Skip to main content

A Festival Of Japanese Dolls

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I like to delve into the history, costuming, foods, and customs of places and holidays. World cultures and traditions are fascinating.

The Fascinating Face

Detail of Gofun doll face shows individual expression with traditional makeup. Tiny brushes are used to create individual hairs of eyelashes and brows.

Detail of Gofun doll face shows individual expression with traditional makeup. Tiny brushes are used to create individual hairs of eyelashes and brows.

Fine Silk Clothing, Authentic Accessories

Dress can be according to certain themes, including important festivals.

Dress can be according to certain themes, including important festivals.

The Beautiful Japanese Doll

When I was a little girl one of my favorite things in our house was a bookcase that my father had built. It wasn't the bookcase itself, but the glass cases built into each shelf that enclosed the most exquisite Japanese dolls. He had a small collection of very fine, fully costumed Japanese dolls which he had purchased when serving in the Armed forces in Japan.

That collection was broken into parts and distributed among my siblings, and I have only one of the dolls, but the memory of the group, its beauty, the individual personalities of each of the dolls, remains vivid within my thoughts.

It led to following the trail of why these dolls were made, the festivals when such dolls were displayed, and a lens to showcase them and some of the customs surrounding them, the beautiful Japanese dolls.

Gofun Face with Delicate Features


Children's Celebration

Hina Matsuri for Girls

The Girl's Festival, or Hina-matsuri, is celebrated on March 3, although the customary doll display starts earlier in February and is put away on March 4th. A red carpeted, five to seven tiered display holds dolls and traditional boxes and ornaments, and is the delight of viewers of every age.

While the Girls Day is meant to be a day to pray for the health and well-being of daughters, it is also a representation of gentility, dignity, and respect expressing the desire for the prosperity and happiness of their girl children - regardless of whether the full intent of the traditions are followed or not. (Not all the ancient customs or meanings of the day are known or observed in modern Japan).

In Japan, still it is a custom for a family with daughters to serve special foods including a diamond shaped rice cake, called hishimochi, special rice crackers, and a clear clam soup (recipe follows) among other traditional foods. Be sure to go to the end of the article for the recipe for this traditional clam soup.

What began long ago with an empress who made two dolls for her child to celebrate the one of Japan's seasonal festivals, remains one of the favorite observations of the year.

Songs and Court Dolls of Hina-matsuri

View the Informative Videos on this Page

The "holiday" video is about 28 minutes long, and moves through an explanation of the history of the Girls Festival, its meaning, the origination of the dolls in the Hina display, and many other details that you will not want to miss.

Learn about the Japanese Holiday for Girls

Inside the Hina Matsuri Set

A full Hina Matsuri set includes many dolls. On the topmost tier are the two representing the Emperor, the Empress, below them are two ministers, then three court ladies, three samurai and five musicians,On the lowest tiers are a large number of miniature Imperial Palace accessories. Furnishings, kimono case, and even very small hair ornaments.

These sets are displayed on the tiered stand covered with red cloth. There are very large sets with many tiers and individual dolls arranged in a particular order which represents the wedding ceremony of the Emperor.


Sets Depicting Emperor's Court

Simpler sets will include only the Emperor (Odairi-sama) and the Empress (Ohime-sama), sitting in front of a folding screen, and perhaps a few of the attendants.

Although long gone from my family, I remember my father also had a set of these, quite small in size, arranged in a different bookcase. I wonder now what must have become of them? They were not as appealing in appearance to an American eye, and so must not have been as highly regarded and kept by my mother.

Scroll to Continue

Hina Matsuri is one of the five annual observances in observing the change of seasons over the year.

"Tango no Sekku, a day for young samurai to honor the traditions of their warrior fathers and grandfathers and learn about the virtues of courage, loyalty, perseverance, and honor. " -Children's Day

May 5 was a festival for boys called Tengo no Sekku, at the end of the "Golden Week" (a set of celebrations), but it is now a day for all children, Children's Day. Dolls of Samurai and their accessories were displayed, as well as other types of iconic decorations such as carp banners in symbolic colors.

Samurai Warrior Dolls

The boys also have dolls to display for their day. The Samurai were an important class sector in Japanese Society. There both male and female people who belonged to this class.

