See charming Naruko kokeshi dolls at the Hot Spring Resort

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Kokeshi dolls that were first created at the end of the Edo period

Kokeshi are wooden dolls with cute faces. The area where the Naruko Hot Spring Resort is located originally flourished with lacquer ware and other woodworking business. It is said that Naruko kokeshi dolls were first made as souvenirs for visitors seeking hot-spring cures at the end of the Edo period. There are still many craftspersons in this area that is known throughout Japan as one of the largest producers of kokeshi dolls.

There are different types of kokeshi dolls in different areas, mostly in the Tohoku region. A characteristic of Naruko kokeshi dolls is that it squeaks when their head is turned. The squeaking sound is created with a special method of inserting the head into the torso.

A workshop where kokeshi dolls are made
A workshop where kokeshi dolls are made

Try painting kokeshi dolls for yourself

The center of the Naruko Hot Spring town is called Kokeshi street. This narrow street is lined with hot spring hotels and souvenir shops. There are also many specialty kokeshi doll shops, and some let you try painting the dolls yourself.

After painting the face onto the head, you draw a pattern onto the torso... There are samples available for reference, but there are no rules, so you can paint them however you like. A one-of-a-kind kokeshi doll is sure to become a precious memory. After you are done painting, have the doll coated with wax for you and bring it home the same day.

Paint carefully with a paint brush
Paint carefully with a paint brush
The completed kokeshi doll looks like the person who painted it?!
The completed kokeshi doll looks like the person who painted it?!

Museum and festival where kokeshi dolls are brought from around Japan

If you want to learn more about kokeshi dolls, visit the Japan Kokeshi Museum. The Japan Kokeshi Museum that opened in 1975 displays kokeshi dolls from around Japan and has an area where you can learn about the process of making kokeshi dolls. Be sure to stop by the store that has the largest variety and number of dolls in Naruko.

Also, on the first Saturday and Sunday of September each year, the National Kokeshi Festival is held at the Hot Spring Resort. Kokeshi doll artisans from around Japan come together for demonstration sales and a parade that make the festival very exciting and fun.

Parade at the National Kokeshi Festival
Parade at the National Kokeshi Festival

How about joining a tour in the town of kokeshi dolls to try painting dolls yourself?