The Kokeshi dolls have been an iconic symbol of Japan. There's so much history behind the gentle and demure expressions of the wooden dolls that date back hundreds of years ago in the Tohuko region. But aside from that, these dolls also inspired Nintendo in one of their games.
The dolls have bulbous and oversized heads put on top of slender bodies which is what Nintendo Mii avatars look like. According to BBC, Nintendo game designer Shigeru Miyamoto said that the Kokeshi dolls were the source of inspiration.
The dolls are so simple with smooth shapes designed with bold colors but there's a reason why the dolls are made like that. Tohuko's landscapes and cold weather plays a big factor in the birth of the dolls.
According to Kyuhoshi, the birth of the dolls was caused by Tohuko's cold climate. Woodcutters migrated to the region bringing with them their skills and techniques in woodcutting. However, during the cold season of winter, the woodcutters weren't able to work because of the cold and spent time in the different onsen or natural hot springs in the area.
The craftsmen needed money so they started to make dolls and sold them to people who visited the hot springs. In time, the dolls were closely associated with each onsen that they were made in.
The location where the dolls were made really gives them distinction in terms of design and materials used. For example, Kokeshi dolls made in Tsugaru have Ainu patterns which represent one of Japan's indigenous groups. Meanwhile, Naruko Onsen makes dolls with turning and squeaking heads that symbolize the name of their birthplace which means "crying child."
Also, dolls made on the Pacific side of the region are made with dogwood which gives the hard texture and white color. On the other hand, dolls made near the Sea of Japan are made with painted maple which gives the yellow color.
For those travelers out there who wants to see these dolls in their birthplace, Tohuko is a must see. You could also enjoy the different onsens located in the area.