The boys also have dolls to display for their day. The Samurai were an important class sector in Japanese Society. There both male and female people who belonged to this class.

Japanese Dolls: The Fascinating World of Ningyo

One of the best books on the topic

There is such a broad range of dolls and their history tells stories of Japanese culture that would otherwise remain a mystery. A book worthy of the coffee table will provide a great deal of reading and being immersed in the lush photography of the exquisite art of Japanese dollmaking.

Making of a Doll : Lowly Wood and Gofun Paste

From humble materials, the face and body parts are built up by exacting craftsmen into the final product, dressed and charmingly displayed.

From humble materials, the face and body parts are built up by exacting craftsmen into the final product, dressed and charmingly displayed.

Watch the Steps of Making a Gofun Head

What is "Gofun"?

Many Japanese dolls were made of wood or composition, but it was the fine finishing of a material called "gofun" that gave my father's dolls their luminescent skin and personal features.

Gofun is a paste made of powdered seashell (usually oyster shell) mixed with animal glue. Applied by brush, it adds great beauty to the doll as well as making it sturdier. A base coat is first applied, features of the face, hands and feet are built up through applications of successive layers of gofun. This process is called 'okiage'. A middle coat is applied and then smoothed. The final coat uses a fine gofun, sometimes colored by pigments, this final coat is applied with a special brush and burnished to a soft sheen with a cloth. Hair, eyes, eyebrows and mouth are painted on to give the doll its own expression, and personality. They are truly a work of fine art.

Regionalistic Styles

Once you become familiar with them, you find that each region has a particular style, and at times even a particular type of doll associated with it.

Part of the reason for this is the original religious use of the figures. Later, when feudal lords (Samurai) vied with each other to make the most remarkable and artistic ones, the symbols and clothing also became characteristic of the region.

You can see that this business of doll appreciation and collecting becomes very complicated!

A Doll You Can Own

Puppetry! Dolls That Move


Vintage dolls, especially, have details of costume and accessories that make them quite interesting. Armor, costume, headpieces, ornaments, instruments, weapons, fans, all part of the individual character of the dolls. They may represent periods of time or certain people. Look for these details.

For instance, one of my father's dolls had a large hat, a long wisteria hair ornament, and was obviously a "Maiko" or young Geisha apprentice. His geisha doll had much more refined hair ornaments and all the details of the mature Geisha.

Just as in real life, the outfits corresponded to seasons in color and in accessories. Even today, a Geisha will wear the colors and design of a kimono which answers to the season. The dolls will, too.

A Samurai will have the kimono, weaponry, and hair style of his time.


For some Japanese, even today, the idea of the doll having a special connection with the owner or maker is still held. At one time the dolls were used as "scapegoats" to carry away illness or evil. Later, they were thought to help the maker (usually a woman at home) "go with" a warrior.

Therefore, there is a residual care that accompanies the discarding of a doll, it is buried or left at a temple, perhaps left with a "goodbye" and then ceremoniously burnt.

Demure Hakata Dolls

Japanese Hakata Doll (Gaku) Fuji Musume  is the "Wisteria Maiden". The wide hat and pretty colors are appropriate for a Maiko.

Japanese Hakata Doll (Gaku) Fuji Musume is the "Wisteria Maiden". The wide hat and pretty colors are appropriate for a Maiko.

Gotou Hakata Doll Aizume Gasa No.0167

Gotou Hakata Doll Aizume Gasa No.0167

Gotou Hakata Doll Aya No.0047

Gotou Hakata Doll Aya No.0047

Hakata Is Another Classic Form

Originally a roof tile maker, who also made dolls on the side, is credited with the original archetype of these dolls.

They are formed from clay found in the area of Fukuoka City.

Each doll is crafted by an artisan, and that gives them their unique character.

A Maiko Was a Favorite Model

The Maiko, an apprentice performer, is a popular model for the dolls. She was to perform songs, dances, and play instruments for entertainment during feasts and festivals.

Dolls often depicted such girls, as well as members of the court or characters from stories. Clues to the identity of the Maiko may be in the hairstyle, clothing colors, or inclusion of musical instruments as accessories.

These are some of the most collectible dolls because of their attractive costumes, bright colors, and charming features.

