Ningyou: Japanese Traditional Dolls

by Helen Thiselton

I bought my first Japanese doll as a teenager. She was sitting in the window of a local doll hospital, a water-damaged and sun-faded, silk-faced doll that was still radiantly beautiful in my eyes. So different from the European dolls of my childhood, she was not a toy; she was a work of art! At the time, it was difficult to source Japanese dolls from local shops and I only collected two or three, until the internet changed everything. The explosion of internet auction sites and shop front stores has made high-quality Japanese dolls available to the world.

The word ningyou is usually translated as ‘doll’; however, it literally means ‘human shaped’ and includes items that we might not traditionally think of as dolls, such as Hakata-ningyou or clay dolls. This is just one of the many subtle complexities that make the collecting of Japanese ‘dolls’ such a joy.

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