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The Birth of The Japanese Art Doll

by Alan Scott Pate

Cabinet Card of iki-ningyô “Hananuma Masakichi,” 1894 (background)
& Sosaku-ningyô “Hunting Bamboo Shoots,” Okamoto Gyokusui, Circa 1930,

For the past several years, in these UFDC seminars, we have been exploring the fascinating, frustrating and ultimately seductive world of the Japanese Friendship Dolls of 1927. We have examined their history, the reasons behind their creation and the politics of the day. We have explored some of the individual journeys of the Doll Ambassadors as they came from Japan and toured far and wide in the United States before settling into more permanent homes
in museums, libraries, historical societies and various cultural institutions. We have tried to disentangle the interlaced ambiguities of identities—who’s who. And we have, perhaps most importantly, also explored their artistry, their beauty, and have touched upon the extraordinary individual artists and ateliers that created these marvelous dolls. [Fig. 1a, 1b]

Fig. 1a Friendship Doll, Miss Fukuoka/Gunma,
Iwamura Shokensai I, 1927,
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Fig. 1b Detail of Fig. 1a

This year, I would like to take a step forward and look at the legacy created by this important doll-centered movement. Not so much the political legacy, their impact on peace and mutual understanding, but more a look at their influence on the development of Japanese dolls in general and the Japanese art doll (sosaku-ningyô) in particular. What became of the participating artists? What newfound energy, popularity, commercial and artistic impetus was infused into the Japanese doll industry following the astonishing success of the Friendship Dolls of 1927? What was its immediate impact? And what was its more long-term legacy? And, fundamentally, what was its role in the sosaku or modern art doll movement of the 1930’s. [Fig. 2]

Fig. 2 Sosaku-ningyô, “Catching Flower Petals,” Hirata Gôyô II, 1943,
Private Collection

As always, the road we will travel is not a straight one. Economics, politics, art theory and artistic ego all merge in this story, creating yet another interesting chapter in the history of Japanese dolls.


It is important to realize that within the Japanese art world there have been many shifts in perspective as to what constitutes “art” and what constitutes “craft.” In the modern era, much of this has played out as a dynamic tension between outside “Western” views on what is art and Japanese self-perception of their own artistic traditions. This is a very deep question, “what is art?” The Western perspective has historically prized painting, sculpture, ceramics, etc. above furniture making, textile design or doll making: one is art the other is craft. In one area the makers are artists and in the other they are craftsmen, or, at best, artisans. In some respects, for much of Japanese art history there has not been such a clear dividing line between artist and artisan. Buddhist carvers, screen painters, potters, metal smiths, weavers, basket makers as well as doll makers were not so segregated into greater and lesser categories of artistic contribution. Although certain practitioners excelled in their given trade, and certain trades attracted more affluent patrons, there existed a relative uniformity in these professions. They were craftsmen situated in the Confucian hierarchical order of society, ranked below farmers, but above the lowliest of low, the merchant; there was no separate category for artist. The Japanese suffix for a craftsman is “-shi.” So a carver of Buddhist images was a bu-shi, the painter was an e-shi, and the doll maker was a ningyô-shi. [Fig. 3]

Fig. 3 Takizawa Koryûsai II making heads for Friendship Dolls, 1927

The shift to a conscious self-identification as artist within the Japanese tradition was largely made during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). With the arrival of the West, outside observers began to evaluate, define and declaim what was high art in Japan; and the Japanese, in turn, tried to contextualize their own artistic traditions within the presented Western modes and definitions. The result of some of this early introspection and analysis was the elevation in estimation of certain areas of traditional craft and the diminution of other areas. In short painters were artists and basket makers were craftsmen; woodblock print designers were artists, kimono makers were craftsmen; Buddhist sculptors were artists, doll makers were craftsmen. This was a categorization made quite apart from skill and imparted solely by basis of métier. Why?
With the Meiji government’s efforts in the late 19th century to ensure Japan’s place at the table of nations, many of Japan’s traditions, political, social, religious and artistic, were bent and contorted to fit the new Western models of acceptability. The logic went that if Japan was to fit in as a member of “civilized” nations they needed to dress the part, act the part and adopt a similar value system as pertaining to society and social pursuits. In the process, many elements of traditional culture were denigrated, disregarded and dismissed so effectively that by the 1920’s most of these new values had been internalized by the Japanese themselves and it would take generations to rediscover the intrinsic value of many aspects of their own cultural heritage. In the realm of art this was played out most visibly as Japan tried to gain access and participate in the various world fairs and exhibitions. Rules for submissions and composition of categories made it very clear what was to be considered "art" and what was to be considered "craft."

In tandem with this, early importers of Japanese art and their devoted collectors also proved a powerful force in determining which areas of Japanese material culture were "art" and worthy of collecting, and what areas were "craft" of indifferent value. Hence the powerful over- emphasis on ukiyo-e and netsuke in the Western approach to Japanese art history. Dealers and collectors such as Philippe Sichel (1839-1899), Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) and Sigfried Bing (1838-1905) in Paris and the Deakin Brothers in Yokohama and San Francisco, along with Japanese agents provacateurs such as Hayashi Tadamasa (1856-1906) in Paris, Yamanaka Sadajirô (1865-1939) and Toyo Morimura (dates unknown) in New York did much to establish the early canon of Japanese art for the Western collector and early museum collections.*1

Following a Western template, dolls, it was decided, were linked with children and their education and in that way more closely connected with toys than with art.*2 Centuries of tradition and attitudes towards ningyô were thereby sublimated to the new order. A dense fog rolled in obscuring their role in society, their artistic merit, and cultural value. It would take generations to emerge from this outwardly induced obscurity.


In 1894 an intriguing life-sized, anatomically correct, hyper-realistic doll was purchased in Yokohama by a Colonel Smith and brought to Sacramento, CA to be put on exhibition at the International Temple of Art on K Street. It was a headliner, but it also shared the stage with the exhibition of a large painting, "The Sultan’s Favorite," by Sergius Suchorowsky, and a tableau vivant series executed by a lovely French model—all "perfectly chaste" and suitable for the ladies, the publicity assured.*3 The doll was posed in a loincloth, to preserve propriety, standing with his left arm outstretched holding and gazing upon a carved mask. The figure itself employed real human hair (in all appropriate places), inset glass eyes, teeth and other elements, including eye glasses on his head and a carving knife placed in his right hand, to add verisimilitude. A woodworker’s box and assorted tools was arrayed at his feet. The newspapers at the time marveled at this startling creation, extolling its technical expertise and the almost palpable life force the doll seemed to exude. For those of yo" who have visited my Facebook page you will undoubtedly realize that I am referring to the Japanese figure known as "Hananuma Masakichi."—a current obsession of mine. At the time it was said that the Colonel had paid $5,000 for the statue, $135,000 in today’s dollars.*4 [Fig. 4]

Fig 4 Cabinet Card of iki-ningyô “Hananuma Masakichi,” 1894

The doll, "Hananuma Masakichi," was purported to be the self-portrait of the artist himself and was exhibited in Sacramento and San Francisco before heading to Los Angeles were it was exhibited on Spring Street near the Hollenbeck Hotel for three months in early 1895. There it was known simply as "The Jap."*5 Local newspapers praised its virtues describing it as a "matchless work of art, to which no written description can do justice."*6 As its fame spread, reports from other parts of the country and even the world came in. In December of 1895, the New York Times commented that it is made "to look so natural that a photograph scarcely reveals any difference between the creations of God and man."*7 And in March of 1897, The Strand Magazine in Europe featured photographs of the doll saying: "By many connoisseurs in art this is pronounced to be the most human and perfect image of a man ever created." *8 [Fig. 5]

Fig. 5 The Strand Magazine, “Hananuma Masakichi,” March, 1897

Technical virtuosity yes, but was/is it art? The art critics in Sacramento in 1894 had this to say on the subject: "Whether to class it as a work of art or as a rare specimen of the height of achievement by imitative genius is the question. We incline to the belief that it is to be placed in the fine art category." *9 However, this same critic went on to express a counter point stating: "There is...but one departure from the artistic in it, and that is the detail of hair and head and the placing of glasses before the eyes." *10 Evidently these details made the piece pass "out of the realm of sculpture."*11

Fig. 6 “Hananuma Masakichi,” Ripley’s Believe It or Not! exhibition, San Diego, 2013

One is reminded of Edgar Degas’ sculpture Little Dancer at Age Fourteen. In 1881 Degas fashioned a wax sculpture of a young girl ballerina in training, and augmented the sculpture with a real tutu, slippers, hair and hair ribbon. Although now considered one of the most beloved icons in the development of modern art, when first unveiled within a glass case at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in Paris of that year, it was derided in many circles specifically for its incorporation of natural materials that violated the "rules" of art and sculpture. Degas’ "Dancer" today would never be considered a doll. Yet, in essence, what is a doll but the blending of sculpture with natural materials such as cloth and hair and other elements of the actual and the real?

