaginations. Another contributing factor is that they are still affordable – a vintage Kokeshi can be snapped up from around just £35.
Swag and Tales buy and sell decorative antiques, vintage and interior curios from their online shop www.swagandtales.co.uk . They have one of the best catalogued and identified collections of Vintage Japanese Kokeshi in the UK. They often help other vintage dealers identify their Kokeshi collections.
The founder of Swag and Tales is Sharon Bradbury, has worked in marketing and advertising for over 20 years but her family has been in the antique trade for well over 40 years. She has a passion for interiors and is not only fascinated by the stories that old pieces have to tell but says “I love the fact that we are reusing and restoring again. We are moving away from the throwaway culture of fast furniture and once again celebrating good craftsmanship, cherishing iconic designs and embracing Kitsch!”
She loves all styles, from Georgian vernacular furniture, through to 70’s West German Fat Lava pottery and of course Japanese Kokeshi!