7000 Wonders

7000 Wonders

ArticleKey #9: Dolls

Edward Porper

Edward Porper

3 min read

Arguably, when most people hear the word “doll”, they imagine a Barbie-like little figurine of a cute girl that serves as a child's plaything. For some, it might be Ken-like (a boy instead of a girl) but the implied age-range still matters - that's why when Hasbro created similar figurines of GI's and other adult professionals, they were called “action figures” rather than “dolls”. Yet, a purely linguistic definition of the word imposes no such restrictions - according to it, “doll” is simply “a small model of a human figure”. In that respect, Kyoto Costume Museum owes its existence to dolls and miniature sets. Had dolls been used for nothing else but recreating just one literary monument a millennium after its initial appearance, they would still have played a remarkable role in Japanese culture - and it's far from being the case. As a matter of fact, an intricate and completely self-sufficient doll culture has been thriving in Japan for at least 300 years - long enough to develop its own methodology, let alone producing uncountable examples of elegance and technical ingenuity. Approximately 200,000 of them are on display in a seemingly inconspicuous museum located on the outskirts of Kyoto. 


It strikes as weird to call a two-storey building containing such a huge number of objects “inconspicuous” - yet, the museum gives every impression of a small, intimate place. There are just a few rooms on each floor, and they are not very spacious - or maybe they don't feel very spacious because of the legions of dolls crammed into them. The following pictures help to understand where the above mentioned number (200,000) comes from



That said, some dolls are important enough to occupy their own space


The last picture is of a Gosho doll. It's also known as Imperial doll because it has been one of a few traditional gifts bestowed by the Imperial family upon its guests. Equally famous, if less "noble", are Fushimi dolls usually associated with particular qualities, such as wisdom or bravery - and bought by parents to help their kids develop the quality in question. There is also a story behind each quality-representing doll. Finally, there are so-called mechanical dolls - tricksters and crowd-pleasers. Their number is actually small, and they all live together in one section of the museum. That's where the museum attendant (and there is only one such - another feature of a place giving off a feeling of hominess) personally accompanies every visitor to demonstrate what his talented charges can do.