Hakata Figured Doll

The Hinamatsuri Festival


Good Fortune

Little baby boy, symbolizes good fortune

Little baby boy, symbolizes good fortune

Japanese Doll Trivia

An assortment of facts and interesting information

"Hina" dolls are those used in the Girl's Day display.

Hina Matsuri, is referred to as both "Doll Festival" and "Girl's Day" and is celebrated on March 3rd.

The original dolls were symbolic representations that were meant to protect members of the family (especially the children). Made out of ephemeral things like paper that were floated away on a river or burnt in temples, nothing remains of those early dolls.

Residuals of the very ancient beliefs remain, however, even if the dolls do not. Hope for the future lives of the children in symbolic foods and rituals carry out some of the same ideas.

The first Doll Festival during the "momo-no-sekku" of 1629. Empress Tofukumon'in-Kazuko , a wife of the emperor, prepared a pair of dolls (male and female) for her child.

From this event, the idea spread and now includes good wishes for all girls along with a national display of the dolls, and in private homes.

Folk Art Dolls

Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi Dolls

Kokeshi Dolls Today - The modern version

Making of the traditional kokeshi dolls is considered one of the traditional folk arts of Japan, but you can purchase one of these modern styles. The earliest uses of these dolls evolved into their popularity as souvenirs, and later became simply cute gifts for children.

Start Your Own Collection And Display

I think one of the things I like best about Japanese dolls with the gofun faces are the personalities that they have.

The clothing and accessories are so detailed and made with such attention. Of course, there is a wide range of quality and the antique dolls are the ones that usually have the better materials and workmanship.

I can see why people like to collect these dolls, even the little wooden ones are made with a sense of art and whimsy.

Send a Girls Day Card

Send a Girls Day Card

"Displaying dolls on Girl's Day is an extension of the superstition that placing dolls near children's beds will ward off evil spirits"

Gogatsu dolls center around the Samurai society. Dating from the the Kamakura Period, the warrior's armor held a specially revered place in a household. The Edo period dolls celebrate the traditions,characters, and values of that time. Many of the Gogatsu dolls represent great commanders and heroes in history. Their armor and accoutrements are often precise replicas of those preserved in shrines, from the actual men of those times.

Tango-no-Sekku is "Boy's Day".

There are characteristic styles of certain times of Japanese history in the dolls of those times.

  • The Edo period (1603 to 1868)
  • The Meiji era from September 1868 through July 1912.
  • Taisho era of Japan dates from July 30, 1912 to December 25, 1926.

Most antique Hina dolls date from the Meiji era (A.D. 1868-1912).

Some information from 'Antique Festival Dolls".

"The Peach Festival"

The original festival was the celebration of the peach on March 3rd. "Momo" means peach. It is a time to wish good health to all little girls.

The original festival was the celebration of the peach on March 3rd. "Momo" means peach. It is a time to wish good health to all little girls.

Who Owns Japanese Dolls? - Let's take a poll and find out!

The kanji character for "doll".

The dolls of "boys day" are called gogatsu ningyo.

Authentic Japanese Costume


Ichimatsu - Japanese Dolls


The Varied Types Of Traditional Dolls

  • Bijin ningyo are "beautiful lady" dolls.
  • Musha dolls are warriors or heroes for Boys Day.
  • Hakata are the unglazed clay dolls.
  • Hina dolls represent the Imperial court.
  • Ichimatsu dolls are like baby dolls or little girl dolls to play with.
  • Kokeshi dolls are like clothespin dolls.
  • Hanako dolls are dress up dolls with changeable wigs or clothes.

Ichimatsu dolls developed in the Edo period as playthings for Samurai children.

Protective Case for Your Doll - Keep your dolls dust-free and protected

My father made his own display cases from glass and pine that fit within a stack-able bookshelf, but you may simply wish to buy protective cases that are used for trophies or cases that are specially constructed for Japanese dolls. There are antiques ones out there, too. The usual way to store Japanese dolls between display times was in their own wood boxes, which add to the value of the dolls.

Consider some way of keeping the dolls safe and dust-free, if you wish to display them in your home.

Special Foods For Hinamatsuri

Soup of the day for this festival.

