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12 Types of Traditional Japanese Dolls

Japan is home to many unique art forms. While many do not think of dolls as a unique example of cultural art, Japan is home to many traditional kinds of dolls, each with a special history. Here are 12 kinds of traditional Japanese dolls:

1. Kokeshi Doll

Kokeshi at Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa, Tokyo. Photo Credit: GuillemMedina at Wikimedia Commons.

Originating in Japan’s northern Tohoku region, these dolls are commonly found at hot spring resorts. Kokeshi dolls are cylindrical and made of wood, with delicately painted features.

Originally, they were children’s toys made out of leftover wood, but over time they became their own art form. The more traditional dolls can also be found by more modern and creative versions.

Both are popular souvenirs and there is a group of collectors that can be found in Japan. There are many regional styles that can be found in different onsen towns, so if kokeshi catch your fancy, be sure to keep an eye out!

Take a look at this Japanese made Kokeshi, it is truly gorgeous. 

2. Daruma

Daruma of Shorinzan Darumaji Temple, Gunma Prefecture. Photo Credit: puffyjet at Flickr.

Daruma are more than just a doll. These tiny, red and yellow dolls are also amulets for motivation.

The right eye is painted while you think of what you want to achieve, while the left eye is blank until you have achieved your goal, which is when it is painted. The belief is that the daruma wants both eyes, so it will help you achieve your goal.

Most daruma now are made of paper mache. Because of its unique shape, the doll will never fall over when you move it.

You can find daruma in many colors now, each with their own unique meaning that can help you find the motivation to achieve your goals.

If you happen to visit Gunma Prefecture, make sure to visit Shorinzan Daruma-ji Temple. This is where you can experience creating your own Daruma doll

3. Hina Doll

Hina Dolls are in display. Photo Credit: Hideyuki KAMON at Flickr.

These special dolls are associated with the Japanese Doll Festival, March 3rd. Every year, families erect altars at their homes that feature Hina dolls, figures of the Emperor and Empress.

The altars are luxuriously decorated and families make offerings of rice cakes at them. Over the long course of Japan’s history, different regions and eras developed unique interpretations of Hina dolls and their altars.

4. Kimekomi Doll

Kimekomi Dolls. Photo Credit: Yoshio Kohara at Wikimedia Commons.

These beautiful dolls are instantly recognizable with their elaborate traditional Japanese costumes. They are carved from wood, then decorated with fabric.

While often dressed in a historical and traditional manner, the artform has been adapted to newer, more modern designs, offering artists a new way to express their ideas.

You can even buy craft kits that allow you to create your own unique kimekomi doll. One of the best online shops to buy Kimekomi doll is TANABE, based in Tokyo. Check its Etsy page to order these dolls.

5. Gosho Ningyo

Gosho Ningyo. Photo Credit:

Also called palace dolls, these beautiful dolls were originally awarded to feudal lords by the Emperor. They are easy to recognize with their chubby, cheerful white faces, either with tufts of hair or a full head of hair.

These dolls are carefully made with wood and crushed oyster cells, then hand-painted and dressed. It can take up to six months to finish a single doll. They are magnificent works of art.

6. Karakuri Ningyo

Karakuri ningyo.

These unique dolls do more than just sit there and look pretty; Karakuri-ningyo move thanks to internal clockwork.

These dolls date back to the Edo Period and many consider them to be what sparked the Japanese cultural fascination with robots. They’re incredibly cleverly designed and fascinating for both artistic and engineering reasons.

You’ll often see a large version on festival floats, adding more movement to these impressive constructs.

7. Hakata Doll

Hakata Ningyo. Photo Credit: ACROS Fukuoka Foundation.

These dolls originate in Hakata Ward of Fukuoka City. They are ceramic dolls that take many forms, though the most well-known and popular is “the beautiful one”, a beautiful woman wearing a heavily patterned silk kimono.

The process for creating the dolls is painstaking, especially when it comes to painting the delicate facial features, which is done with a very thin brush for every doll. These are exquisite works of art.

8. Okiagari Koboshi


The name of these dolls means “the priest who gets back up”. Dating back to the 24th century, these paper mache dolls have a weight in them that means they always roll back upright when tipped over. They are charms for resilience.

They are commonly sold as souvenirs in the Aizu region of Fukushima prefecture. Shoppers often try out their luck by pushing the two together. Whichever gets back up first is the luckier doll!

9. Ichimatsu Ningyo

Ichimatsu dolls. Photo Credit: Ellie at Wikimedia Commons.

These dolls are named after a very popular kabuki actor, Sanogawa Ichimatsu. They were first produced in 1750 and are both a gift for girls and as well as pieces of art.

They can be dressed in many different costumes. More expensive dolls come with joints for the head, torso, and legs, making them very posable for display or play.

10. Kyo Ningyo

Kyo ningyo. Photo Credit: Kogei Japan.

Made in Kyoto and the surrounding area, these dolls are high-quality pieces made by different, highly specialized artisans. Hina dolls are a subset of these dolls.

There are also dolls dressed in other styles, including samurai and other historical figures. These dolls are lovely works of art and you should definitely pick one up if you travel to Kyoto!

11. Iki Ningyo

Iki Ningyo. Photo Credit: Master of Crafts.

These incredibly realistic, life-sized dolls were first made in the 19th century. These dolls were used to recreate historical scenes or display samurai armor.

Today, the eerily lifelike heads of these dolls are on display in several museums. It is hard to believe they were produced before modern technology, but they were handcrafted by artisans using ivory, wood, and even human hair.

While not produced today, they are an incredible look at Japanese doll making.

12. Bunraku Puppets

A female Bunraku Puppet. Photo Credit: Yanajin33.

Bunraku puppets are the stars of bunraku plays, a type of puppetry with a long complex history. These dolls are carefully crafted and require three highly trained puppeteers to bring them to life.

Bunraku dolls are dressed in traditional dress, as they are key characters in traditional plays. Their limbs are made of wood and their bodies are trunkless to enable more flexibility.

Bunraku puppets are amazing pieces of art that come together with excellent performances to create amazing stories.

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