Hananuma Masakichi, the doll, has gone on to have an interesting experience. It has passed through several hands. It was once "arrested" for indecent exposure or for violating the prevalent moral standards of the community.*12 It survived earthquakes. Has travelled extensively. Has, in more recent times, been the subject of innumerable and woefully inaccurate blog postings on the internet, and is currently on display in San Diego as part of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! empire.[Fig.6] However, the questions surrounding the hyper-realistic Hananuma Masakichi in 1894, whether technical virtuosity and verisimilitude were enough to categorize an object as art, was to form a crucial turning point in the development of Japanese dolls from perceived craft to acknowledged art form some thirty years later and as a question still resonates in today’s contemporary art field.


Fig. 7 Iki-ningyô of Kanon by Matsumoto Kisaburô, 1868, Jokuku-ji, Kumamoto

Many of the details of Hananuma Masakichi’s life remain a mystery. Was this even a self-portrait as was so definitively stated? Was this really a death sculpture capturing him at age fifty in the final throes of tuberculosis as many later reviewers of this piece would claim? Much research remains to be done in this area. But the artist, whoever he was, was working within a well-established Japanese doll tradition known as iki-ningyô (living dolls). The "father" of this tradition is generally considered to be Matsumoto Kisaburô (1826-1892). His life-like creations were the talk of Edo/Tokyo beginning in 1853 when he staged his first misemono exhibition of iki-ningyô in the Asakusa Sensôji district. Taking subjects from Buddhist mythology, historical traditions and popular legend, Kisaburô unveiled a nearly continuous stream of hyper-realistic sculptures until his death in the mid Meiji Era.*13 [Fig. 7]

The popularity of these figures is revealed in the number of woodblock print images made at the time of his various installations.*14 [Fig. 8] And while only a few of his original works remain, his legacy is secure. Other artists such as Yasumoto Kamehachi I (1826- 1900) further popularized this type of doll and also enjoyed great fame, even finding a certain notoriety among Western collectors.*15 [Fig. 9] But it was Kisaburô that established the tradition and remained its greatest practitioner. Somewhat surprisingly, critics in the US knew enough about this area to reference Kisaburô in their early discussions of Hananuma Masakichi.*16 Unlike Kamehachi and many other ningyô makers of his time, Kisaburô established no lineage, established no school, created no dynasty. He was singular, although his skills and methods of rendition were to be openly emulated in the later works of Hirata Gôyô II to be discussed below.

But did Kisaburô consider himself an artist in the modern sense of the word? Did he even conceptualize a difference between the craft of ningyô making and the artistry of his own work? The answer to this question is a likely "no." Given the climate of his day, he would probably have considered himself a simple, if oh, so talented ningyô-shi (craftsman). But it was the level of undeniable artistry, functioning largely outside the bounds of traditional areas of practice and technique that would set the stage for later doll artists to emerge.

Fig. 8 "Living Dolls of Asakusa," Utagawa Kunisyoshi, depicting installation by Matsumoto Kisaburô, 1855.
British National Museum
Fig. 9 Iki-ningyô by Yasumoto Kamehachi III,
Early 20th Centry.
Tokyo National Museum


As we have discussed previously, the Friendship Dolls of 1927 created quite a sensation in Japan and brought celebrity to the doll makers that contributed to this project. Recent research into the Friendship Doll exchange of 1927 by Dr. Keiko Tanaka has revealed some interesting information regarding the makers of the dolls that became known as the "Friendship Dolls."*17 [Fig. 10]

Fig. 10 Hirata Gôyô at Friendship Doll sobetsukai Farewell Party, 1927

Fig. 11 Friendship Doll base for Miss Mie, Koryûsai signature,
University of Nebraska State Museum

With so many dolls missing, earlier studies have been hesitant to list a specific number of contributing makers, or provide a definitive list of their names. General assumptions have placed the makers at twelve or thirteen in number. Indications of participating makers can be found in records left in the form of art signatures called "go." A go is not a personal name but an artist name that can change based on the given period in an artist’s career or by personal whim or for even a specific piece. An inspection of these signatures found on the backs of the Tokyo-made dolls and the underside of their display stands reveals the following nine go: Koryûsai, Shokensai, Horyûsai, Shotoku, Kenryûsai, Tokukyu, Gôyô, Shugetsu, and Ryûtoshi. While Koryûsai, Shokensai, Gôyô and Tokukyu are well known and readily associated with the artisans that employed them, it has been difficult to determine the actual or personal names behind a few of these dolls. [Fig. 11]
In accessing the Hirata Gôyô family archives, Tanaka was able to determine that there were, in fact, only nine contributing artists from Tokyo, but that some of these artists used multiple names, and even possibly collaborated in the creation of individual dolls, creating hybrid names. This multiplexity of names has resulted in some confusion as to which artist is behind the signature of some of the dolls. But Tanaka’s research, published for the first time at the Friendship Doll exhibition held at Doshisha University in 2012, provides us for the first time the personal names of what I like to call "The Tokyo Nine." [Fig. 12]

Fig. 12 Archival image of the nine Friendship Doll artists, 1927 Gôyô Family Collection

They are: Takizawa Koryûsai II (1888-1966), Iwamura Shokensai I (1892-1968), Hayashi Shigemitsu (1891-1967), Ota Tokuhisa (dates unknown), Honda Yoshiro (dates unknown), Yamamoto Shokichi (dates unknown), Ozawa Shinsaku (dates unknown), Kashimura Tokusaburô (1903-1995), and Hirata Gôyô II (1903-1981)*18

It is to be remembered here that the ultimate selection of the fifty-one Tokyo-made dolls used to represent the forty-seven Japanese prefectures and the four overseas territorial holdings was done through a committee process. In the wake of the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, there was only one doll making family in Tokyo still possessed of a mold big enough to use for the creation of these large-scale dolls. This was held by the Koryûsai lineage. To ensure uniformity of scale, upwards of 200 base doll templates were made using this mold, which were then distributed to doll craftsmen (yes, all men) desirous of submitting a doll for possible selection.

Fig. 13 Friendship Doll, Miss Nagano/Aichi, Hirata Gôyô II, 1927 Private Collection

These artisans then finished the dolls, inserting the eyes, applying the layers of gofun, sculpting the individuating details, the fullness of the cheeks, the shape of the lips, the curvature of the chin, the philtrum beneath the nose, as well as the hair wigs and hand details. [Fig. 13] These "finished" dolls were then presented to a committee for selection, and out of this larger group the fifty-one Tokyo representatives were chosen. It should also be recalled here that the honor of providing the dolls representing the six principal cities of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, along with the one very special doll designed to represent the imperial household, and, by extension, all of Japan was assigned to the atelier of Maruhei Okiheizo in Kyoto and that his go-to artist was Menya Shojirô XII (Mensho, d. 1944).*19 These seven dolls were created entirely outside the Tokyo process. [Fig. 14] [Fig. 15]

Fig. 14 Friendship Doll, Miss Kyoto-shi, Mensho XII, 1927 Museum of Discovery Fig. 15 Mitsuore-ningyô by Mensho XII, Circa 1920

Based on a count of the Friendship Dolls remaining to us, the greatest proportion of dolls selected were created by Koryûsai, with fourteen dolls, followed by Shokensai with eight dolls. However, publicity at the time indicates that the five dolls submitted by Hirata Gôyô II were considered the most artistic and of the highest quality. [Fig. 16]

Fig. 16 Hirata Gôyô II holding Miss
Kyoto-fu, 1927 Gôyô Family Collection


Much of Japanese doll making at this time still followed the time-honored bungyô/tonya system in which an atelier (tonya) contracted with numerous artisans and craftsmen (bungyô) working in their various sub-specialties. The ateliers designed and contracted with the various craftsmen, then assembled the dolls and their disparate elements, finally selling them under their own name. Yoshitoku was a prominent atelier in Tokyo while Maruhei Okiheizo was a prominent atelier in Kyoto, both of which were greatly respected, but neither of which could be considered doll artists in their own right. As a consequence, doll artisans rarely made entire dolls start to finish. Certain craftsmen were noted for their heads, others for their hands, others for their feet or other elements. This is especially true in the creation of the festival dolls for Boy’s Day and Girl’s Day, and also applied to a certain extent to ichimatsu. Within these traditions, the makers of the heads were the central focus and stars and beginning in the Edo period individuals would take note of who made the heads for their hina-ningyô or their musha-ningyô even when purchased from a generic wholesaler or shop.*20 While this manufacturing structure allowed for increased production, it greatly inhibited the conception of a doll artist visualizing and executing a doll start to finish. It was more akin to an assembly line production with skilled artisans contributing to each isolated step along the way. [Fig. 17] [Fig. 18]

Fig. 17 Yoshitoku Sales Catalog featuring Gôyô-made ichimatsu-ningyô, 1928

Fig. 18 Ichimatsu-ningyô by Hirata Gôyô II, Dojinsha, 1938

Like many artisanal traditions, ningyô makers can be classified by their lineages. These lineages were influential in determining a craftsman’s reputation as well as exerting a profound influence over style and technique. There are two main linage branches that dominate the chart of ichimatsu-ningyô makers.

