Modern Dolls of Japan

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Battle Paddles (Hagoita)
Hagoita are rectangular wooden paddles originating in Japan to play a game similar to badminton called hanetsuki. The shuttlecock, with which the game was played, is made of colourful feathers attached to a cork weight forming a cone-shaped flyer. The paddles have, however, evolved and now have a decorative use, the two sides painted, one simply coloured, and the other with striking portraits of people traditionally made upon layered cardboard covered with rich silk collages. These items are called Kazarimono (decoration), and are no longer meant to be played with, but have become pieces of decorative art, popular today among collectors in the West.

Kokeshi Ningyo
Kokeshi dolls, which are known for their simplicity and brilliant colors, are made using Japanese wood turnery techniques. They are divided into two general types, “Traditional Kokeshi” and “Creative Kokeshi.” “Traditional Kokeshi” are a local art form practiced in the northeast regions of Japan. They originated in the latter part of the Edo period. Traditional Kokeshi dolls are further classified according to the location of the workshop where they are made, such as the Naruko-series of dolls, the Tsuchiyu-series, etc. The dolls of each series have their own special features and designs. The techniques used in the making of these dolls have been handed down from master to pupil to the present day.
“Creative Kokeshi” is a handicraft that exercises the free and unrestrained imagination of an individual artist. After World War II, these dolls are crafted using original techniques of engraving and baking, and are appreciated as unique works of art.

Theatre Dolls
Dolls and puppets are used to represent well recognised characters in traditional Japanese theatre. Like poetry, dance, music, flower arrangement and the tea ceremony, theatre is considered to be one of the country’s distinctive customary arts. The printed background used here imitates the Noh stage. The torch motif represents an evergreen tree, which in turn symbolizes life and longevity.
The term Noh refers to a classical style of Japanese theatre that has been performed in Japan since the 14th century. The style was established by the famous actor, musician and playwright Kan’ami Kiyotsugu whose son Zeami Motokiyo continued to refine the art form. Kan’ami combined traditional dance, music and song with an earlier form of popular entertainment called Sarugaku that could include acrobatics, juggling and mime.
Noh theatre dramatises well known mythic legends and historical tales that also include well known bizarrely masked characters and are presented in the simplest of narrative arrangements. It is the oldest form of theatre in Japan and continues to be popular and regularly performed.

Kabuki theatre has its origins in the early 17th century, in pantomimes once performed by groups of women. The art form grew into a colorful theatre, with an emphasis on bold make-up especially around the eyebrows, the eyes and lips, because when female actresses were eventually banned, men began to perform both male and female roles. Also typical of Kabuki are its dramatic costumes, special stage devices and especially the mie, which is a pose taken by actors establishing their character.
Unlike Noh, Kabuki is highly evolved, and is always adopting new styles and scenarios as well as including characters designed as anime to attract today’s audiences, such as the Naruto-kabuki action features.

Bunraku, also known as Ningyō jōruri, is the traditional Japanese form of puppet theatre, founded in Osaka at the beginning of the 17th century. The puppet theatre was made especially popular by the end of the century by the romantic and often tragic stories arranged together by playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon and singer Takemoto Gidayu I. In Bunraku puppet theatre, three essential performers are involved, all of whom remain in full view of the audience during the play. The puppeteer (ningyōtsukai) manipulates and quite literally brings the characters to the stage. The singer (tayū), who simultaneously performs multiple characters, narrates these dramatic stories in song, also using facial expressions and inflecting the voice to show emotion and to distinguish the personalities of the puppets. The three-string shamisen musician’s music helps to guide the emotions of the audience, expressing moments of drama and misfortune and punctuating changes in various kinds of stage action.

Netsuke are small carved toggles or fasteners that allow a pouch or purse to be attached to the sash worn with a kimono, a traditional Japanese garment. Netsuke are customarily made of wood or ivory and like Japanese dolls, they faithfully portray distinctive historic and legendary characters. Despite their small sizes, they are intricately designed into delightfully poised human likenesses and gruesome fantastic creatures. The netsuke tradition reached its peak in the Edo period (1615–1868) and inspiration for their design and technique was always intent on ensuring both their functional and aesthetic qualities.
Because Japanese clothing was not made with pockets, netsuke were used as fasteners for purses to hold everyday items such as money, tobacco or medicine. Used exclusively by men, netsuke deigns were displayed as a sign of wealth and good taste.

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