Yasuo Okazaki is an amazing woodworker that makes naruko kokeshi dolls. If you are unfamiliar with these toys, Collectors Weekly has a great write-up about them. Kokeshi dolls are originally from “rural Tohoku, in northeast Japan, during the Bunka-Bunsei eras (1804-29).” Since the second world war, these dolls have become very popular with American tourists. It has gotten to the point where they are almost made exclusively for them. Collectors Weekly describes what makes them unique as follows:
“Kokeshi dolls are characterized by their lack of arms and legs, as well as their brightly painted garb in floral designs and geometric patterns. The process used for making these cylindrical wooden dolls is not unlike that employed to make legs for chairs or tables.”
Kokeshi dolls may not look very exciting from first glance, but it only took one viewing of the video for me to fall in love with them. The amount of detail Okazaki puts into just one doll had me mesmerized.
He begins with just a cylinder of wood which he transforms into the head and neck of the doll.
Next, Okazaki sticks another block of wood on the lathe to create the body. He shapes, sands, and even paints lines onto the body while it is still on the lathe.
Before he removes the kokeshi doll’s body from it, he attaches the head to the body. This may not sound very exciting, but when I saw how he did it, I had to back up the video and watch it again. The gif above gives you a look at the technique he uses, but make sure you watch the video to get the full effect. The way the head is attached to the body is so simple, but there was just something about it that had me really fascinated.
According to a posting for a kokeshi doll for sale, the way the head is loosely attached to the body allows for it to make a sound when the head is turned. They describe it as “kyu-kyu.” You can hear the sound when Okazaki demonstrates this near the end of the video.
Once the doll comes off the lathe, it’s time for more detailed painting. He finishes off each kokeshi doll with his signature on the bottom and rubs it down with what appears to be wax.
Kokeshi dolls may not seem that exciting, but there is something beautiful about seeing Okazaki create one. It almost felt like I was seeing something more than just the creation of the doll and I couldn’t help but walk away from the video feeling like I’d seen something surprisingly important.