Fig. 19 Mitsuore-ningyô by Eitokusai II, 1920

The first stems from the celebrated Hinaya Jirôzaemon of Kyoto. This branch has its ultimate headwaters in the elegant yûsoku and jirôzaemon styles of Kyoto hina-ningyô Girl’s Day dolls. But Jirôzaemon also became a dominant force in Edo/Tokyo doll making in the mid-19th century. One of this lineage’s greatest practitioners was Yamakawa Yûshichi (Eitokusai I, 1829-1908). Among other aspects of his creative output, Eitokusai was known for his idiosyncratic style of mitsuore-ningyô (triple-jointed dolls) and a precursor to Tokyo-style ichimatsu. Eitokusai established a very strong lineage of his own, some of his sons also working in the iki-ningyô genre. His eldest son, Yamakawa Keijirô (Eitokusai II, 1858-1928) was particularly important. [Fig. 19]

He was noted for his progressive method of creating entire dolls from start to finish, including the dressing of his dolls, an approach in anticipation of the sosaku-ningyô movement.*21 Eitokusai also had many deshi/students who were destined to be highly influential in the development of ichimatsu-ningyô, including Takizawa Hiekichi (Koryûsai I, d. 1912), founder of the Koryûsai lineage. Another strong offshoot of the Jirôzaemon tree was that of Kobayashi Tetsunosuke (Tôunsai I, 1807-1889), his lineage was to produce a number of important ichimatsu-ningyô makers in addition to such important sosaku-ningyô artists as Okamoto Gyokusui and Noguchi Mitsuhiko to be discussed in greater detail below.

The second important line stems from the highly influential iki-ningyô lineage of Yasumoto Kamehachi (Kosei, 1826-1900) mentioned above. The most important to emerge from this line was that of Hirata Kôjirô (Gôyô I, 1878-1924) and his spectacularly successful son, Tsuneo (Gôyô II) and his equally productive second son, Hirata Yôkô (1905-1975). The Hirata family exploits will also be considered in greater detail below.

Fig. 20 Ichimasu-ningyô by
Takeuchi Masujirô, dated 1897
Somewhat independent makers and lineages also developed during the late Meiji era. For example, a highly influential maker was Takeuchi Masujirô (c.1860-1941) whose Meiji-era creations were noted for their strong faces and well-rendered hands and feet. [Fig. 20] [Fig. 21]

Masujirô was born in Nagano Prefecture and at the young age of nine became a deshi for a Tokyo ningyô maker. In late 1878, at the age of 18, he became independent. Over the next decades he rapidly established himself as a ningyô maker of note, particularly Tokyo-style ichimatsu, participating in numerous domestic and even international expositions. At the 1903 5th National Industrial Exhibition (Naikoku kangyô hakurankai) held in Osaka, an officiating member of the imperial family, Prince Kanin no Miya (1865-1945) in praising Masujirô’s work, gave him the name "Agazuma" (in reference to his Nagano-area origins). After that time, his dolls were frequently known as agazuma-ningyô.*22 For reasons not yet known, Masujirô established no lineage nor apparently took on students. But his extant pieces speak of a strong artistic hand and his influence is seen as key in the subsequent development of Taisho and Showa Era ichimatsu.*23 Hiromoto Kanryû (dates unknown) was also an important maker. His students included, among others, Iwamura Shigezaburo (Shokensai I, 1892-1968), prominent among the Friendship Doll artists mentioned above.

Fig. 21 Detail, Fig, 20
The doll makers themselves were usually set up and established through studying under already-established artisans in the deshi apprenticeship system. The student might be a son, an adopted son if he showed great talent, or an outside individual. The lineage name and successor was assigned, passed on by the elder to whomever he selected, whether related or not. Or a new name could be given to a particularly talented individual who could, in turn, start his own line and lineage. Apprenticeship usually began at a young age and could be a grueling affair. For example, Koryûsai began his apprenticeship to his father, Takizawa Heikichi, at the age of eleven.*24 By the time he was seventeen Koryûsai was taking on his own apprentices. Both Koryûsai and his father were known as strong disciplinarians. When Koryûsai’s own son Hayao (actually his third son) began studying with him at age fifteen he started in simple preparation and clean up. Beginning early in the morning Koryûsai would often swat his boy on the head when he began to dose off in those early morning hours. After two years’ training, Hayao was able to begin working on faces, for which he proved to have a great talent. It was assumed that Hayao would carry on the family lineage, but was tragically involved in an accident that left him unable to continue making ningyô, resulting in the end of the lineage at Koryûsai’s passing in 1966.*25 Two of the Friendship Doll artists listed above, Kashimura Tokusaburô and Ozawa Shinsaku, were students of Koryûsai.*26

The deshi system frequently required many difficult years of service under a master, and could include travelling around the country to promote the lineage and artistry of the teacher and his school. Not all were cut out for this style of dedication. Hayashi Shigemitsu, another of the Friendship Doll artists, rebelled against his study under Takizawa Heikichi (Korûysai’s father) and left. He later continued his studies under Gôyô II.*27 We can see that it was actually a relatively small, deeply interconnected world of ningyô makers each linked by lineages, apprenticeships and marriages.

Fig. 22 Iwamura Shokensai III, Kenji, in his studio, 2011
Shokensai I, already an established maker by the time of the Friendship Dolls of 1927, went on to have an illustrious career, continuing to make and refine ichimtatsu-ningyô until his death and establishing a strong lineage that is still in existence today. The current practitioner is Iwamura Kenji (Shokensai III). It is this artist that is frequently enlisted in the restoration of Friendship Dolls when they are sent back to Japan. Visiting his simple studio today located just outside of Chiba, to the east of Tokyo, one is thrust back into the world of the traditional artisan. Seated at a low table atop the tatami mat flooring, his work space and surroundings littered with doll parts, heads, gofun pots, hair fragments, brushes, knives, polishing implements, Kenji embodies the life of a ningyô-shi. His son works dutifully at a station just opposite, facing his father and teacher who maintains a watchful eye on his work and progress. [Fig. 22] [Fig. 23]

The combination of the bungyô/tonya system of manufacture and the deshi system of training worked directly against the development of overtly independent thinking and artistry within the Japanese doll tradition.*28 This training certainly refined skills and allowed for a mastery of complex and time-honored techniques, but it also helped retain the mentality of an artisan, as opposed to that of an artist, one with his own creative vision, direction, or "conscious esthetic intention."*29 A head maker, no matter how skilled, was not a doll artist in the strictest sense of the word.

Fig. 23 Iwamura Shokensai III, Kenji, in his studio, 2011


Hirata Tsuneo (Gôyô II) was also the product of this system. Born in the doll making center of Asakusa in Tokyo, he began his apprenticeship under his father Hirata Kôjirô (Gôyô I, 1878- 1924) at age thirteen.*30 Gôyô I himself had been a student under the Kamehachi lineage of iki-ningyô and was exceedingly well versed in the skills required in the hyperrealism of that genre. But rather than focus on life-sized dolls for exhibition (a craze that was fading slowly in the new century), Gôyô I built a robust career in the creation of mannequins for department stores, and, ultimately became famous for the development of a new style of Boy’s Day doll featuring a realistic rendering of the child heroes, Kintarô and Momotarô.*31 [Fig. 24] [Fig. 25] [Fig. 26] This particular style of doll was referred to as shasei-ningyô (realistic) as opposed to iki-ningyô (life-like or living). It was a stylized hybridization that caught the mood of the times and proved to be quite successful commercially. It was in these techniques that Gôyô II was trained.