Make A Doll's Festival Soup To Celebrate The Day

The use of the clams in a soup for the festival of dolls was to denote the wish for a happy marriage, which clams symbolize. One of the best recipes for this soup may be found in the blog of La Fuji Mama

Kombu is edible kelp.

Her tips of salting the clams to get rid of grit, skimming the soup, and using very fresh clams with closed shells is very helpful.


  • 8 small (or 4 large) clams
  • 4 -inch square of kombu
  • 3 1/4 cups cold water
  • 3/4 teapoons salt
  • mitsuba; parsley; or cilantro to garnish
  • lemon zest- finely grated to garnish


  1. 1. To prepare the clams: Put the clams in a large bowl and cover them with heavily salted water. Let them sit in a cool, dark place, for 2 to 5 hours. this helps them expel any sand or dirt that might be trapped in them. When the clams have finished soaking, gently scrub the shells clean under cold running water.
  2. 2. To make the soup: Put the clams, kombu, and cold water in medium-sized pot. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Just before the water begins to boil, remove the kelp. Boil the water until all the clams have opened, then season the broth with the salt and skim the scum off the surface of the water. Remove the clams, then pour the broth through a fine mesh strainer (or 2-layers of cheese cloth) into another pot/container.
  3. 3. To serve: Arrange 2 clams, a sprig of mitsuba/parsley/cilantro, and a pinch of lemon zest in each bowl. Ladle hot broth into each bowl and serve.

Your Comments, Please - You can doll them up if you like

KimGiancaterino on May 12, 2012:

Very nice ... I enjoyed learning about the different types of Japanese dolls.

Beverly Rodriguez from Albany New York on May 12, 2012:

Beautiful lens. I do have a collection.

microfarmproject on May 12, 2012:

Lovely. Thanks for posting!

linkreggie on May 10, 2012:

I love the Japanese tradition.. the doll as well..

linkreggie on May 10, 2012:

I love the Japanese tradition.. the doll as well..

trendydad on May 09, 2012:

great lens the dolls are awesome

g6g8612 on May 09, 2012:

really nice lens and pretty Japanese dolls

thememorybooksh1 on May 08, 2012:

Awesome i love Japanese doll

marisun on May 07, 2012:

wow very good

anonymous on May 05, 2012:

Amazing lens.. can't stop admiring it.. :)

Rose Jones on May 04, 2012:

This is an excellent lens on so many levels. First of all the topic: I was not a girly girl, but I loved my Japanese dolls. There was something special about them, and I have always wanted to travel to Japan. Second, your writing style is charming, and your product presentation excellent. Pinned to 3 of my boards: Fun for Kids, Holidays and Squidoo Lenses worth Blessing!

rachelscott on May 04, 2012:

Your lens speaking about the beauty of your work. This lens is very interesting specially for girls.

RachelDillin on May 03, 2012:

I do not have a Japanese doll, but I remember my grandmother having one. They are so beautiful.

Ilona E (author) from Ohio on May 03, 2012:

Thanks for all the kind comments and for the squid angel blessings!

JZinoBodyArt on May 02, 2012:

Really impressive lens! The video of the artisan creating one of the dolls just blew me away. Thank you so much for sharing!

Chazz from New York on May 01, 2012:

Beautiful lens. My wife has several of these dolls from when she was a child and they are among her most cherished possessions. Blessed and featured on my "Still Wing-ing it on Squidoo" lens.

Michey LM on May 01, 2012:

The dolls are amusing, very good collectible items, and your lens is beautiful.

Sent Angel dust in your way

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on May 01, 2012:

Knowing that I love Japanese (everything), a special auntie gave me three Japanese dolls. A wooden dento Kokeshi Doll by Sato Minao and two vintage Kokeshi Bobble Head Dolls. I just love them AND I love this lens! Congratulations on the purple star and Squidacademy Award! Angel blessings!

miaponzo on April 30, 2012:

Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful Japanese dolls with us! Blessed!

flycatcherrr on April 30, 2012:

Beautiful dolls! I have only one, but she came to me from a relative who was in Tokyo on leave during the Korean War, so there's a lot of sentiment attached. Good to learn more about these elegant beauties.

MelonyVaughan on April 24, 2012:

What a beautiful lens! I have a small collection of Japanese dolls and I love them.

Related Articles