Kokeshi Meaning: What are Kokeshi Dolls?

You may be surprised to find out that one of the most popular items ZenMarket customers buy has nothing to do with anime, manga, or gaming.

Instead, many of our customers have fallen in love with the Japanese Kokeshi - and for good reason.

Maybe one of the least talked about tiny treasures you can buy from Japan, the Kokeshi doll is fantastic for anyone looking to add a touch of authentic Japanese culture and art to their living spaces.

But you may be wondering, what actually are Kokeshi dolls and what makes them so special?

In the article below, we not only dive into the history of Kokeshi, but we look at the different types and where are some of the best places to get authentic Kokeshi for your home.


What Are Kokeshi Dolls?

Kokeshi Dolls are traditional Japanese wooden dolls that were created in the Edo period (1600 - 1868) and originate from the Tohoku region of Japan with the purpose of giving workers something to work on during the winter months. They were originally designed for children and as souvenirs for tourists visiting the popular hot springs present within the area.

Currently, due to the popularity of Kokeshi, you can now buy them from different regions across Japan, coming in a wide variety of shapes and designs.

Kokeshi doll making is now widely considered to be a Japanese art form that requires a trained and skilled artisan to produce high-quality Kokeshi dolls.


How To Make Kokeshi Dolls?

Traditionally, a Kokeshi is made up of a wooden base that acts as the body which is then attached to a second piece that acts as the enlarged head of the Kokeshi figure. Artisans will then use thin lines of paint to add details and decorations to the figure.

Typically, seasoned wood from a Mizuki or a Japanese cherry tree is used to craft the head and body of the Kokeshi. Blocks of the chosen wood are cut into small pieces and then shaved, with the edges of the wood later smoothed and rounded off.

The pieces of wood are then attached to a machine that holds them in place and rotates the wood in a circular motion. While the blocks are spinning at high speed, the artisan can cut the wood to shape using a large and small plane tool.

Finally, the artisan has to file down the surface of the Kokeshi before they can paint, wax, and apply a fine polish to the figure giving it a slight sheen.

Don't believe the amount of work that goes into a Kokeshi doll? Check out the video below to watch master Kokeshi doll makers at work as they go about their craft.



Over the years, Kokeshi designs have become increasingly diverse in their designs and level of intricacy. You will find more modern-day Kokeshi designs take a more rounded shape with richer colors and a greater emphasis on facial features.

You can now find a Kokeshi styled for every special occasion such as weddings and Christmas. If you are looking for a Kokeshi styled in a way to show off your favorite hobby or even your current profession, chances are that it already exists somewhere for you to buy.

You can even find Kokeshi styled as some of your favorite fictional characters! With so many style options to make them feel personal, it is no wonder why these figures make for great gifts for anyone that has an interest in Japanese culture.


Kokeshi Meaning: What do they symbolize? 

The meaning behind what Kokeshi symbolize is unclear - with so many different regions and variations of Kokeshi being produced since their introduction, the exact spiritual significance originally held by Japanese people has either been lost or forgotten.

Most scholars on the topic of Kokeshi would all agree that the original spiritual significance of Kokeshi are strongly linked to children and wishing them good health.

It is also suggested that originally Kokeshi may have been exchanged between individuals as a token of friendship that concealed hidden messages within the figures - which is likely why Kokeshi are considered to be a popular Japanese souvenir to buy for a friend.

If you do happen to find yourself visiting Japan during September, there is a Kokeshi festival held in Naruko every year. During the festival, you will not only be able to see, create, and purchase Kokeshi figures, but you will be able to witness the annual burning of unwanted Kokeshi figures upon a large pyre which is said to release the Kokeshi from their spiritual duties.


You can also find the world's largest Kokeshi museum also located in Naruko, home to over 5000 Kokeshi figures! Naruko's Kokeshi museum is the place to go if you are looking to gain a deeper understanding of the entire history behind Kokeshi. 


Where To Buy Kokeshi? 

Modern kokeshi are sold as a souvenir at tourist hotspots all over Japan, but if you are unable to make your way over to the land of the rising sun, fear not!

ZenMarket has sent hundreds of Kokeshi Dolls from Japan to customers living all over the world and by now we know some of the best online stores you can use to get your hands on Kokeshi to start your collection or for the perfect gift for a friend.


Yahoo Auctions Japan

If you are not sure where to start, Yahoo auctions can be a great place to find your first Kokeshi at a great price.

Yahoo Auctions has a huge selection of Kokeshi to choose from, varying in a wide array of traditional and unique styles that are sure to grab your attention.


The best aspect of Yahoo auctions can also be its biggest weakness - the array of Kokeshi available is constantly changing.

There is no guarantee if you spot a Kokeshi design that takes your fancy that it will still be there the next day, especially when it comes to figures that have a more modern design.

This is great for those you who enjoy browsing auction listings and discovering new figures each time, but for those of you that already have a particular design in mind, some of the other options listed below may suit your needs better.


Usaburo Kokeshi

Usaburo kokeshi is an online Kokeshi store based out of Japan's Gunma prefecture that specializes in modern Kokeshi designs. Although the variety and number of Kokeshi you will find on the website pales in comparison to that of Yahoo auctions, Usaburo kokeshi is a great place to pick up a Kokeshi if you have a certain theme in mind, or if you would rather avoid potentially buying second hand.


Their store contains dedicated sections for special events such as Christmas, Mother's Day, weddings, and celebrating the birth of a new child.


Usaburo kokeshi is probably best known for its Kokeshi designed around popular characters. You can find characters from Disney, Star Wars, Doraemon, Peter Rabbit, Dragonball, One Piece, Hello Kitty, Detective Konan, and more!

If you or someone you know has an interest in Japan and is a fan of any of these characters, Usaburo kokeshi's Kokeshi can be a great place to grab the perfect unique gift!



Rakuten can be a great middle-ground for those you looking for a store that has a large selection of Kokeshi to choose from, but is more consistent than Yahoo Auctions with regards to what is available to buy at any given time. 


If you are interested in adding more Kokeshi to your collection or looking to buy your very first figure, then ZenMarket can help you buy and ship authentic Japanese Kokeshi directly from Japan!

Reach out to us if you have any questions or let us know if you think you we missed something important in this article - We are always looking for more online stores in Japan that sell Kokeshi.


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Article| 14/07/2020 | Japanese CultureJapanese products