Fig. 24 Shasei-kintarô,
by Hirata Gôyô II, 1927,
Private Collection
Fig. 25 Shasei-kintarô
by Hirata Gôyô II, Circa 1930,
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
Fig. 26 Shasei-kintarô
by Hirata Gôyô II, circa 1925,
Private Collection

Gôyô I died in 1924, the year following the Great Kantô Earthquake, leaving Gôyô II as an independent doll maker and head of his lineage and skill tradition at the young age of twenty-one. By the time of the Friendship Doll program, Gôyô was only twenty-four.*32 In approaching the Friendship Dolls he brought to bear all the skills he had acquired in learning the techniques associated with the hyperrealism of iki-ningyô with the subtle stylizations of the shasei traditions he inherited directly from his father. The result was an ichimatsu-ningyô that was far more elevated and refined than traditional examples, even those made by such superb, more elder craftsmen as Koryûsai and Shokensai. His was an artistic eye, one that was not shackled by the expectations of a teacher. The Gôyô lineage was not known for ichimatsu- ningyô and this can be seen as a fresh foray into a previously little-explored tradition.*33 His independence of thought and self-evaluation as an artist were clearly revealed through his decision to engrave his signature on the heads of each of the five dolls he submitted to the selection committee. This definitively spoke of an artist proud of his work, not a craftsman doing his job. [Fig. 27] [Fig. 28]

Fig. 27 Friendship Doll, Miss Osaka-fu,
Hirata Gôyô II, 1927 Ohio Historical Society
Fig. 28 Detail, Gôyô Signature, Friendship Doll, Miss Shizuoka, Kansas City Museum


The Friendship Dolls and the artisans that contributed to their creation are an important backdrop to the next stage of development in the Japanese doll as an art form. The creation of the Friendship Dolls, for all their beauty, sophistication and artistry, still fell clearly under the bungyô/tonya system. The ten artisans listed (including Mensho from Kyoto) only made the doll bodies, including faces, hands and feet. The dressing, accessorizing and finalizing of the dolls was left in the hands of the tonya, in this case Yoshitoku in Tokyo and Maruhei in Kyoto. The artisans were contributors, not sole creators of the Friendship Dolls. And while Gôyô may have signed the back of his dolls’ heads, he would have to share in the creation with the textile makers for Takashimaya Department Store or the lacquer furnishings from Shizuoka through Y. Tanaka of Kyoto.
However, the international success of the Friendship Doll exchange and the subsequent celebrity status for the participating doll artisans in Japan focused a very bright spotlight on the native Japanese doll industry. The state of that industry had been in deep disrepair following the Great Kantô Earthquake of 1923. This devastating natural disaster leveled many parts of Yokohama and Tokyo, including much of the doll-making areas surrounding Asakusa. Loss of life, loss of materiel, loss of molds and manufacturing capabilities severely impacted this industry.*34 Following the earthquake, the Tokyo city government had contributed monies to the revitalization of this important commercial sector, and surviving doll makers had joined together to form a mutual assistance society called the Tokyô hina ningyô oroshisho kumiai in 1925.*35 While Japan’s exports of western-style dolls had grown substantially during the Great War and immediately following, with Japan assuming Germany’s place as the largest doll exporter in the world, the native industry had been in slow decline since the mid-Meiji era. This period saw the massive influx of Western made dolls, a downplaying of the traditional doll-centered festivals of Boy’s Day and Girl’s Day, and a precipitous drop in popularity of traditional ningyô.

Although difficult economic times were still ahead, the attention garnered by the Friendship Doll exchange emboldened certain doll makers to start to push for a higher level of achievement and a shift in perception of Japanese dolls from gangu (toy) or craft to that of art. This nascent movement was known as the Ningyô geijitsu undo, or Art Doll Movement and Hirata Gôyô II was one of its most active proponents. In the summer of 1928, Gôyô and another doll artisan Okamoto Gyokusui met with a long-time advocate of ningyô, and amateur doll maker in his own right, Nishizawa Tekiho (1889-1965) to discuss, in essence, the future of Japanese dolls.*36 Gyokusui felt that there needed to be a distancing from the perception that ningyô were for traditional displays only, with a specific seasonal or festival focus.37 Ningyô, it was asserted, were intrinsically valid as display objects year round. As a strategy to promote a greater awareness of the potentiality of ningyô as a display art form they decided to establish the Hakutakukai, an association of ningyô makers dedicated to the research and exhibition of Japanese dolls as an art form.*38 [Fig. 29]

Fig. 29 Members of the Hakutakukai, Circa 1930

The original members of this group included Hirata Gôyô, Okamoto Gyokusui (1898-1972) [Fig. 30], Nagawa Shunzan IV (1882-1960) and Kubo Sahshirô.*39 In his research into the formation of the Hakutakukai, Koresawa Hiraoki, has noted that, like Gôyô, each of these members fell outside the traditional bungyô/tonya system, that through native temperament or circumstance they were young and independent ningyô makers.*40 Following the death of his father, Gôyô became independent at the age of twenty-one. Similarly, Gyokusui following the death of his father became independent at age eighteen. Shunzan at age nineteen.*41 In the Japanese world of traditional craftsmanship when one can study decades under a master teacher and still be considered a “beginner,” these individuals were considered exceedingly young. By lifting traditional restrictions and expectations, these doll makers were emboldened and enabled to pursue their own, individual artistic visions as they pertained to ningyô. True, Gôyô continued to make shasei-ningyô as well as supplying top-level ichimatsu ningyô for ateliers such as Yoshitoku and Maruhei among others, but a greater portion of his time was spent in pursuit of what he would later refer to as "junsui bijutsu" (Pure Art).*42

Fig. 30 Sosaku-ningyô “Hunting Bamboo Shoots,” Okamoto Gyokusui,
Circa 1930

Fig. 31 Sosaku-ningyô “Mountain Child,” Hirata Yôkô, Circa 1940

Fig. 32 Detail, Fig. 31

Other makers who soon joined the Hakutakukai included the hagoita (battle dore) maker Yoshida Eiko; Hanayagi Shotarô, Noda Yoshimasa, Gôyô’s younger brother Hirata Yôkô (1906- 1975) and also Gôyô’s other younger brother Hirata Gyokuyô (1911-1944). [Fig. 31] [Fig. 32] Ultimately there would be twelve artists closely associated with Hakutakukai.

Exhibition and research were the stated methods of the Hakutakukai and the late 1920’s and early 1930’s witnessed a dramatic increase in exhibitions dedicated to ningyô. In addition to their monthly meetings where they met to discuss their research and thoughts on ningyô as art, the Hakutakukai was aggressive in formulating and staging these exhibitions. To ensure greater public exposure these were frequently held in department stores, such as Matsukaya, Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya. The role of the department stores in the advancement of ningyô as well as in the economic sustenance of the ningyô makers themselves cannot be understated. For perspective, it might be noted here that each of the fifty-one Tokyo Friendship Dolls were estimated at Y350 each (this was broken down into Y150 for the doll, Y150 for the kimono and Y50 for the lacquered accessories and furnishings). The doll makers themselves were only paid Y50 per doll, and in 1927 the average monthly wage of a ningyô-shi was Y63.*43 The sales and promotional aspects of the activities of the Hakutakukai were not only important from an abstract perspective of an art doll movement, they were an important component in insuring the livelihood of some of these young artists.


Fig. 33 Sosaku-ningyô “Hunting Bamboo Shoots,” Okamoto Gyokusui, Circa 1935
But what types of ningyô were these artists actually exhibiting as part of the Hakutakukai? How did these pieces relate to or differ from traditional doll forms? Each of the artists listed above had their own specialty, based on their training, individual skill sets and vision. Gôyô was undoubtedly the most versatile and his entries ranged from hyper-realistic figures in the iki-ningyô tradition, to a continuation of the shasei-figures of his father, to variations on classic ichimatsu, but all given modern twists and interpretations. Gyokusui was noted for his gosho- ningyô to which he too gave unexpected and modernist interpretations. [Fig. 33] Nagawa Shunzan was a specialist in applied fabric kimekomi techniques. And Ikeno Tessen specialized in wood-carved ningyô with no additional textiles. Fortunately, following the closing of the organization in 1935, the Hakutakukai published a commemorative album featuring photographs of dolls created by its most prominent members over the previous eight years. A sample of images from each of the artists listed above helps to provide the reader with a better sense of the differing aesthetics pursued by each artist.

Kubo Sashirô originally had studied under Yoshino Eikichi, but due to an illness contracted at age twenty-three he was forced to continue his work in ningyô alone and became what was known as an ishoku (house-confined artist).*44 Because of his physical infirmity, he was unable to follow traditional manufacturing methods and devised his own style and method, creating complete dolls start to finish. He worked on revitalizing an older, Edo period feeling to his pieces and took the unusual step of also signing his dolls. For this reason, Sashirô is often considered the first sosaku-ningyô artist. From the 1936 Hakutakukai album we see that many of Sashirô’s pieces harken back to the saga-ningyô tradition of the 18th century, creating figures drawn from the "floating world" of ukiyo-e and infused with a great sense of movement and energy. [Fig. 34] [Fig. 35]

Fig. 34 Sosaku-ningyô by Kubo Sashirô, Hakutakukai Exhibition Fig. 35 Saga-ningyô, Edo Period, 18th Century, Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City

Fig. 36 Sosaku-ningyô by Okamoto Gyokusui, Hakutakukai Exhibition
Okamoto Gyokusui was 4th in his lineage. He was born in the Okachimachi section of Tokyo, son of Okamoto Tetsunosuke (Tôunsai III), part of the lineage of Meiji-era gosho-ningyô makers and one that originated in the celebrated Edo period hina-ningyô tradition of Hinaya Jirozaemon.*45 In his work for the Hakutakukai, Okamoto Gyokusui gave free reign to the inner child of gosho-ningyô and set them loose to move and frolic. [Fig. 36] Rather than static pieces holding auspicious objects, his pieces, like that of Sashirô, displayed movement. In order to contemporize his pieces, he also would include objects with an of-the-day relevancy. In once piece entitled: "Kodai Ningyô" (Dolls from Ages Past), he fashioned two gosho-style dolls holding clay haniwa archeological figures, which were of great moment in the press of his day as excavations were shedding new light on Japan’s early history. It was also, I would venture, a direct statement indicating the lengthy and auspicious lineage of ningyô in Japanese culture. [Fig. 37] Nagawa Shunzan appears to have been drawn to the world of kabuki imagery, frequently recasting classic characters from this milieu. Ichikawa Danjurô’s aragoto rough stuff heroes and villains or tayû courtesans from the Yoshiwara brothel district are all rendered in wood and voluminously attired in kimekomi-style applied textiles. [Fig. 38]

Fig. 37 Sosaku-ningyô by Okamoto Gyokusui, Hakutakukai Exhibition Fig. 38 Sosaku-ningyô by Naga- Gyokusui, Hakutakukai Exhibition

But by far the most prolific member of the Hakutakukai was Hirata Gôyô II. Much attention is paid this artist, not only for his role in the Friendship Doll exchange of 1927 and his early activism in the development of the Japanese art doll movement, but also for the fact that in 1955 he was designated as Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhô), the first such honor bestowed on a Japanese doll maker. His career, extending from the early 1920’s through his death in 1983, witnessed a staggering level of creative output, with each period or phase of his artistic development setting new trends and elevating standards in craftsmanship, artistry and an expansion in the definition of what ningyô as art means. [Fig. 39]

Fig. 39 Sosaku-ningyô "Yama Uba and Kintarô," Hirata Gôyô II, 1948


Fig. 40 Ichimatsu-ningyô by Hirata Gôyô II, Dojinsha, 1938

Following the Friendship Doll exchange of 1927, Gôyô continued to be a supplier of the highest quality of ichimatsu to wholesalers such as Yoshitoku and Maruhei, as well as for department stores on the Ginza in Tokyo. [Fig. 40] He maintained his own shop, trained students in his techniques, and proved to be a very adept and successful businessman in the world of commercial ningyô. However, on the artistic front, Gôyô was singular in his quest to pursue junsui bijutsu (pure art) as well as to secure popular and critical acknowledgement for ningyô as an art form. Such was Gôyô’s technical skills that he was able to move freely within styles and media. His approach, particularly in the early years, was overtly strategic, frequently selecting subjects that would force the viewer, and the critics, to look at ningyô with a new eye. To this end, during the opening years of the Hakutakukai, it was not uncommon for Gôyô to translate images that had received national attention as paintings into ningyô form.*46 His 3-D transformation of famous paintings by such artists as Nakamura Daizaburô (1898-1947), Kitani Chigusa (1895-1947) and the noted female artist Uemura Shôen (1875-1949) garnered much public attention and critical scrutiny.*47

In 1930, Nakamura Daizaburô painted the celebrated Japanese film actress Irie Takako (1911- 1995) reclining on a chaise lounge. [Fig. 41] This painting, now in the Honolulu Academy of Arts collection, was executed as a two-panel folding screen, with the actress clad in brilliant red kimono and the fingertips of either hand just lightly touching in a gesture of idle contemplation and was given an award at the 11th Teiten Imperial Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition. In that same year, in a piece entitled "Seishun" (Silent Spring), Gôyô featured an iki-ningyô depicting the same actress seated in a simple armchair for the 3rd Hakutakukai. [Fig. 42] As in the painting she is clad in a red kimono, but patterned, her feet are delicately crossed at the ankles, and in a pose suggestive of the painting, her head is turned, gazing off over her right shoulder. But most telling is the nearly identical positioning of the fingers in that very distinctive, contemplative gesture. In a conversation that harkens back to the dialogue around Hananuma Masakichi’s iki-ningyô in Sacramento some forty years earlier, critics did not necessarily equate Gôyô’s technical virtuosity with art. This was to be a recurring challenge for Gôyô in his efforts to gain critical acclaim and will be addressed further below. His challenge was never so much to demonstrate his skill, but to find a balance between "vulgar realism" and a more "idealized realism."*48 Gôyô was very aware of his artistic roots within the iki-ningyô tradition. He viewed Matsumoto Kisaburô as the master of the medium and openly acknowledged his debt to him. At the same time he was very aware of the limitations of photo-realism in ningyô (shajitsu-ningyô), and also how the commercial component of Kisaburô’s world of the misemono (exhibition) also curtailed artistic creativity and development. Ultimately, Gôyô felt that Kisaburô was a slave to his craft and this prevented his development as an artist.*49

Fig. 41 "Takako Irie on Couch," Nakamura Daizaburo, 1930, Honolulu Museum of Art, Marjorie Leris Griffing and Beatrice Parrent Funds & the Estate of Selden Washington, 1994 (7547.1) Fig. 42 Sosaku-ningyô
"Silent Spring," Hirata Gôyô II, Hakutakukai, 1930

The Irie Takako image was not Gôyô’s first use/exploitation of an image featuring a popular actress. In 1929, for the 1st Hakutakukai exhibition, Gôyô created a beautifully stylized image of the actress Mizutani Yaeko (1905-1979) back stage preparing for her role. [Fig. 43] And there is evidence that Yaeko was a frequent model or source of inspiration for Gôyô. An image of the actress, Gôyô and an iki-ningyô head of the actress is in the Gôyô family archives. [Fig. 44]

Fig. 43 Sosaku-ningyô of Mizutani Yaeko,
Hirata Gôyô II, Hakutakukai, 1929
Fig. 44 Mizutani Yaeko, iki-ningyô head & Hirata Gôyô II, 1929 Archival Image, Gôyô Family Archives

Fig. 45 Sosaku-ningyô, "Make Up," Hirata Gôyô
II, Hakutakukai, 1931
In 1925, Kitani Chigusa painted an image of a beautiful woman kneeling before a mirror and applying makeup. She is dressed in a sheer black dressing robe cinched at the waist, clearly revealing her naked form underneath. This painting received an award at that year’s Teiten Imperial Exhibition. In 1931, Gôyô very deftly re-interpreted this image as an iki-ningyô for that year’s 4th Hakutakukai exhibition. [Fig. 45] Rather than applying makeup, she is, in Gôyô’s vision, carefully placing hair ornaments into her immaculately arranged coiffure. Though there are subtle shifts in body posture and hand/arm placement, the arrangement before the mirror, the placement of the bowl at her side and other details make Chigusa’s painting the unquestionable basis for Gôyô’s study. His skills as an iki-ningyô artist are readily evident. From the look of concentration on the woman’s face to the contours of her body visible through the black gauze dressing robe, to the articulation of the fingers, the hyper-realism of the figure in every detail exquisitely illustrates Gôyô’s skill and technical virtuosity. [Fig. 46]

Fig. 46 Detail, Fig. 45

Although Gôyô repeated this exercise in 1934, deftly transforming Uemura Shôen’s "Mother and Child," which had won an award at the 15th Teiten Exhibition, into his own study, a look through Gôyô’s entries in the Hakutakukai show that not all his pieces were so glamorous or pointedly imitative, and in the pieces he exhibited we can witness his evolution in style and subject matter during this critical period in the development of the Japanese art doll movement. [Fig. 47] Pieces like "Silent Spring" of the actress Irie Takako and "Make-up" of the lady at her toilette were strategic shots over the bow of art criticism during the period, other pieces were evidently intended to explore the contours of sosaku-ningyô as it was developing in this heady transitional period. A quick survey of Gôyô’s pieces reveals a gosho-like interpretation of the sake-loving imp, Shojo; a young samurai boy with arms resting on his sword; a maiko geisha walking on towering geta clogs; an iki-ningyô figure of an actor in the role of Benkei; an iki-ningyô of a young girl cradling in her arms a ningyô depicting a kabuki actor done much in the style of his fellow Hakutakukai member, Nagawa Shinzan(!) [Fig. 48]; an iki-ningyô of a young lady focusing a camera; an iki-ningyô depicting a modern dancer in the style of Martha Graham; an ichimatsu- like girl standing in elaborate kimono; a young boy grabbing a ball which is actually a functioning clock; and a young girl carrying a Western doll on her back like a baby, among others.

Fig. 47 Sosaku-ningyô, “Mother & Child,” Hirata Gôyô II, Hakutakukai, 1934 Fig. 48 Sosaku-ningyô, Hirata Gôyô, Hakutakukai, 1930

All of the pieces exhibited at the Hakutakukai, whether done in saga style, iki-ningyô style, gosho style, kimekomi style or Nara wood-cut style, can be considered "sosaku-ningyô." Rather then simply creating a figure utilizing a traditional technique, following a nearly-institutionalized procedure and range of iconography, each ningyô maker was conceptualizing the figure as an artistic statement. Contrary to craft-traditions, each piece was given a title. In these exhibitions special presentation boxes (tomobako) were frequently prepared for the doll bearing the artist signature and title of the piece. [Fig. 49] To differentiate between doll artisan (ningyô-shi) and doll artist, another term is employed ningyô-zaka.

Fig. 49 Sosaku-ningyô "Shobu,"
Noguchi Mistuhiko, 1954


Fig. 50 Sosaku-ningyô "Urashima Tarô," Sano Kôki, Circa 1935, Perez Collection
Public recognition and appreciation of ningyô swelled as a result of this increased exposure. But the Hakutakukai was not the only organization active in promoting ningyô and staging exhibitions. In 1929 a popular arts and crafts exhibition held in Kyoto called the Osatsu kinen kyôto daihaku rankai featured a number of ningyô entries which also heightened popular awareness of the nascent Art Doll Movement in that area.*50 Other groups soon followed. The saosaku-ningyô artist Sano Kôki (b.1911), who studied initially under Gôyô I and, following his death, under Gôyô II, was a member of the Gogeikai as well as the Gujinshadojin art doll clubs.*51 His pieces show the marked influence of the Gôyô lineage’s shasei-style of realism and he had a fondness for depicting figures of young boys drawn from legend and lore, such as Kintarô, Momotarô, and Urashimatarô. [Fig. 50]

Other groups included the Gounkai and the Kôjutsu- kai. The Kôjutsu-kai was a research and exhibition group that also staged juried shows (koboten) and tried to share information between amateur makers and professionals. A prominent member of both groups was Noguchi Mitsuhiko (Higashiyama Kotarô, 1896- 1977). Although he trained initially as a maker of heads for hina-ningyô, within the Shounsai lineage, Mitsuhiko is considered the father of the modern gosho-ningyô. Taking the simple form of the plump nearly naked child popular since the Edo period, Mitsuhiko enlarged the vision and introduced novel ways of depicting the form, including most notably, the introduction of carved hair. [Fig. 51] Like many of the members of the Hakutakukai, Mitsuhiko had become independent at an early age (eighteen) after losing his father (Noguchi Hikotarô, Shounsai II) and teacher at age sixteen. Although functioning somewhat apart from Gôyô and other members of the Hakutakukai, Mitsuhiko is also considered a pioneer and major force behind the sosaku art doll movement of the 1930’s.

Fig. 51 Sosaku-ningyô "Shobu,"
Noguchi Mistuhiko, 1954

In 1933 another group formed called the Nihon ningyo kenkyûkai (Japanese Doll Research Society). This was co-founded by Nishizawa Tekiho, mentioned above, and one of the Friendship Doll artists, Ota Tokuhisa. [Fig. 52] [Fig. 53] This organization had as its primary focus the effort to encourage amateur makers. They staged carving demonstrations and tutorials from leading sculptors of the period. This engendered some antagonism from doll makers in that the invited sculptors were not from the doll world, but from the "fine arts" community of art sculpture.*52

Fig. 52 Detail, Friendship Doll, Miss Karafuto/Nagano, Ota Tokuhisa (Tokukyu), 1927 Delaware Historical Society Fig. 53 Friendship Doll, Miss Okinawa/Karafuto, Ota Tokuhisa (Tokukyu), 1927, Cincinnati Art Museum

The interest paid towards amateur ningyô makers should not be discounted. In this nascent group of artists, it was believed that individuals whose doll making had not been structured by traditional systems had the potential to revolutionize the ningyô world, as long as their technical skills could be advanced as well. This proved prescient, for one of the more powerful voices to emerge in the art doll movement, and another individual to be designated as a Living National Treasure was the amateur artist, Hori Ryûjo (1897-1984). Coincidentally she received her nomination in 1955, the same year that Gôyô received his nomination. [Fig. 54]
Amateur doll groups were also a force during his period, and included the Dontakusha founded by Takehisa Yumeji (1884-1934) which also included Ryûjo; and the Irutoisu founded in 1927 by the idiosyncratic Kawasaki Puppe (1905-1975)*53 Ryûjo and a group of twenty female amateur artists formed their own technical study group in 1933 called the Tanabatakai*54 [Fig. 55]

Fig. 54 Sosaku-ningyô
"Expectation," Hori Ryûjo, 1954, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Fig. 55 Sosaku-ningyô "Boy," Takehisa Yumeji, 1936 National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

A final group of notice to emerge was the Nihon ningyô sho in 1935. In this year, the Hakutakukai formally closed and many of its members joined in this new group which placed a higher focus on annual exhibitions called the Nihon ningyôsha ten. Rather than research, their goal was to educate the public on the artistic nature of dolls. They eschewed the commercial that they felt confused their message. The group also did not allow for commercial entities such as Yoshitoku to participate. It was designed as an art doll group for doll artists exclusively, highlighting the uneasy tensions between artistic creation and the commercial component.


While the various elements of the Japanese Art Doll movement strove to clarify their vision, elevate their own goals and creations, and promote ningyô as a legitimate artistic expression, the entire world of official Japanese art was also undergoing a transformation. The highest authority in the land regarding art was invested in the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. Inclusion and recognition in their annual exhibitions called the Teikoku Bijutsuin Bijutsu Tenrankai, or Teiten for short, were viewed as the height of validation within the Japanese art world. In 1928 the Teiten expanded their categories to include a fourth, known as the Decorative Arts segment (bijustu kogei bumon). Among doll artists this was known as the Teiten daiyonbu (the Teiten 4th Category). This opened the doors, potentially, to include ningyô in that august conclave. Although ningyô were technically allowed, until 1936 all submissions were summarily rejected by the vetting committee. This forced ningyô makers and would-be artists to recognize that they themselves were not expressing themselves adequately as artists...yet.

Much of the work by the various organizations mentioned above had an unstated goal, and that was admission into the Teiten. It was felt that ningyô artists needed to work together more as a collaborative body to raise their creative output and vision en masse in order to gain acceptance in the Teiten exhibitions, by staging exhibitions, by enlisting the assistance of noted sculptors, by encouraging participants to raise artistic expectations. And by 1935 much growth had been made in this direction. It was decided that the time was approaching for ningyô artists to get their due.

Reminiscent of the beginnings of the Hakutakukai, on June 10, 1935, Yamada Tokubei from Yoshitoku along with the doll artists Kubo Sashirô and Noguchi Mitsuhiko went to the house of the Nishizawa Tekiho to discuss another overture for inclusion in the Teiten and what their strategy should be. [Fig. 56] Tekiho met the following day with a member of the Ministry of Culture (Mombusho) to review the troubled history of ningyô submissions. And on June 12th a formal petition was submitted by Yamada Tokubei and Tekiho for inclusion of ningyô in the upcoming 1936 Teiten, also known as the Newly Reorganized Teiten, or Bunten*55 While the Mombusho took this under consideration, it was decided that it was time to marshal the troops, to engage in an all out push for acceptance and to encourage ningyô artists desirous of entering the Teiten to role up their sleeves and get to work.

Fig. 56 Nishizawa Tekiho, Archival Photo, Circa 1950, Author’s Collection

To this end, along with a general meeting to announce their intentions to the larger doll- making community, they decided to publish a pamphlet to exhort the doll artists towards this goal, altert the general public of their efforts, and possibly further influence the Teiten in their decision to include ningyô. Published essentially by Nishizawa Tekiho, the pamphlet was entitled Ningyô seisaku and included the names of nineteen committed ningyô makers and written statements by twelve artists, along with one by Tekiho, one by Yamada Tokubei and, finally one by Hinasha Shyujin (Tekiho’s nom de plume).

The artist statements are a fascinating read in and of themselves, helping to shed light on how these struggling doll artists viewed their own work, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the state of the art doll movement itself. Some are self effacing. Some are quite strong and pointed, reflective of cultural traditions as well as individual personalities. All point to a general excitement and frank surprise that they were potentially on the verge of being able to formally enter the Teiten competition as doll artists, representing a great leap forward, and one that was accomplished in a relatively short time.

Okamoto Gyukusui addressed head on traditional resistance to viewing dolls as anything but children’s toys and accessories. In his essay Tomoni okuru (Gathered from Children) he wrote:

"Our ability to be included in the Teiten is indeed a surprising development, the ramifications of which doll artists are still trying to understand. Before our activities were simply individual, now our work will reflect on all ningyô makers. This creates a larger group responsibility. Previously, ningyô were largely considered "girl’s stuff" or toys. It is hard to imagine that ningyô have been elevated to the level where it can be included in the Teiten. Even painters are turning to ningyô as an art medium to explore. This shows a greater acceptance in popular thought. It is now time to work together as a group, united in the effort to truly reveal the artistic merits of the ningyô we make. This alone will establish the future of ningyô. It might even be possible to garner a prize. Trust yourself. Make a 100 percent effort to create as many dolls as possible so that even one may win a prize. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. I hope for unity."*56

In Noguchi Mitsuhiko’s essay, Asueno yôi (Preparedness), he wrote:

"It is necessary as well as natural for us to have entry into the Teiten as our goal. Exhibiting there will illustrate the artistic nature of ningyô and force greater public recognition. It is also natural that ningyô makers must prepare, strive and work hard to make this public recognition happen. Ningyô are respected, particularly the older dolls and their traditions. But as a contemporary artist, you cannot simply pursue the old forms, utilizing the old techniques. In doing so you lose the opportunity to show how an artist connects with nature; you are unable to insert yourself in your work. While appreciating the past, make it your own, pouring into the work the mind of an artist, creativity. I am embarrassed to address these words to such well-established ningyô artists. But these thoughts must be expressed at this time."*57

Kubo Sashirô, perhaps the old man of the group, wrote:

"Working as a ningyô artist for the past thirty years, I have witnessed a number of changes. At first, ningyô makers were not considered artists. Then cute dolls made for women became quite popular and people began to pay more attention to the artists that made them. Then came a phase of researching and collecting, which advanced the possibility of viewing ningyô as art. Artisans began to really work on and improve their skills. Now ningyô are to be admitted into the Teiten. This brings tears to my eyes."*58

It is evident that Gôyô himself was somewhat ambivalent about the Teiten submissions.*59 He was not an active player in the move to have ningyô a part of the competition. His entry in the Ningyô seisaku was typical of his focused and driven approach to ningyô:

"Goals and aims are easier to state than accomplish. I would rather do, than talk. Actions speak louder than words. Creativity must be the focus. Technique is secondary. The purpose or reason behind the work comes first, then the technique to accomplish it. What is important is the intent revealed within the work. Creativity should be drawn from nature, but should not be an exact copy of nature. Do not ignore traditional methods employed in the works of earlier masters, but make them your own."*60

This was actually a prophetic piece of writing, for Gôyô was constantly confronted with the challenge that he relied too much on his superlative skills rather than on an innate artistic vision. Critics such as Hirokawa Matsugoro from the daily newspaper the Nichibei Shinbun persistently urged a move away from an overwrought realism in the execution of ningyô that tended to obscure their artistic merit."*61


In February of 1936, the newly reorganized Teiten announced the formal inclusion of ningyô as part of the 4th category and ningyô artists from all over the country submitted pieces for review and consideration, some even expectant or hopeful of awards. Ultimately six ningyô artists would receive awards and recognition for their submissions, this included Hirata Gôyô, Noguchi Mitsuhiko, Hani Shunsui, Noguchi Meiho, Kagoshima Juzô and Hori Ryûjo. It is interesting to note, that four of these were professional ningyô makers, but the final two, Juzô and Ryûjo were amateurs working in their own distinctive media.

Fig. 57 Sosaku-ningyô "General of Cherry and Plum Blossoms," Hirata Gôyô II, 1936,
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Fig. 58 Detail, Fig. 57
Gôyô’s entry, which won a Nyusen Prize, was a piece entitled Obai no Shôshô (General of the Cherry and Plum Blossoms), depicting the historical figure Taira no Koremori (1160-1184) performing a gagaku dance before the emperor Goshirakawa as described in the medieval work The Tales of Heike. The piece took approximately three months to complete. To assure historical accuracy, Gôyô worked closely with the historical painter Matsuoka Eikyû (1881- 1938) in designing the garments worn by his entry.*62 He then had them specially woven at the Takeda Shôzoku-ten by Nishimura Benibana of Kyoto.*63 Standing 65 cm (25-1/2"), Gôyô’s entry depicted an elegantly attired Koremori executing a graceful dance move, the flowing train of his court robe cascading off the edge of his platform. His face though exuding a sense of realism was far from hyper-realistic, providing a softer sense, a more idealized realism. The robes, as expected, were meticulously rendered, revealing multiple layers and augmented with supplemental embroidery, all historically accurate to the nth degree. [Fig. 57] [Fig. 58]
In marked contrast, Mitsuhiko’s submission was of a simple standing gosho holding a fish, entitled: “Sondo“ (Village Child). A direct reinterpretation of Edo Period gosho, the figure stands with feet spread slightly apart, his head is turned to the left and in his cupped hands he holds a simply rendered fish. Indicative of Mitsuhiko’s style, the hair is carved with a protruding topknot. He is clothed in only a very subdued kimekomi (applied fabric) bib. In scale and presence, Mitsuhiko’s piece was diametrically opposed to that of Gôyô. Mitsuhiko’s entry, too, won a Nyusen Prize.*64 [Fig. 59] [Fig. 60]

Fig. 59 Gosho-ningyô, Edo period, 19th Century Fig. 60 Sosaku-ningyô, "Red-nosed Child," Noguchi Mitsuhiko, Archival Post Card, Circa 1950

Hori Ryûjo’s entry, entitled Bungari stepped into the atmospheric world of the theater and depicted a back-stage scene of an actor in an austere Noh-like setting. It also received a Nyusen award.*65 [Fig. 61]

Fig. 61 Sosaku-ningyô, Hori Ryûjo, 1933, Yoshitoku Collection

Critical response to the exhibition was telling. A certain resistance and skepticism to the inclusion of ningyô in the Teiten was to be expected, despite the growing appreciation of ningyô as a legitimate art form. In reviewing the exhibition and its doll entries, the critic Horikawa Matsugoro, mentioned above, found much to admire in Mitsuhiko’s submission. Horikawa praised the overall sculptural quality of the piece, particularly noting the blending of a classic Edo form with a modernist twist, the bold contrast between the white of the gofun body and the black of the carved hair, all set on a black lacquered stand, and even noting with approval the minimalist treatment of the fish.

In contrast, while Gôyô’s entry was well received by visitors to the Teiten and despite its reception of a Nyusen Prize, Horikawa was critical of the submission. In his critique he stated that there was an over-reliance on the textiles, which, while undeniably beautiful, hid almost entirely the figure underneath, and what elements of sculpture that were visible were not very impressive.*66 Another critic of Gôyô’s submission was Shogawa Shunyô (1909-1949) who felt that the entire piece was more of a copy than an original creative contribution, lacking in originality. Reflecting this sentiment, Hirokawa stated: "because it imitates real people, a copy of a figure is too easy. Realism in not valuable in art."*67


Irrespective of awards received or critical response, positive and negative, the inclusion of ningyô in the Teiten was a victory, a validation of ningyô as an art form and the struggle for recognition was accomplished. Over the ensuing decades, ningyô as an art form continued to gain ground and respectability. Even during the turbulent war years, many ningyô artists continued to produce fine works, even though exhibitions were held with understandably less frequency. [Fig. 62] Artists such as Gôyô, as well as his young brother Yôkô continued to expand and explore doll as a medium of expression. [Fig. 63]

Fig. 62 Detail, Fig. 2 Fig. 63 Sosaku-ningyô "Warabe,"
Hirata Yôkô, Circa 1935

It might also be appropriate here to make further reference to Gôyô’s second brother, Hirata Gyokuyô. The third son of Gôyô I, Gyokuyô was only thirteen years old when his father died. Much of his training, therefore, was under his elder brother Hirata Gôyô II. True to his lineage, he specialized in shasei-style Kintarô and Momotarô pieces, which were his family’s staple product. Like his brothers, he also began working with ichimatsu-ningyô following Gôyô’s success in the Friendship Doll Exchange of 1927. He also was a member of the Hakutakukai, but always a junior presence behind his elder brothers. That said, he is purported to have been an essential assistant to Gôyô in the pre-war years, largely running Gôyô’s Dojinsha Academny founded in 1938. Drafted into the war effort, he died on Mindanao in 1944 at the age of thirty-three; a truly tragic post-script to the Friendship Doll Exchange.

Following the Friendship Doll exchange of 1927 we have seen that most of these artists remained focused on their immediate craft. Koryûsai and Shokensai fashioned high quality ichimatsu ningyô throughout the remainder of their careers. [Fig. 64] [Fig. 65]

Fig. 64 Ichimatsu-ningyô Pair, Takizawa Koryûsai II, Circa 1925, Perez Collection Fig. 65 Ichimatsu-ningyô Boy, Iwamura Shokensai I, Circa 1930s

Ota Tokuhisa went on to have an active role on the various associations that evolved in the late 1920’s and 1930’s focused on the promotion of the Japanese Art Doll Movement. The 1927 exchange was only the beginning of a rapid series of exchanges between Japan and the US as well as between Japan and other countries. While none of these subsequent doll-focused events gained the same amount of attention, or caused such a stir, many notable exchanges occurred which is the subject of my essay in this year’s UFDC Convention Souvenir Journal. [Fig. 66] [Fig. 67] [Fig. 68]

Fig. 66 Ichimatsu-ningyô given to Roosevelt Elementary School, 1936, Yoshitoku Archives

Fig. 67 "Yamato Hideo," 1936, Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County Fig. 68 "Sakuragi Haruko," 1936, CentralLibrary of Rochester and Monroe County

For Gôyô, Ryûjo and many others in the Japanese Art Doll Movement, the Teiten was not an end, but just a beginning. In 1938 Gôyô opened a studio called the Dôjinsha ningyô juku, teaching a broader number of students and producing a number of his own ningyô under that name. [Fig. 69]

Fig. 69 Ichimatsu-ningyô by Hirata Gôyô II, Dojinsha, 1938

In 1953 Gôyô was designated as an Intangible Cultural Asset (Mukei Bunkazai), and, as already noted, was given the highest accolade by being designated as a Living National Treasure (Ningen Kokuhô) in 1955. He continued to create ningyô of beauty and elegance until his passing in 1981. [Fig. 70] [Fig. 71]

Fig. 70 Hirata Gôyô II at work in his studio, 1975 Fig. 71 Sosaku-ningyô "Flower of the Party," Hirata Gôyô II, 1975

Today, with the rushing popularity of Japanese ball-jointed dolls (BJD), a new focus has been brought to bear on Japanese art dolls and their derivatives. In 2011 a retrospective exhibition of Gôyô’s work allowed a new generation of doll enthusiasts to see the largest selection of his works ever assembled. [Fig. 72] Yet for most Western collectors, sosaku-ningyô and the artists that created them remain very much a mystery: names can be difficult to remember, relationships difficult to decipher, and information difficult to access. It is my hope that this program will help collectors see the beauty and inherent value of sosaku-ningyô and begin to explore the fascinating contours of the Japanese Art Doll.

Fig. 72 Hirata Gôyô Retrospective Exhibition, Sakura City Museum, 2011


*1 For a fascinating study on this see Max Put, Plunder and Pleasure: Japanese Art in the West, 1860-1930, Hotei Publishing, Leiden, 2000.
*2 Koresawa Hiraoki, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," in Ningyô gangu kenkyû katachi asobi, Vol. 14, p. 21
*3 Sacramento Daily Union, September 6, 1894, p. 6
*4 Sacramento Daily Union, September 4, 1894, p. 2
*5 Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1895, p. 12
*6 Sacramento Daily Union, September 6, 1894, p. 6
*7 "Wonderful Japanese Carving," in The New York Times, December 20, 1895
*8 "An Amazing Piece of Carving," in The Strand Magazine, March 1897, p. 358
*9 Sacramento Daily Union, September 10, 1894, p. 6
*10 Sacramento Daily Union, September 10, 1894, p. 6
*11 Sacramento Daily Union, September 10, 1894, p. 6
*12 “His Art Objectionable," San Francisco Call, April 26, 1905, p. 7
*13 Alan Pate, Ningyô: The Art of the Japanese Doll, Tuttle Publishing, 2005, p. 241
*14 Alan Pate, Entertaining the Gods and Man: Japanese Dolls and the Theater, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, FL, 2012, p. 52
*15 Alan Pate, Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyô, Tuttle Publishing, 2007, p. 147
*16 Sacramento Daily Union, September 10, 1894, p. 6
*17 Tanaka Keiko, "Tôrei-ningyô no seisaku," in Umi o watatta ningyô taishi, Doshisha University, March 2012, pp. 15-19
*18 Tanaka, "Tôrei-ningyô no seisaku," p. 17
*19 Hayashi Naoki, “Meiji no ningyô-shi ryakuden,” Ningyô gangu kenkyû katachi asobi, Vol. 16, p. 92
*20 Alan Pate, Ningyô: The Art of the Japanese Doll, p. 122
*21 Hayashi Naoki, "Taisho-showa senzen no ningyô-shi ryakuden," in Ningyô gangu kenkyû katachi asobi, Vol 17, p.75
*22 Hayashi, “Meiji no ningyô-shi ryakuden,” p. 89
*23 Hayashi, “Meiji no ningyô-shi ryakuden,” p. 89
*24 Hayashi, "Taisho-showa senzen no ningyô-shi ryakuden," p.75
*25 "Koryûsai," in Ningyôkai ni hyaku nen, Ningyô-shi no keifu, Vol. 1 pp. 436-450
*26 "Kashimura Tokusaburô," in Ningyôkai ni hyaku nen, Ningyô-shi no keifu, Vol. 1, p. 353
*27 "Kashimura Tokusaburô," in Ningyôkai ni hyaku nen, Ningyô-shi no keifu, Vol. 1, p. 353
*28 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 30
*29 Joseph Alsop, The Rare Art Traditions: The History of Art Collectiing and Its Linked Phenomena, Princeton University Press, 1976, p. 24
*30 Hayashi, "Taisho-showa senzen no ningyô-shi ryakuden," in Ningyô gangu kenkyû katachi asobi, Vol. 17, p. 78
*31 Hayashi, "Meiji no ningyô-shi ryakuden," p. 90
*32 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 25
*33 Tanaka Keiko, "Hirata Goyo & The Twentieth Century Japanese Art Doll Movement," in Japan’s Early Ambassadors to San Francisco, 1860-1927, San Francisco Asian Art Museum, symposium, November, 2010
*34 Kohinokiyama Toshi, "Taishô daishinsai," in Ningyôkai ni hyakunen, Vol. 1, p. 140
*35 Kohinokiyama, "Taishô daishinsai," p. 141
*36 Tanaka Keiko, "Hakutakukai to Hirata Gôyô shiron," in Ningyo gangu kenkyû katachi asobi, Vol. 22. p. 75
*37 Motohashi Kosuke, "Gôyô ni toteno ningyô seisaku towa nanika—sensen-senchuki no getsudô kara," in Motohashi Kosuke edt. Hirata Gôyô no ningyô, 2012, pp. 114-19
*38 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 25
*39 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 26
*40 Tanaka, "Hakutakukai to Hirata Gôyô shiron," p. 75
*41 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 26
*42 Motohashi, "Gôyô ni toteno ningyô seisaku towa nanika," p. 123
*43 Koichi Hariya, "Tôrei-ningyô ni narenakata ichimatsu-ningyô," in Ningyô gangu kenkyû asaobi to katachi, Vo. 17, p. 26
*44 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 29
*45 Hayashi, "Taisho-showa senzen no ningyô-shi ryakuden," p.72
*46 Motohashi,"Gôyô ni toteno ningyô seisaku towa nanika," p. 116
*47 Tanaka, "Hirata Gôyô & The Twentieth Century Japanese Art Doll Movement"
*48 Tanaka, "Hirata Gôyô & The Twentieth Century Japanese Art Doll Movement"
*49 Tanaka, "Hakutakukai to Hirata Gôyô shiron," p. 82
*50 Tanaka, "Hakutakukai to Hirata Gôyô shiron," p. 76
*51 Hayashi, "Taisho-showa senzen no ningyô-shi ryakuden," p.74
*52 Motohashi,"Gôyô ni toteno ningyô seisaku towa nanika," p. 117
*53 Kenji Kaneko, "The History of ‘Expressive Dolls’: From Takehisa Yumeji to the Present," in Dolls: Masterpieces from the Crafts Gallery Collection, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2010, p. 15
*54 Kenji, "The History of ‘Expressive Dolls,’" p. 16
*55 Tanaka Keiko, "Ningyô seisaku" in Ningyô gangu kenkyo, Vol. 23, p. 58
*56 Tanaka, "Ningyô seisaku," p. 61
*57 Tanaka, "Ningyô seisaku," p. 62
*58 Tanaka, "Ningyô seisaku," p. 63
*59 Motohashi,"Gôyô ni toteno ningyô seisaku towa nanika," p. 116
*60 Tanaka, "Ningyô seisaku," p. 63
*61 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 27
*62 Dolls: Masterpieces from the Crafts Gallery Collection, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2010, p. 106
*63 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 27
*64 Motohashi Kosuke, "Hirata Gôyô no [Kirikaeshi]—kanten shupinsaku no sakufu no henkao toshite," in Ningyô gangu kenkyu katachi asobi, Vol. 22, p. 41
*65 Motohashi, "Hirata Gôyô no [Kirikaeshi]," p. 41
*66 Motohashi, "Hirata Gôyô no [Kirikaeshi]," p. 41
*67 Koresawa, "Hirata Gôyô to ningyô geijutsu undo," p. 27

The author, Alan Pate, is the owner of Antique Japanese Dolls in McIntosh, Florida, USA,
Tel +1 (858)-775-6717

He received an M. A. in Korean history and language from Harvard University.

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